Garden revolution How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change

Larry Weaner

Book - 2016

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Portland, Oregon : Timber Press 2016.
Physical Description
328 pages : color illustrations
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Larry Weaner (author)
Other Authors
Thomas Christopher (author)
Review by Choice Review

By understanding plants, their ecology, growth requirements, and ranges, a gardener can broadly think about what he or she creates. These ideas are the foundation of this work. Rather than thinking of composition and imposing a particular design on the landscape, and then maintaining that design, the author takes the view that one should plant in such a way as to emulate natural ecosystems and processes. He indicates that some common horticultural practices make it difficult to achieve a stable landscape. Plants that are suited to the environment will be much more successful (and will have less maintenance) than those that require changes to the habitat, such as pH adjustments or the addition of organic material. This ecologically informed style of gardening also provides benefits to local ecosystems. Many tips are provided regarding how one can create sustainable landscapes. A well-conveyed message is that patience is required, and that this patience will prove rewarding with ever-changing views. Practical advice abounds from planting instruction to thinking about the proliferation of particular plants. The book is lavishly illustrated with color photographs that seem to urge the reader to experiment. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and professionals and practitioners. --Donald H. Pfister, Harvard University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

"WHAT'S THE POINT, MOM?" my younger son asked one afternoon when I put down my pruning shears and we sat together on a boulder near a large old azalea. In those days, he thought I had all the answers. "What's the point of gardening? Everything's going to die, anyway." That's about as profound as it gets in anyone's backyard, and no, this wasn't the time for a teaching moment on dormancy. What is the point? Why do we toil so? My short answer: Because we can. Because we're here. Whatever your answer - for food, for beauty, for peace, for escape, for muscle tone - there are books aplenty to help you ponder root causes. How about gardening to heal and nurture your land? Ambitious as it may sound, there's a quiet revolution underway among landscape designers, one that encourages ecological renewal by letting plants be where they want to be rather than where we force them to grow, GARDEN REVOLUTION: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change (Timber Press, $39.95), by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher, is an invaluable and provocative resource for gardeners who want to collaborate with their local ecologies - and save themselves both heartbreak and backbreak. "Nature is your partner," Weaner insists. Enough with arranging and planting in conventional ways; enough with amending soil, changing pH levels, fertilizing and irrigating. Let's base our gardening on "how plants and wildlife associate in a natural state." This doesn't mean aesthetic considerations disappear - indeed, Weaner's landscapes have a shambolic beauty - but he warns that it isn't a style for the micromanager. "This sort of design requires letting the landscape make many of the decisions." You should be prepared to enjoy that vibrant patch of cardinal flowers for only a season or two, until stronger competitors take hold. After all, a garden is "as much a process as a place." Deer are also part of the ecosystem, and Weaner creates companion plantings that seem to repel them. Although I'm still putting my money on fences, this book is generous with practical considerations. I had one aha! moment after another, especially in the chapters on creating meadows and fringing a woodland with shrubs. "God, for me, is nature," Roberto Burle Marx once said. With the publication of a lavish monograph, ROBERTO BURLE MARX: Brazilian Modernist (Jewish Museum/Yale University, $50), the work of this great midcentury landscape architect, who invented the modernist tropical garden, will become better known. A handful of American designers, notably the esteemed Raymond Jungles, based in Miami, have taken inspiration from Marx's graphic, colorful work. The book's accompanying show, running this summer at the Jewish Museum in New York, will help capture new hearts. Although Burle Marx designed more than 2,000 gardens around the world and discovered nearly 50 plant species, he's probably best known for his work at Brasilia and for the mosaic pavements of Avenida Atlântica, along Copacabana Beach. His own garden, now a park in a rural area near Rio de Janeiro, contains an important botanical collection of over 3,500 species. Oddly, it was during a childhood trip with his family to Berlin that the young Burle Marx became captivated by the tropical plants that had been exported to German gardens. In Europe he also came into contact with Cubism. The Burle Marx household was lively and cultured; his parents entertained Arthur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau, Stefan Zweig and Le Corbusier during their visits to Brazil. A chapter detailing Burle Marx's Jewish roots - and commissions - is especially moving. Equally enthralling is his art: In addition to paintings and sculpture, he designed textiles, tiles, jewelry and tapestries. The book's images of his gouaches, like the one of the design for a rooftop garden, are stunning. Certainly, for Burle Marx, gardening satisfied a spiritual hunger. Of the fabulous - and fleeting - flower of Victoria amazonica, a water lily of epic proportions, he noted, "When I see something like this I start to believe that life has meaning." But let's turn to another kind of nourishment. If your vegetable garden happens to be on your roof, Annie Novak is the genius for your place. Novak, who is passionate about "people, plants, food politics," is a co-founder and the head farmer of the nation's first commercial green roof farm, in Brooklyn. Whipping winds? Tar paper? Scorching sun? No problem. New York has a long tradition of rooftop gardening and, as Novak points out, not just for the owners of penthouses. Her Brooklyn farm opened for business in the spring of 2009, immediately attracting bees, bugs and buyers. THE ROOFTOP GROWING GUIDE: How to Transform Your Roof Into a Vegetable Garden or Farm (Ten Speed, paper, $23) features farmers from across the country, with advice for everyone. Novak's prose is clear, warm and accessible. No space is wasted in her garden, and it's the same in her book, where every page is packed with information. You'll learn how to build a Berlese-Tullgren funnel (a simple century-old tool "for luring out and identifying ground-dwelling insects"); you can decide whether Bokashi composting is for you (speedy but smelly, as it's anaerobic); and you can even learn the names of the various parts of your roof (a useful demystification for many homeowners). For years, Novak has been proselytizing for a movement that has now reached global proportions. She notes that Chicago has seven million square feet of green roofs; as of 2013, Portland, Ore., had 300 ecoroofs and 130 roof gardens; and in Germany, one rooftop in 10 is green. But why wait to have flat acreage over your head? Many of us live on patches of ground that look as desiccated as that roof Novak started with. Her book is also a terrific introduction to farming in Any Yard,U.S.A. Nothing like herbs to punch up those veggies, the culinary HERBAL: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavor ful Herbs (Timber Press, $27.50), by Susan Beisinger and Arthur O. Tucker - self-described "flavor and fragrance junkies" - moves to the front ranks of the now-crowded field of herbals. Suddenly, everyone seems to be growing hyssop, lemon verbena, elder and cumin. Herbs are quite satisfying, the golden retrievers of the plant world - they run till they drop, and it's hard to dampen their joie de vivre. In other words, they're kind to new (or aging) gardeners. Without a lot of pomp and fuss, this guidebook walks you through the propagation, harvesting and preserving of herbs. The photographs by Shawn Linehan are enticing too. You aren't the only one with an appetite, CARNIVOROUS PLANTS: Gardening With Extraordinary Botanicals (Timber Press, $29.95), by Nigel Hewitt-Cooper, might keep you up at night, contemplating its vastly gorgeous weirdness - or at least suggesting a way to cope with your housefly problem. Hewitt-Cooper harbors a tender love for his subject and seems a bit hurt when people snub his plants: "Many pass my displays at flower shows," he writes in his introduction, "declaring, 'Oh, I don't like those things.'" He aims to dispel a few myths. Carnivorous plants aren't mere novelties; they have "grace and elegance." They aren't strictly greenhouse plants, and deserve a place among our favorite garden ornamentals. And they aren't all enamored of the tropics; many thrive in temperate conditions. What plants of prey do need is full sun, a period of cold dormancy and rainwater - not tap water, which contains too many minerals, to say nothing of chlorine. If this already sounds daunting, Hewitt-Cooper suggests trying window boxes - ideal for Venus flytraps and all the pitcher plants - or bog gardens. Surprisingly, many carnivorous plants aren't fussy about freezing. When it comes to feeding time, any manner of bugs will satisfy, though Hewitt-Cooper warns that earthworms might produce a nasty smell. He has seen one of his plants trap a small bird - but that's a rarity. In any case, his "straight-up obsession" may well suggest the beginning of a garden trend. I'm certainly spotting more pitcher plants in fancy flower arrangements. Speaking of which: Many of us toil in the garden for the sake of beauty. It's a great pleasure to bring flowers inside when the day grows dim, so you can enjoy them on your kitchen counter or bedside table, STYLING NATURE: A Masterful Approach to Floral Arrangements (Rizzoli, $45), by Lewis Miller with Irini Arakas, is a treasure. Shot by the photographer Don Freeman, an artist in his own right, every page is worth a long gaze. As a floral designer, Miller has adroitly handled assignments as daunting as gala openings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but here he's aiming to inspire you and me. I'm the first to admit that I generally stuff whatever I have, higgledy-piggledy, into a vase, without giving much thought to shape or color, much less texture. "We've seen calla lilies contorted to death and demoralized," Miller writes in one caption. Yup, that sounds familiar. "But look," he adds, "at these glorious, bodacious bombshells!" Indeed, he has unleashed their inner divas. The book's glamour is inescapable, and there's nothing mundane about Miller's prose: "The best way to make an arrangement is to think about sex or listen to one of your favorite songs." Lewis uses flowers easily found at nurseries and markets in his boldly romantic arrangements. Be inspired. Or be lazy: Prop the book open on your coffee table and turn the pages to enjoy a new bouquet every day. For those of you who want more guidance, I recommend THE FLOWER WORKSHOP: Lessons in Arranging Blooms, Branches, Fruits, and Foraged Materials (Ten Speed, $25), by Ariella Chezar with Julie Michaels. Chezar, whose creations have an easy sweetness, is an accomplished designer who can count the White House as a client. She likes to work, she says, quoting the poet Mary Oliver, until "I can hear the almost unbearable sound of the roses singing." Surely that's reason enough to go snipping. Or shopping. Ask not what you can do for your plants - even though they're always clamoring for attention. Instead, Stephen Harris, a curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, asks another question in WHAT HAVE PLANTS EVER DONE FOR US: Western Civilization in Fifty Plants (Bodleian Library/University of Chicago, $25). Probably way more than you ever appreciated. Taking a chronological approach, he begins with all the things we should know about barley (your shoe size "is determined by the old measure of a barleycorn"). Among the book's tidbits of information: For over 600 years the English "fixed the weight of a penny as 32 grains of wheat." The domesticated silk moth is such a picky eater it will tolerate only one food plant, white mulberry. Woad gave us a dark blue dye until competition from indigo edged it out - and it took its revenge by becoming a serious agricultural weed. In 1982, tobacco became the first artificially genetically modified plant. After heroin and cocaine, tobacco is the third-most-addictive commonly used drug. "Tobacco," Harris notes, "has probably killed more of us than any other plant on the planet." All this makes for great bedtime reading. Stow this book away for winter evenings, when your plants have gone dormant and you want to count the ways in which you love them. While you may never have occasion to build your own "debris hut," make your own kimchi or experiment with kokedama (the "moss ball" style of Japanese bonsai), you can still wander through the pages of A WILDER LIFE: A Season-by-Season Guide to Getting in Touch With Nature (Artisan, paper, $29.95), by Celestine Maddy with Abbye Churchill, in awe and appreciation. Maddy and Churchill are responsible for the beautiful and inspiring magazine called Wilder, which reads like a throwback to the old days of handcrafted paper and ink. Amplifying that spirit, "A Wilder Life" urges readers to garden with a purpose - to stew, brew, can and pot. When winter comes around and you find that the knees of your jeans have given out, there's a nifty chapter on how to embroider a patch, sashiko style, that will fortify both jeans and you. Nature isn't just a screen saver. It's a soul saver. Of course it would be a poet who has the most powerful insights into why we garden. Reading WHAT IS A GARDEN? (University of South Carolina, $29.95), by W. S. Merwin, is akin to sitting at the feet of a wise elder. I'm grateful to the photographer and filmmaker Larry Cameron for bringing this book about, and for sharing the enchantment of Merwin's Hawaiian garden. This former poet laureate of the United States went to Maui some 40 years ago to study with a Zen teacher. Later, looking for a place to make a home, he encountered a desolate landscape defined by ridges of dry grass and scrub guavas. A hundred years earlier, these acres had been deforested by cattle ranchers and sugar planters. "Nothing will grow here" was the message scribbled in the local records. Still, as Merwin stood under a wild mango at the edge of a creek bed, "I felt a wish to have more to do with it." That's about as humble - and proper - a description as I've encountered for that mystical feeling of connection to a plot of land. "A garden is a relation," Merwin writes, "which is one of the countless reasons why it is never finished." At first, Merwin meant to use the land to "restore a section of indigenous Hawaiian forest," but he learned it was an impossible task. "Only a forest can restore a forest- Our human destructions are often irreparable." What did come to fruition, though, was a forest garden - "a kind of fiction" - beginning with hundreds of thickly planted palms, "a project to grow all the native Hawaiian species I could, to help preserve them." At the beginning, palms all looked alike to him. Eventually, Merwin planted 850 species. You can see the appeal: "There is a whole lore of coconuts that recounts the birth of some of them, in Tahiti, from the heads of children who died of hunger, and tells of others that grew from the heads of fishermen who had dangled their hair in the sea as bait, and of some that sprang from the heads of gods." Monkeypods, "planted as seedlings no taller than chives," now tower over Merwin's house. Jasmine, plumeria, banana trees, begonias, heliconias, hibiscus and ginger took root, overhung with Spanish moss. This is, wonderfully, an old man's book. It wanders, it's repetitive, but with each retelling of a story, new details emerge. Just as paths should bend and curve to slow your walk through a garden, so the curves in Merwin's prose settle our minds into a deeper consideration of what we're reading. "It is an enchantment, all of it," he writes of his garden, "from the daydreaming to the digging." Recently, after some long days in my own woodlands, I lay in Savasana (corpse pose, my favorite) on my mat, aching, at the end of a yoga class. Our lovely teacher asked us to let go of the intentions we had brought with us - because we were finished. "There's nothing more to do here," she declared. I thought about that as I read through these garden books: how all of us, in this worldly garden we share, cherish and cultivate, must learn to accept, at day's end, that we have done what we can - even as we're about to get up and do what we can all over again tomorrow. Let our wise elder honor us with a final thought. "A garden," Merwin writes, "is made of hope, which contributes to its pleasure and its fragility. It cannot be proven, nor clutched, nor hurried." Dominique browning works for the Environmental Defense Fund as the senior director of Moms Clean Air Force.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 5, 2016] Review by Booklist Review

Weaner and Christopher a landscape designer specializing in meadows and a longtime horticultural journalist, respectively don't make their book easy for the home gardener to follow. A discursive text, a focus on larger-scale landscapes and not a typical urban lawn, recommended (if sparing) use of pesticides, landscaping plans that could take several seasons to work . . . and yet, there's inspiration here, from the honesty with which the authors address climate change to the experiential wisdom they bring to every aspect of the complex process of creating a landscape, a process that includes an understanding of the soil, hydrology, and topology of the site; an inventory of the plants (preferred or not) already on-site; the role of disturbance weeding, mowing on an existing ecosystem; and the process of choosing plants. While the focus is on larger plots, Weaner helpfully discusses the process by which he landscaped his own one-third-acre plot on the outskirts of Philadelphia. For the adventurous gardener or those outside the city limits who have more space to work with.--Moores, Alan Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This new offering by ecological landscape designer Weaner and horticulturist Christopher is a lively, knowledgeable alternative to the traditional approach to gardening and landscape maintenance. With an eye toward environmental preservation and-where appropriate-healing, the book's premise asserts that many established gardening practices are outdated and labor-intensive and do not truly maximize the land's growing potential or environmental sustainability. The authors propose, for example, the practice of cutting weeds as opposed to yanking them out by the roots, asserting that fewer seeds spread and re-seed when weeds are cut, which in the end stifles overall weed growth. They offer guidance for creating meadows, prairies, shrublands, and woodlands and for developing a "synergistic plant list." With accompanying stunning color photographs, the authors invite readers into a world of new landscape possibilities with an eye toward natural beauty and sustainability. This is an indispensable resource for any professional landscape designer or contractor. Color photos. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved