“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” ~Carlos Castaneda
As winter continues here in my area of Central New York, I am thinking about native plants I want to purchase. I am gazing upon my decaying garden as it sleeps wondering what changes I can make this year. It is easier to look at the bones of the garden in winter, and consider what might be.
So I am always looking for new ideas for my garden, and when I heard about a new book that was getting some buzz I decided to order it since it was all about alternatives to problem plants.
I have a tendency to leaf through a book to get an overall picture before I read it. Not always a good idea as I found out with this book. As I was leafing through it, I was shocked to see so many beloved plants on the hit list to lose, launch or get rid of in your garden. These favorites were labeled “Everyday Problems”, and this started me thinking negatively about the book. How dare these wonderful, beloved plants of mine be cast into this negative light. This author was insulting my garden, my family!
OK step back and look at the book again Donna. Yes, I have these internal conversations frequently and sometimes out loud. If so many people like this book, you are missing something here. I reminded myself not to judge a book by its cover, and read the whole book which helped. This was not an easy review for me because I wasn’t sure if I was sold on the book. But I thought I would still review it, for my post to link in with Holley@Roses and Other Gardening Joys and her monthly Garden Book Review meme that takes place on the 20th of every month.
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Timber Press (November 13, 2012)
Amazon Price: $16.47 (Paperback)
In A Few Words
This book purports to solve garden problems. It is broken down into 3 distinct sections. The first is an introductory section called Upgrade Your Garden: Forbidden Fruit and How to Choose All-Star Plants. The author outlines how popular plants grow to be garden problems that come with baggage. The biggest issues that cause these problems revolve around the idea that we cannot give some plants what they need. They require too much effort, water, fertilizers, etc. So this idea started to intrigue me as I have dealt with these issues with plants. My original judgement of the book was beginning to waver as I read on. The next quote below really made me stop and consider what plants could be this wonderful and do I have them in my garden…
To grow an engaging, original garden means choosing original plants. Instead of problem plants, consider these problem-solvers:
Plants that tolerate summer heat and winter cold, even in the most rugged garden
Plants with vibrant color, tantalizing texture, and elegant structure virtually year round
Plants that attract birds and bees, benefiting both their ecosystem and ours
Plants that require less water
Plants that aren’t necessarily popular today, but will mature into the true garden originals of tomorrow.
These are exactly the types of plants we all want, right? So I moved on to the next section, Everyday Problem Plants and Extraordinary Alternatives which was broken into subsections: Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Perennials and Grasses and Groundcovers. I was amazed at the hundreds of alternatives to choose from and equally amazed at the popular favorites like hosta, astilbe, daylilies, Japanese maple and holly that were now labeled problems.
The last section contained many Resources: Recommended Reading, Websites, Mail Oder Sources, Metric Conversions, and an Index. I have purchased from many of the mail order websites with pretty good luck.
What I Liked
First I loved Andrew Keys fun writing style and his expertise as a garden designer. His section on How to Choose All-Star Plants is a great introduction as he moves the reader through his comprehensive process of choosing plants : Seduction-color, shape, texture, size, character; Location-hardiness, light, water/soil, maintenance, geography; and Selection-plant names, shopping.
The majority of the book is about the problem plants and their alternatives. The problem plant’s hardiness, shape, color, texture, light, character and size are provided with a brief description of the plants problems. Then a few alternative plants are described with their pertinent information as well and why they may be a better alternative. The photos give a great view of the plants.
What was intriguing about the problem plants, was that so many popular and favorite plants were on the hit list; some I can say are problem plants for me too, and some are plants I like that seem to do well in my garden. But when I read through this section paying attention to the problem plants, I had to shake my head in agreement for many of these plants even though I love them. For instance birch trees are native here and so why wouldn’t we plant a native tree. Well in the snow belt, birch trees have a tendency to bend and break when they are young. Keys has other reasons why not to grow them, but I know my dad tried to grow them year after year only to find defeat until he finally resorted to a red maple.
And who doesn’t love forsythia. How can it be a problem? Keys finds the problem in the fact that it is too common. My problem with this plant is that it is not native, and the plant dies back every winter. It then flowers unevenly if at all with our crazy spring weather. He offers a few alternatives that are not native for me. But one alternative, St. John’s Wort, is was native to my area. He also had many of the problem plants that I lamented about last week as they never showed last spring: lilacs, bleeding hearts, delphinium and hydrangea with some wonderful ideas to replace them. So we shall see if I find a suitable replacement.
Not So Much
There are couple of issues for me still with this book. You really have to pay attention to the plants Keys is recommending as they may not be hardy for your area or they may not like your climate even though they grow in your zone.
And when Keys gives the invasive plants the boot, he does not always choose native alternatives which is a problem since some of the alternatives may not be the best choice. You could be replacing one invasive with another invasive or with a non-native plant which makes no sense. I do wish the author had picked more natives from different sections of the country as they are the best, least fussy alternatives to most problem plants. Of course this is my bias so keep that in mind.
No one book will please everyone and this book may outrage some because a beloved plant is being labeled a problem child. It may be because the plant is invasive, or hard to grow without a lot of fussing over. And in that respect Keys is right. Many of our tried and true plants have become problem children. And I will remind the reader that the book is supposed to help you solve garden problems. If you don’t have problems and love a problem plant, then keep it. But if you have fussy plants or you want to get rid of non-natives, you now have some ideas. But be forewarned you will have to do some homework before you can pick just any alternative mentioned or you could have another problem plant.
This book is also a good resource if you are looking to refresh your garden, and find some new interesting plants. Do I love the book? No not entirely, but it certainly was an interesting read. You too might consider the book if you want some new ideas or are looking for some new plants.
**All pictures, except for the honeysuckle at the top of the post, are plants from my garden that the author of this book has labeled problem plants. I do not agree all are problems although some have been a bit of a problem of late. The honeysuckle is actually an alternative to the invasive Japanese honeysuckle.
“Helped are those who create anything at all, for they shall relive the thrill of their own conception and realize a partnership in the creation of the Universe that keeps them responsible and cheerful.” ~Alice Walker
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