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Between the Rows: Season’s sensations and succulent success

  • Tovah Martin’s “The Garden in Every Sense and Season.”

  • “Success with Succulents,” by John Bagnasco and Robert Reidmuller.

  • LEUCHTMAN



For the Recorder
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When we returned from our trip to Texas, we found that all of a sudden the garden had bloomed. The shy primroses were glowing, there were elegant white bloodroots, dainty yellow fairy bells and sunny wood poppies lighting up the shade. The winter had been long, and now the beginning of a season filled with blooms and fragrance had arrived.

In “The Garden in Every Sense and Season,” Tovah Martin sings about the perfumes in a spring flower garden and the sensory joys that exist throughout the year. This book reminds us that we need to stop weeding and racing through long to-do lists and take the time to engage all of our senses.

Martin begins her book with the spring season, which she admits is “a relay race, and we act like sprinters. Springtime excites all our senses.” I can attest to excitement in our neighborhood as we marveled at the radiant gold of a mysterious shrub and finally identified it as witch hazel. Martin reminds us of all the very early spring bloomers that cheer us, with and without fragrance.

She takes us on a cruise through the seasons that inspire us to extend our plant choices, and our gardening year. I think my garden year begins with walks through the garden when I am searching for tiny shoots, and the thawing soil gives its own subtle fragrance. It does not end until only the winterberries red and gold provide color.

And so it goes through the seasons. The changes in the palette of the flower garden, the arrival and departure of birds and butterflies, the pungency of autumnal aromas, the brightness of the flavor of freshly picked vegetables — and the aches that we might face after an afternoon of planting bulbs.

Martin does not tell us about the work to do in the garden, or the plants that we must have. She walks us through her garden, as she would a visitor. While we might learn about new plants, and arrangements with vegetables along the way, her goal is to show us a way of being mindful in the garden and focus on the beauties and sensations that our gardens give us in every season.

Martin relates her visit to a Japanese garden where she first “saw how syncopation could alter the pursuit of happiness.” Syncopation is not a usual word to describe a garden walk but she goes on to say that she had been tearing through “when I noticed the raised stepping stones rather than one continuous paved progression. Had I been more keyed in, I would have sensed that the path was asking me to slow down.”

I enjoyed slowing to down to drink in her rich prose and her view of the garden. “The Garden in Every Sense and Season” has beautiful photographs by Kindra Clineff and is published by Timber Press books.

I am not really a houseplant person, but almost all the houseplants I do have are succulents. Outside I have sedum groundcovers, but my view of succulents has been limited. John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller have written “Success with Succulents: Choosing, Growing and Caring for Cactuses and Other Succulents” that opens up an extensive world of indoor and outdoor plants.

Bagnasco and Reidmuller begin by differentiating between succulents and cactuses. They say “All cactuses are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses.” Cactuses have a special organ called an areole that allows for the creation of branches, flowers, fruits, spines, and even leaves, but areoles do not have the sap that flows throughout the cactus. Unlike the cactus, succulents might have spines or thorns, but these are a part of the plant and do have juice or sap inside which you can see if you snip that thorn in half. And to make life even a little more complicated, for those who note that a rose thorn is not juicy, the proper name of a rose thorn is a “prickle.” Having gotten all this straight in my mind, I feel quite erudite.

There is a brief chapter about the four Cactaceae families, and the uses of certain cactuses. For example, “The stems of Stenocereus gummosus were crushed and thrown in lakes and ponds by natives. Substances in the cactus would paralyze the fish and once they floated to the top, they would be gathered up by the locals.” Wow!

The list and descriptions of non-cactus succulents is much longer and includes the more familiar agave, aloe, crassula, dracaena, echeveria, sedum and yucca.

Part 2 is devoted to the ways and climates in which cactuses and succulents can be used outdoors. Attention is paid to the ways of caring for these plants in colder climates. Directions are given for watering (perhaps the trickiest issue) light, temperature, fertilizer pest problems and propagation techniques.

Part 3 takes us to the world of indoor cactuses and succulents that also need light, special potting soil, proper watering and a proper container that will allow for good drainage.

The final section is a useful catalog of 100 top choices of succulents and cactuses, their needs and care. Readers will be tempted and inspired to enjoy more of these plants indoors and out.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.