‘Shrubs and Hedges,’ ‘Spirit of Place’ reviews

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    "Shrubs & Hedges" by Eva Monheim Contributed photo

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    "Spirit of Place" by Bill Noble. Contributed photo

Published: 8/7/2020 4:15:33 PM
Modified: 8/7/2020 4:15:20 PM

The days have been hot and muggy. It’s time to stay inside after 10 a.m. and think about what fall chores will need to be done. It’s time to turn to new books.

When we designed our Greenfield garden we wanted to make it easy to care for. We knew that meant choosing easy-care plants like shrubs. A trio of hydrangeas promising generous size was our first purchase.

Shrubs change over time and I am still learning about working with my shrubs. The first book, “Shrubs & Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants” by Eva Monheim, is useful to me now that our shrubs have matured. In her new book, Monheim has provided a lot of practical information. The truth about shrubs, as with all plants, is that they do not reach a perfect beautiful form and then never change. 

The book includes a short history of shrubs and their benefits, then moves on to how shrubs are named. We are talking taxonomy here — it is a valuable topic, even though I confess I am endlessly looking up the information more than once before I am confident.

The fourth chapter provides “Profiles of Dependable Classics and Rising Stars.” Classics include roses, slender deutzia, and the large family of hydrangeas. Chapter 5 is about “Designing with Shrubs,” with suggestions for arranging different shrubs together.

Chapter 6 gave me “Pruning for Structure, Shape, Form and Profit.” It is especially valuable to confuse and nervous pruners like me, and to all gardeners. I have been timid about pruning, but Monheim has given me the confidence to selectively thin my shrubs, to cut out terminal branches in order to encourage side branching and to cut back older branches on shrubs for rejuvenation. None of my shrubs are older than five years, but this year I have needed to practice all of these methods. I appreciate the drawings and photographs that give me the confidence to cut — and things are looking more attractive. I also appreciated the section on when to prune, fall, winter, or spring.

Chapter 8 explains the difference between hedges and hedgerows, giving a fascinating explanation about the history of the differences.

I was happy that Chapter 9, “Attracting Pollinators and Other Desirable Wildlife,” provided information about the interconnectivity of all things. These creatures are vital to giving us a healthy environment.

“Shrubs & Hedges” is a practical and useful book with information about the plants, and clear directions about working with your shrubs and hedges. The photographs clearly show plants and their structures. Photos of important tools and how they should be used are also included.

Monheim is currently teaching at the Professional Horticulture Program at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and is a faculty member at the Barnes Arboretum of St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Her website is evamonheim.com.

The second book allows for dreaming. In his book, “Spirit of Place: The making of a New England garden” (Timber Press, $35), Bill Noble describes looking for a new home and finding an “early Greek Revival cape set close to the road” in Norwich, Vt. This property had been a farm ever since 1767, but by the 1950s, it was no longer being farmed. Noble found the property in 1991.

As he started cleaning the collapsed barns, Noble began uncovering the history of the farm. That was the beginning of restoring plantings and designing new gardens.

He describes his various gardens, each one named, with details and plant names. There is the flower garden, the front border, the barn garden, the rock garden, the long border, and the fruit and vegetable garden. I was glad to see his interest in wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds in all seasons, and all other creatures that wander in the fields and forests of farmland.

On his property and over the years, Noble has created many gardens on the property. He began slowly, but made an amazing list of his guiding principles when he began. He says they changed over the years but I found the principles thought-provoking and useful to all of us. What are the goals of any garden? Consider the views. The garden should be maintained according to ecological principles. Vegetable gardens should be organic. Garden management should be manageable. Native plants should be considered and used. Noble also wanted his garden to have an emotional impact. 

I think we all look for many of these ideas and plants in our gardens even though we might never put them in words. It is helpful that Noble can be so clear about what he wants. Many of his plans clarify our own plans.

“Spirit of Place” is a beautiful book. The many excellent photos almost bring us right into his gardens.

Noble’s stunning home gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens in Washington, D.C. He is also the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy in New York. He has worked with individual garden owners as well as public and private organizations. His beautiful website is billnoblegardens.com.

Author’s note: An apology. Last week I misidentified the brilliant array of flowers on Annette Kilminster’s deck. Annette was the colorful arranger of flowers and I thank her again for inviting me to visit.

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


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