Between the Rows: “Coffee for Roses,” a book review
C.L. Fornari book “Coffee for Roses” is subtitled “and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening” (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95. Fornari covers a lot of ground in this book, which gives more than it promises. I had to laugh when I opened it to the first myth: “A perennial garden is less work than an annual planting because the plants come up every year.” That was a myth that I believed in when I planted my first perennial. I soon found there was more to do than wait for the plants to come up every spring.
Then, when I had been tending a few “passalong” perennials for a couple of years, I was stunned one summer day when I was reading Janet Gillespie’s delightful book “The Joy of a Small Garden” and she began writing about moving her perennials from one place to another. Surely not! Surely once you plant a perennial that’s where it will grow forever and ever. Dividing and moving? I hadn’t counted on that!
That brings us to myth No. 3: “Passalong plants from neighbors or plant sales are a good way to plant a perennial garden.” Actually, I think passalong plants are a good way to start a garden, but these plants are easy to give because they are what some might politely call strong growers, or aggressive growers or sometimes, thugs. I personally will never grow plume poppy again. Beyond thuggishness, Fornari points out some invasive plants might come with the passalong because the owner thought it was pretty, and goutweed is very pretty, or because a bit of root or seed came along in the soil. Great troubles may await you.
We had plant swaps in Heath for a few years but they stopped because, in three or four years, all of us had the same strong growers and no one needed any more. We were all busy digging out exploded clumps, and weeding plants that self-seeded throughout the perennial bed.
Some myths grow out of a poor sex education. A female does not need a male holly (see Myth No. 36) in close proximity to grow, only to make the desirable red berries. Some biology principles cross species: women don’t need a man in close proximity to grow either and hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs, only to fertilize the eggs and make chicks. I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and she was worried about whether her husband’s carefully tended tomato plant would produce fruit this year. I asked if it had any flowers yet. The question stunned her and I had to point out that fruits and vegetables begin with a flower. Beans and peas and squash and tomatoes all produce flowers. Apples and peaches, too.
I was surprised to learn all the different ways that flowers seduce pollinators into their service. Perfume, of course, but color? Vibrators? Landing strips? Mother Nature certainly is creative.
Fornari not only explains why some myths are untrue, she gives additional related information. When she explains that spiked shoes (Myth No. 57) don’t aerate lawns, she goes further and explains the various ways you can maintain a healthy lawn as well as dangers, like over watering.
We all get our information about gardening in numerous ways. Experienced gardening friends are usually a font of good information and advice. But many friends are not all that experienced, though they are willing to repeat a tip they “heard somewhere.”
I get a lot of information from books, but even when books tell you something that is true, they might not tell you all the ramifications and consequences that follow. For example, many years ago I read, somewhere, that tansy would keep away bugs. You could put it in your hat, or put it by your door, and then not be bothered by bugs. You would even reap a benefit if you planted it with your roses. I don’t recall the promised benefit; it has been erased from my memory by the terrible consequence — a field full of tansy that also infested my raspberry patch and vegetable garden. I am constantly waging battle with this invasive plant. It may be true that tansy keeps away bugs, but I cannot warn people enough about the dangers of tansy, which spreads by roots and by seed. It is pretty, but it is dangerous.
Fornari gives you complete information when exploding a myth. She has been gardening for many years at Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod, written six books, including “Your Garden Shouldn’t Make You Crazy,” hosts a two hour GardenLine call-in radio show and won awards for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. You can find her wit and wisdom on her new blog www.coffeeforroses.com. No bum information anywhere.
Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.