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Garden Edition September 2002:
Three Worthy Additions to the Gardener’s Bookshelf

by Linda Coyner

Legends in the Gardens: Who in the World Is Nellie Stevens?
By Linda L. Copeland and Allan M. Armitage
(Wings Publishers, 2001, $24.95

Who in the World is Nellie Stevens? is a good question, and a wonderful idea for a book. The authors have created 46 vignettes about the people and places associated with plants. The contents’ list is an irresistible invitation to readers to turn to their favorite plants to find out how they were named. The list is organized by the plants’ namesakes, which were relatively unknown to me, with the plants listed secondly. (I would have preferred it the other way around but the fact is that more than one plant was named after an individual making it into a logistical nightmare.)

The stories are crisply written, capturing a bit of the personality of the gardener and putting him or her in the context of time and place. Color photographs of the plants are located in the middle of the book and are helpful for jogging one’s memory. (More helpful still would have been the addition of page references guiding readers to the discussion of that plant.)

My interest took me first to Hosta sieboldiana ‘Frances Williams, ’ one of my favorite hostas. In this case, Frances Williams, a life- long hosta lover, had sent a yellow-edged specimen she had named FRW 383 to George W. Robinson, one of her horticulture correspondents in Oxford. During a lecture to the Royal Horticulture Society, the absent-minded Robinson couldn’t remember the name of the plant and referred to it as ‘Frances Williams.’

Next I turned to Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee-High.’ It was probably the last plant I bought for my New York garden before leaving for Florida. Legends in the Garden tells us that its name refers to the knee belonging “to an energetic woman named Kim Hawks, who stands about 5’1’ tall, and her short, compact namesake plant is perfectly named.” Hawks grew the plant for several years at her nursery, Niche Gardens, in North Carolina, selecting the shortest and most compact specimens. She sent her final selection to Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut where it was introduced as a Niche Gardens/Sunny Border plant in 1999. The nursery manager at Niche Gardens dubbed it ‘Kim’s Knee-High.’ Another echinacea introduction by Niche Gardens and Sunny Border, is a white, compact form with slightly ragged, messy petals. It was named ‘Kim’s Mop Head’ in a fond reference to her Hawk’s hairstyle.

The other 44 plant stories are equally intriguing, making Legends in the Garden an delight to pick up and put down as time allows, and a great gift for any gardener.

Garden Literature: An Index to Periodical Articles and Book Reviews
by Sally Williams
Garden Literature Press, $29.95

Since 1992, this yearly index of garden articles and book reviews has been a great reference tool and makes for endless browsing, even if they are limited to a dozen or so periodicals. The yearly volumes, called “sprouts,” indexes 11 magazines: American Gardener, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook series, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Plants & Garden News, Fine Gardening, Flower & Garden, Garden Design, Horticulture, Organic Gardening, Pacific Horticulture and from the UK, The Garden (Royal Horticulture Society) and Gardens Illustrated. Williams’ listings are by author and subject. At the back of the book, a separate section indexes book reviews from the same publications by author and title.

During 1992, 1993, and 1994, Williams took on the incredible task of indexing more than 100 titles, including newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, regional titles, newsletters, as well as non-gardening periodicals. Unfortunately there are no plans for another mega index, according to Williams.

Until October 1, Garden Literature Press is celebrating its 10th anniversary by selling books at a 50% discount. Discounted, the mega indexes (’92, ’93, and ’94) sell for $24.98; Sprouts, published since 1994, sell for $14.98. Shipping is $3.95. For more information, you can contact the publisher at GardenLit@aol.com.

City Gardener’s Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Small-Space Gardening
by Linda Yang
Storey Books, 2002, $19.95

Published in 1990, 1995, and 2002, this little book just keeps getting better. It’s not flashy or overly designed, like so many new garden books. What you’ll find is an-easy-on-the-eyes, compact book that’s packed full of information and insights into gardening—any size garden or patio.

The Gardener’s Handbook covers all aspects of planting, design, and maintenance, including growing plants in containers. The latest edition has been thoroughly updated and revised. New are organic advice and recipes for pest control. I was gratified to see that she recommends nontoxic controls for slugs like Sluggo or Escar Go! The author also touches on soil polymers as a way to keep plants moist. (For more on polymers, see the June 2002 Garden Edition; for the definitive discussion on slugs, see Garden Edition, July 2001.) An entirely new mail-order source list, including e-mail addresses and Web sites, has also been added to the 2002 edition.

This practical book includes color photographs of nicely designed small gardens. Lovely botanical drawings by the author are sprinkled throughout the book. Additional drawings by Stephen K-M Tim, and 10 garden plans were added to the new edition.

Linda Yang is a veteran city gardener who speaks with the voice of experience. Specific to urban gardens, she addresses the very real issues of plant vandalism, toxic soil, radiant heat, soot and pollutants, reflected light, and balcony ceilings. But her advice on many subjects, including compost, recycling Christmas trees, using gray water, antidesiccants, and deicing walkways apply to any garden.

Yang quotes Christopher Lloyd on “girth control”—“…shrubs overgrow paths. Sometimes you can move the path but if not, then girth control must be imposed.” Most of us don’t have the luxury or desire to keep moving the path, much less allow unchecked growth, whether it’s the garden’s design or the space that dictates action. Yang compares ‘girth control’ to bonsai gardening, the art of keeping mature plants healthy and handsome in limited confines.

The author takes on fast-food packaged soil, explaining why she goes to trouble of mixing her own. She is rankled by packaged soil’s “sterility, ” and the unnecessary expense it entails if you’re using it outside. “A sterile soil (one that’s free of pests) is useful for potted plants indoors. Outdoors it won’t be sterile for long.” Yang goes on to quote Charles E. Kellogg, former head of the National Soil Survey, USDA, as saying “an essential feature of soil is living microorganisms. No life, no soil.”

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