Between the Rows: New gardening books remind us there’s always something new to learn

  • “Ground Rules: 100 Easy Lessons for Growing a More Glorious Garden” Contributed image/Timber Press

  • “The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard” Contributed image/Timber Press


For the Recorder
Published: 12/14/2018 12:37:52 PM

It would be easy to dismiss Kate Frey’s new book, “Ground Rules: 100 Easy Lessons for Growing a More Glorious Garden” as something only of interest for the new gardener. However, it does not take a long browse through each bright page to realize there is always something to learn, or to remember.

Frey is a consultant, educator, designer and freelance writer specializing in sustainable gardens and small farms that encourage biodiversity. She is a gardener whose experience has taught her how to break down all the aspects of gardening.

The first necessity is thinking about what you need in a garden, and dreaming about what you love and would like to create. There are many questions to ask yourself. If you want vegetables, where will you place them? What do you want to see out your window?

On that note, I can tell you that when we moved to a small house in town, we had to renovate the kitchen. A result of that new and much more efficient kitchen is a double window looking out into the garden. That view is the best view of the garden and I get to enjoy it every time I make toast, toss a salad, cut out cookies or plate up our dinner. It gives me more pleasure every day observing the daily and seasonal changes. Thinking about what you will see from your window is an important aspect of planning your garden.

Each page with its informative text and bright photos is a delight. The second chapter, called Joy of Plants, provides great information about choosing the right plants and the right space that will please in every season, including annuals, perennials, vines and bulbs.

The Real Dirt chapter is full of information about creating healthy soil. I think we are all aware of how important the quality of our soil is to the success of our plantings, but are not sure how to improve and maintain good soil, especially if we are determined to cut down on or eliminate herbicides and pesticides.

Frey’s chapters move on through Be Wise With Water; How to Be a Good Garden Parent; Birds, Bees and Butterflies and their importance; and finally, the Garden of Earthly Delights. Frey gives us an abundance of knowledge and pleasure in this little book.

“The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard” understandably hits on many of the same issues as “Ground Rules.” The difference is that author Susan Morrison provides many examples of ways to organize a small garden for your individual preferences and needs.

Morrison is not only a landscape designer, she is an authority on small-space garden design. She is a good teacher and has shared her strategies on the PBS series “Growing a Greener World” and in publications such as Fine Gardening.

More and more of us are living in more urban areas and deal with space constraints, or need and want smaller gardens in our later years. Morrison reminds us at the start that a small space can result in less effort and less maintenance, and therefore more enjoyment, beauty and relaxation. She begins by stating that designing a new garden demands a consideration of how and when you will use that space. Do you grill and have frequent meals outside? Do you sit in the garden in the middle of the day, or in the cooler hours? Will your pets enjoy the garden?

I found “The Less is More Garden” to be wonderfully inspiring. Morrison provides design templates to give the novice someplace to start and provides information about plants for different situations. She knows how to create illusions of space, the value of focal points, and the importance of water in the garden even if it is only a bird bath. As a person who is timid about choosing colors, I appreciated the different ways she suggested for thinking about color.

What makes a house a home? It takes more than four walls and a roof. It takes time living in the house, making it comfortable for everyone in the family and creating memories. Similarly, it takes time to make a garden. Over time, the garden can take form based on the pleasures everyone finds in it and in building memories of a place that is loved.

The many excellent photographs and Morrison’s lists of particular kinds of plants make this book useful and practical as well as inspirational.

Good books, informational and beautiful, make great gifts, but there is another way of giving information and beauty. You could give the gift of membership in the American Horticultural Society, which includes a subscription to the American Gardener with six issues of information each year and great photos.

Visit to learn about the benefits of a $35 membership, which includes special admission privileges and discounts at 320 public gardens throughout the U.S., an invitation to participate in a seed program, and access to members-only online gardening resources. And of course, you get the enjoyment of knowing you are supporting the American Horticultural Society and gardening is America.

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

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