It was so foggy early today that I snapped a picture through the kitchen window. I thought it looked quite beautiful until I saw these images of the landscape southwest of Madison that Mark photographed when he was out that way this morning.
The conditions were just right to create a "fog bow."
Driving back to Madison at noon when the fog had burned off.
I did not initially rush out to get Pam Penick's new book, "The Water-Saving Garden" because I pictured it as something more useful for gardeners in hot and dry climates like Texas where she lives. We've had a couple of sustained serious droughts here in Wisconsin in my memory, and years with a particularly dry spring or mid-summer, but usually lack of water is not a serious concern here. But given the unknown of climate change it seemed like a smart move to see what Penick had to say. I have her first book, "Lawn Gone." In fact it includes a number of Mark's photos, some of our own garden and lots of good ideas which I've adopted.
I found a number of concepts to be of great interest to me in her new book as well. Alas, the first is something I would have done from the start in creating this garden if it had ever occurred to me. Penick calls this idea "ripple zone planting." Put the things that will need more water and attention closest to the house. Put the things that are the tough ones that make it on their own on the outer edges. (I'm giving you the crib notes version here, she devotes a chapter to this concept.)
To a certain extent my garden is set up the opposite way. There's a faucet at the far reaches of the garden but that defeats the concept which is to plant more things that require less water and less work. I can't believe the number of garden lectures, classes and books that have influenced me over the years. But I have no recollection of hearing this excellent idea until right now in Pam's book.
The other concept that I thought Pam really has down pat is how to have the look and feel of water in the garden using little or no water. The pictures above and below are two of the ways we use small amounts of water to big effect in our garden. Last year we had a stone retaining wall put in and our artist/contractor put a number of boulders with depressions all along the top of the wall to catch rainwater. These are the kind of things Pam suggests among a host of other creative ideas.
For me, the other noteworthy chapter in Penick's book is one showing how to suggest the flow and movement and sparkle of water USING PLANTS! Living in Texas where gardeners have been dealing with serious drought has given Penick the real-world experience that she's used to create another excellent book, one full of information and ideas that the rest of us can use as well.
You can find lots of great gardening and water-saving ideas on Penick's blog, Digging, as well. You can order her book here. And for folks in my area the Southwest Wisconsin Library System has seven copies of book available to check out.
My husband came up to me the other afternoon with a book in his hands. "Look at this nice plant grouping," he said as he pointed to one of the pictures. I looked at it thinking I'd seen it somewhere before, when I realized it was a photo of our garden. I have a feeling this deja vu moment may be playing out across the country as all the gardeners, garden bloggers and photographers who contributed images to Nan Ondra's latest book receive their copy in the mail. We contributed an image (page 55) of two varieties of Brunnera and ferns (below).
"The Perennial Matchmaker: Create Amazing Combinations with Your Favorite Perennials," to give it its full title, does just what it says. It's a book that's loaded with images, inspiration and most important: information. Ondra's eye and experience are themselves perfectly matched in this publication.
Since Ondra used a photo from our garden it suggests I know what I'm doing. The fact is, I go to Ondra's blog all the time to specifically look at her "matches." As I was slowly looking through my copy of the book — page by page — I found myself marking page after page showing plants I grow in combinations I had not thought of and like better than mine.
The book opens with an A to Z listing of perennials. Each plant is depicted with Ondra's "perfect match" and her reasons for picking that combo, along with a list of other potential matches she calls "Bloom Buddies." There's information on color consideration, shapes and textures, seasonal features and special effects. With plants that can be picky, she also includes tips for success. This would be a valuable book if it ended here, but that's just the first part.
Part Two explores more options like adding bulbs and shrubs to the mix. Ondra also covers aspects of perennial gardening that are critical to success, namely how to plant and care for your perennials and how to troubleshoot when problems arise. Reading this book I felt like anything I was wondering about was answered and anything I might be having trouble with was solved.
Among the many things I particularly appreciated about Ondra's book is the fact that she not only considers how to the "create amazing combinations" of the title but she does it using OUR favorite plants. Look in the book for what's growing in your garden and see if you can re-mix those plants to better effect with her suggestions. You don't necessarily have to go out and get new and different plants.
Given her own skill as a photographer, Ondra addresses one of the dark sides of garden books, web sites and catalogs: Photos that lie. She suggests doing your homework as you drool over gorgeous garden pictures. Maybe that great combo happened because a tall flower fell over on a short one and they will never look like that growing in your garden. Things may bloom together in an odd year but it will never happen again. Look closely, ask questions and do a little research before you try to recreate every combination you come across. It is to her credit that she speaks to this issue directly.
As a long time gardener, I am not sure if I would have done more than given this book a quick glance in the store. But since we received this book because we contributed a photo, I sat down with it and gave it a much closer look. I am glad that I did because I realized I would have missed a book that has everything I look for in a garden book: It is filled with pictures — and they are surrounded with practical information. Great value for the $25.99 cover price.
The storm that has just started was downgraded. But I don't really know what that means. The original forecast said 1 to 6 inches of snow, rain, freezing rain and sleet. Also wind and thunder. Well it is mid-morning and so dark it looks like about 4:30 in the afternoon. It's snowing heavily, much more than these photos indicate.
The one below was snapped about 15 minutes after the one above. You can see how quickly the snow is sticking to the shrubs and branches. And it just thundered. We used to get snow with thunder quite often when I was growing up in the snowbelt, south of Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY. One of my favorite weather moments. Oh, joy! Just thundered again. And the plow went by.
Mark made a fabulous beef stew yesterday with lots of leftovers and I just took rice pudding with ginger out of the oven. We're set. Frankly, my garden is barely covered with snow and needs more insulation, so I am OK with a bit of winter returning again.
I love European magazines and have stacks of old issues cluttering my house, mostly World of Interiors and Gardens Illustrated. But now and then, I grab a Tattler or the British edition of Vogue when the issue contains a bit of fashion fantasy. These poetic pictures are from a fashion layout from the December 1984 Vogue, styled by the great Grace Coddington and photographed by Bruce Weber.
Coddington was a notable model back in the day, but I think her true talent lies in her editorial work. This week Coddington announced she's stepping down from her role at American Vogue to freelance. The photos below are from one of my favorite Coddington creations.
The spread was titled "In an English garden: A style that could grow on you."
The introductory paragraph of text goes on to say: "Englishwomen are best at this — a look where pieces have been pruned but the whole is wreathed with imagination. Here the tradition branches out into charm and charade, tweeds are tweeds, but mackintoshes and especially hats go further into the landscape . . . "
One reason these images grabbed me so forcefully is certainly the garden theme. But they remind me of the time my roommate Mary and I adorned ourselves in 1950s evening gowns, long gloves and corsages made of vegetables; radishes for me and banana peppers for her. Thus attired, we made a late entrance at a housewarming party for a recently divorced male friend and brought down the house.
In her autobiography, Coddington described these clothes and the photo shoot as "ravishingly romantic." Though Mary and I were clad in outfits and bouquets that were not quite as romantic as these, I think they were equally memorable.
You'd be hard pressed to find a book as different from "Oudolf Hummelo" as "The Gardens of Arne Maynard." Given that I deeply appreciate the work of both men, I should have a much more chaotic garden than I do. I confine my Oudolf worship to trips to Lurie Garden in Chicago and my Arne adoration to drowning in the pages of his book while sipping tea and sitting by the fire. I bought both of these books the minute they were published, unable to wait to see if they appeared under my Christmas tree. But they would make perfect presents for the gardeners on your list.
Unlike "Oudolf Hummelo," this is a big book: 10" x 12" and an inch and a quarter thick. It's got glossy photos, double-page spreads and even tri-fold images. The photography is the work of Maynard's life partner, William Collinson, and captures the history of his work, especially at their two personal gardens. The book also has the most beautiful endpapers I've seen in years: elegant black and white drawings of Fritillaries by Jane Hyslop. The book covers twelve gardens in great depth with both text and images. Only two are outside the UK: one in East Hampton, Long Island in the U.S. and the other in Italy. I found them well-thought-out-and-designed but less interesting than Maynard's gardens in the UK.
With a big, coffee table style book like this one on Maynard's gardens, I often just revel in the images, read the cutlines and dip briefly into the text here and there. The minute I started reading this, I couldn't stop. Not only are there fascinating lessons about how Arne looks at existing landscapes and then discerns what to save and where to start afresh, it is a beautifully written book. Intelligent, evocative and highly personal — at least in terms of the subject at hand. The long pieces on specific gardens are divided with shorter sections that look at the things that Maynard considers "essential" to his gardens: Roses, Topiary, Kitchen Gardens (below) to name a few. These short pieces are about 6 pages long and heavy on examples.
I was very taken with most of Maynard's gardens for clients and his discussions with them about appropriate solutions. He also mentioned differences in working in the UK and the U.S., in particular, our lack of the kind of quality specialist nurseries that pepper England. Because many of the gardens he designs are for people with lots of land and money, he is able to hire skilled craftspeople to make furniture, gates, build walls and such. These aren't things that most of us can afford but we can learn from Maynard's approach about how to incorporate such items into the landscape and link them with our own house and history. I think of the Arborvitae tree trunks we saved when we took out a tree to put in the pond in 1997 and how many places we've used them in the garden. And of the few skilled artists we were able to hire, like Matt Wineke who did our recent driveway project.
But most of all I enjoyed reading about the gardens that Maynard created for his own houses. I remember when I saw this tree (above) at his first garden at Guanock House and marveled that someone had the sense to leave it right there in the middle of the path. I should have realized that this was the work of a very thoughtful gardener.
Listen to Maynard describe his current house and garden, Allt-y-bela in Wales (below): "The moment I saw the garden, I said the house was like an exotic pearl sitting on a cushion of green velvet, and now we're embroidering the cushion with native and species plants. The topiary is the Elizabethan stump work on the cushion, and my rarities are the occasional golden threads that give it another dimension. It is all very delicately crafted, all hand-stitched."
I fell in love with gardening while researching a piece of Elizabethan stump work, so his words caught at my heart. The last words — "delicately crafted, all hand-stitched — certainly speak to all of us whose gardens are the work of our own hands (and backs and knees).
Despite the size and complexity of many of the gardens shown in this book, my copy of "The Gardens of Arne Maynard" is chock full of scraps of paper marking pages with bulbs I want to order and combinations of flowering plants I want to try. Everywhere I looked and read I found something of value, like these incredible crab apple trees (below). No, I won't do an elegantly topiaried pair like this, but I am seriously thinking about growing this variety ('Red Sentinel') where we just lost an ancient Macintosh apple tree in our garden.
Editor's note: I purchased this book on my own and did not receive any remuneration for this post.