Phillip Oliver is an Assistant Professor/Librarian at the University of North Alabama in Florence. He is also a Master Gardener, writer, blogger and photographer and presently serves on the Florence Beautification Board. He has been writing articles for Alabama Gardener since 2007. He chronicles the progress of his personal garden on his website "A Southern Garden" and on his blog "Dirt Therapy" at phillipoliver.net.
 

 

Read any good gardening books lately?
by Phillip Oliver - posted 08/06/14

Read any good gardening books lately?

 

I usually read gardening books in the winter time. They tend to recharge my enthusiasm during the "down time" from the gardening season and get me excited for the coming spring. This year has been an exception and I have been reading quite a few books lately. For one thing, gardening books seem to be coming back on the scene after a long dull period. Back in the 1990s, the publishing market was over-saturated with books on the subject and it has taken some time to reignite that interest. 

Since I am a librarian, I keep up with the trade publications (like "Publisher's Weekly" and "Library Journal") and I catch reviews of titles that might otherwise sneak by me. I also review books and often get offered copies of upcoming titles before they are published.

Here are some books that I really enjoyed and would recommend. Some were published this year and others have been out for a few years. This is not the entire list so I will do a "Part 2" soon.

Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935 by Sam Watters. Acanthus Press, 2012.

I was not familiar with Frances Benjamin Johnston. She was a photographer of architecture, presidents, celebrities and gardens in the early 1900s. Her garden photography established her as somewhat of a celebrity herself, notably in gardening circles. She was commissioned to photograph the gardens and estates of wealthy Americans and helped document the advances of beautification in this country.

This book features 250 of her hand colored glass-plate lantern slides that have been preserved by the Library of Congress. The gardens she photographed were on the East Coast, West Coast and a few Southern gardens as well. There is also a section of European gardens.

Here are a few samples of the incredible images from the book -



Thorndale, Oakleigh Thorne House, Millbrook, New York, 1919

Dudley Leavitt Pickman Jr. House, Beverly, Massachusetts, 1926

Cliveden, Viscount Waldorf Astor House, Taplow, England, 1925
 

Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Stories and Skills from Generations of Gardeners by Jenks Farmer. Timber Press, 2014.


I loved this book! The author discusses methods of gardening that time and technology have pretty much swept aside. He covers a wide range of topics, from soil building techniques and propagating to the wonderful tools that our grandparents used. Each section includes a gardening mentor who influenced the author and shows how their practices work in their own gardens. 




The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Penguin Books, 2012.

This is not really a "gardening" book but I think anyone who loves plants and nature will find it fascinating. The author is a biology professor at Sewanee University. For this book, he conducted an experiment in which he selected a small section of Tennessee forest (he refers to it as a "mandala") and visited that spot periodically throughout the year to just sit and obverse nature in action. Each chapter focuses on a single activity, whether it is watching a chickadee foraging for food on a harsh winter's day or how a certain plant competes to survive. Interesting stuff!





Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales by Marta McDowell. Timber Press, 2014.


I did not know much about Beatrix Potter and I never read the Peter Rabbit books. It turns out she was an avid gardener. She purchased many properties during her lifetime but it was in England's Lake District, where she created her garden and home, called "Hill Top",  that is preserved today for tourists and fans. This book was not only a pleasure to read but I love the way it is designed, with beautiful illustrations and photographs.






Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden by Helen Yoest. St. Lynn's Press, 2014.


The author profiles 45 plants known for their aphrodisiac properties. This unique book has all kinds of fascinating tidbits about plants and their histories as well as recipes. This includes herbs, vegetables and fruits. Illustrated with great photos.


If you want to purchase any of these from Amazon, just click on the title link and it will take you there.

More to come!

 

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Twilight Garden
by Phillip Oliver - posted 05/02/14


This is such a busy time of year in the garden that I have to force myself to stop and take photos. I took these one evening last week right before dusk. I love how the chartreuse foliage pops in the fading light.

The Kousa dogwood "Wolf's Eyes" has just leafed out and seems to glow in the dark. It is one of my favorite small trees.  




Deutzia with hostas, underneath Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fortunei


Salvia "May Night" growing under "Buff Beauty" rose. I severely pruned "Buff Beauty" two years ago - I did not want to do it but there were so many dead branches underneath. It seems to be coming back nicely but I would not advise pruning it like this unless you just have to.


Spirea "Gold Mound" - a truly wonderful, carefree shrub.


 
Smoke Tree "Golden Spirit" (Cotinus coggygria) with Lespedeza "Gibraltar" (Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar') underneath.


 
Chinese Snowball (Viburnum macrocephalum)

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) growing between the patio steps.


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

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Spring Is Here
by Phillip Oliver - posted 04/10/14



I love this time of year when everything seems to pop out overnight. I've noticed a few losses from our tough winter - at least one rose bit the dust ("Felicia") and the rosemary also looks like a total loss. Some of the obviously tender plants like the Armandi clematis and Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) survived but there are lots of brown leaves. The jury is still out on the Confederate Jasmine (Trachelosperum jasminoides). I have cut it back severely but it looks like it is still alive. Ditto on the Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).

But, on to the brighter spots in the garden -



The wickedly thorny Hardy Orange (Poncirus trifoliata) is covered with tiny white dainty blooms. In the fall, it will have lovely but inedible oranges. This results in seedlings popping up everywhere that have to be dealt with. I think it is worth it, it is definately a conversation piece. I'm going to try to get some potted up this year for the Master Gardener's plant sale.



One of my favorite shrubs is Kerria (Kerria japonica) or Easter Rose. I've grown this since my beginning days of gardening. It is always in bloom at Easter time. 



 
The same came be said for Viburnum 'Mohawk' (Viburnum x burkwoodii 'Mohawk'). It is always a dependable bloomer and though the blooms don't last as long as the Kerria, it makes up for that with its spicy fragrance.

 

Chinese Snowball (Viburnum macrocephalum) is covered with greenish blooms at the top of the shrub (I've never figured out the correct way to prune this) that will turn white over the next few weeks.


The camellias are not as profuse in bloom this year but a few are notable.


 
"Taylor's Perfection" has the most blooms. I just love the clear pink blooms even though they have a tendency to nod.

 
 Only two blooms so far on Camellia "Magnoliaflora" but it is still a very small shrub.


 
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), one of the most exquisite wildflowers.




Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum) has sweet smelling flowers but the foliage is the main attraction.


The reseeding Money Plant (Lunaria), another pretty blue wildflower.



 
Hosta "Dancing Queen" - I bought this last year from Harry Wallace's nursery. I was a big Abba fan back in the day.


I'm a sucker for chartreuse foliage - another favorite is Golden Creeping Jenny ( Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)


Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) with cheery bright yellow flowers.



 
Chester does not seem to be amused by any of this.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

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