Sunday, December 8, 2013

Oh Deer! Deterring (and Enjoying) Our Favorite Forest Animal

A doe feeds in the forest behind our lot
Since moving to a wooded area earlier this year, I've found that most of my neighbors have a love/hate relationship with deer. They love seeing herds of these large animals walk through, and enjoy watching their size, appearance, and habits change throughout the season. They also hate the damage they can do to their gardens.

My family, being forest newbies that have not yet invested a lot in our new landscape, are still in the love phase. Whenever we see deer in the backyard, we alert the others and peer at them out the back windows.

I'm in the process of designing my vegetable garden, and need to take the local deer population into account. They way I see it, there are three ways to deter deer: deer-resistant plants, fences, and chemical-free deterrents.

Deer-Resistant Plants
Deer hate salvia, but pollinators love it.
It just doesn't makes sense to me when homeowners fill their landscapes with plants that deer love, then spend all of their time protecting those plants and lamenting over every chewed-off leaf. Why not do it right from the start, save yourself time and stress, and plant varieties that they don't like? This includes perennial plants in the mint and onion family, and lots of shrubs and trees that are just not appetizing. Perennials like allium, anemone, calamintha nepeta, salvia, and monarda are a few of my favorites. Not only can you select plants from a list of deer-resistant varieties to fill your gardens, but you can also try planting these heavily around plants both you and deer love, like hydrangea.

In the vegetable garden, plant herbs like basil, chives, dill, oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme around the borders of the garden. Deer hate these strong-smelling herbs (but I still recommend a fence - see below).

Luckily, some of my favorite native trees and shrubs are also deer-resistant. Try witch hazel, black chokeberry, bottlebrush buckeye, serviceberry, redbud, sourwood, and tulip tree for full season interest and beauty.

A deer can easily jump over a 6 foot fence, so if you are using a fence as a deer-deterrent, go high. However, many municipalities and home-owners associations do not allow fencing this high, and it can also be quite unattractive. I don't want to block my view, so a fence this tall is not an option. However, if you do it right, a shorter fence can be used in the vegetable garden in conjunction with raised beds. If the deer does not have a safe landing space on the other side of the fence, they will not try to get in. So, when designing your veggie garden, use raised beds in a staggered pattern that does not allow for a clean landing for deer. You can also place some of the plant material mentioned above on the outside of the fence as an additional repellant. Check out this episode of Growing a Greener World for details of the construction of their raised bed trial gardens, and skip to 12:11 for the discussion on fencing options.

Chemical-Free Deterrents
As the Growing a Greener World video mentions, there are lots of old-wives tales when it comes to keeping deer away. Human hair, Irish Spring soap, and flashy metal objects are some of them. Sprays that have a repelling taste or smell may work, but need to be reapplied after rain or snow. I received a sample of Sweeney's Deer Repellent, which emits an odor that triggers the flight-response in deer, but humans can't smell. Humanely gathered dried blood is housed in a weatherproof container, so after sticking them in the ground, they are good for the entire season.

If you've got some really hungry or determined deer you may need to use a combination of these methods, but it is possible to have a beautiful landscape that both you and wildlife can enjoy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Raised Bed Gardens - Healthier and More Productive!

This article is a reprint from The GardenWorks Project blog, with good information on raised beds for any gardener!

Raised Bed Gardens for Our Neighbors in Need

The GardenWorks Project provides families in need of food assistance with a 4x8’ raised garden bed in which to grow their own food at home. Some have asked – isn’t it easier and less expensive to plant right into the ground? Why would you incur the extra expense of purchasing wood and soil, and the extra volunteer labor needed to build the bed?

The quick answer is that we want our clients to be successful, and the combined gardening experience of our leadership and volunteers agree that gardens with raised beds are much easier to start, and grow healthier, more productive plants than ground-level beds. Here’s why:

·        Raised bed gardens are easier to install. It is much easier to build a raised garden frame and fill it with fresh soil and compost than it is to remove sod, break up hard, compacted, often lifeless soil. Our volunteers arrive at the client’s home, help build the frame, place the frame right on top of the grass (cut short), fill the bed with bagged soil and compost, and are ready to plant in about 20 minutes. It would take longer than that to prepare a ground-level bed, and the soil would not be nearly as soft and welcoming to seeds and tender seedlings.

·       Raised beds grow less weeds. Our raised beds are filled with weed seed-free soil. When preparing a ground-level bed for planting, most gardeners till the soil, which exposes thousands of weed seeds to sunlight, allowing them to sprout and grow. Additionally, the dying sod layer beneath the bed acts as a weed barrier and provides soil nutrients as it decomposes.

·        Raised bed soil is healthier. The soil under a typical lawn is very compacted, full of clay, and devoid of life (worms and beneficial microorganisms). The GardenWorks Project provides clients with fresh soil and nutrient-rich compost, ensuring healthy soil right from the start without a need for chemical fertilizers.

·        Raised bed gardens produce higher yields. Because The GardenWorks Project gardens are built with healthy soil from the start, our clients enjoy stronger, disease-resistant plants that produce more vegetables than a ground-level garden.  Also, in a raised bed the roots have more vertical space to grow, so our clients can grow more plants in less space.

·        Better water drainage. Water drains through the soil better in a raised bed with fresh soil and compost compared to a ground-level bed, where drainage is often stunted by clay soil. Good drainage increases the health of the plant by allowing oxygen to reach the roots and preventing root rot.

The mission of The GardenWorks Project is to relieve hunger by providing the undernourished in our community with all of the resources and education to grow their own food at home. Most of our clients have never gardened before, and success in their first gardening season is critical to building their confidence. Raised beds eliminate many of the gardening pitfalls that could cause a gardening newbie to throw in the towel. Building raised bed vegetable gardens allow our clients to grow more vegetables, providing families with fresh produce to eat, right from their own backyard.

For more information about The GardenWorks Project, including how you can help your DuPage and Kane County neighbors in need, visit and LIKE us on Facebook

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Foliage takes center stage in Autumn

This composition of plantings stopped me in my tracks yesterday on a drive home from a landscape design job. I'd been wanting to grab a picture of this beautiful yard near my home for a week or so, and this time I had my camera on me.

Look at that color! Not just the red maple, which is stunning, but also the blue spruce and chartreuse weeping willow. Show-stopping! The variety of color here is what I shoot for as a designer, so this grouping is very inspiring. It proves that great color diversity can be achieved with foliage (not only flowers), and late in the growing season.

Enjoy this last burst of color as you walk or drive around your neighborhood. Photograph it! Make art projects with leaves! Preserve it in any way you can to enjoy over the many grey days ahead.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Natural Playground - A Found Platform

While working in the yard last weekend, I made a perfect find for the natural playground - a platform. I was planning on building this, perhaps even with pallets, so I was thrilled to unearth one in the yard, covered with pachysandra. I have no idea what the previous owner used this for, but it was most likely part of the deck, since it's built with the same redwood planks.

Platforms are important in the natural playground, as they provide a hard place to sit, play, build with natural materials, perform, or even just rest, dream, and watch the clouds float by.

This lucky find got my husband out of building one component of the natural playground, but that's OK because I've got lots of others in mind! An easy add will be a rock pit - the previous owner lined paths in the backyard with large river rock, which we will place in a large circle and fill with pea gravel. My little guy will love playing with his construction trucks in there, and it won't cling to every bit of him like sand would. After that, we'll likely tackle a climbing wall similar to these:

Photo credit

If you're interested in learning more about natural playgrounds, this booklet is a neat find, with chapters that explains why outdoor play is so important to the health and development of our kids. It also has information on the safety of natural playgrounds, and a nice collection of pictures that will surely inspire you to get out there and build something for your little explorers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Jewel in the Garden

I first noticed Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis/pallida) out at Churchill Park in Glen Ellyn. We were on a nature walk geared for kids, and our instructor showed us how Jewelweed seeds will pop out when you touch the flower, hence one of it's common names, Touch-Me-Not.

I was tipped off to this plant after posting a picture of it on a previous blog post. I've got it in my yard, and before it flowered, considered ripping it out. After learning more about it's benefits, to both humans and wildlife, I've got to keep it.

Jewelweed is best known for it's ability to heal poison ivy, poison oak and stinging nettle, bee stings, mosquito bites, and other skin irritations. Just break off a stem, and rub the oils on the itchy spot. If you do a lot of hiking or camping, this is a good plant to know. More info on poison ivy relief with Jewelweed.  I've got the yellow variety (pallida), which is said to be less effective than the orange variety (capensis).

Pollinators love this plant, and it is an important nectar source for migrating hummingbirds. The patch in my yard receives lots of visitors, including bees, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths. While sitting on our front porch an afternoon a few days ago, the kids and I watched hummingbird moths going from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar. Check it out:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Natural Playground

Future site of natural playground. 

Back in 2011 I designed a natural playground space for a school for kids with special needs in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to build some natural play components for my own kids. And now that we live in a more natural setting, it just makes sense. My kids love traditional playgrounds too, and they are important for a kid’s physical development, but one would look out of place on the forest edge. Besides, they have access to those at school and parks. Pinterest is full of ideas (see my Natural Playgrounds board) for fun, natural things to swing from, climb on, build with, and learn from.

Natural playgrounds provide the same benefits as a traditional playground, but in them, kids are more apt to learn about the natural world around them. Play spaces are created using natural materials, and creative play is encouraged. Natural pathways lead kids through the play area where they can climb over logs and stones, jump from one tree stump to another, balance on a wooden balance beam, climb and swing from ropes, and build with tree branches. They can create nature-based art, act in a play on a wooden stage, or just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the woodland. That’s the dream, anyway.

So, why are natural playspaces important? Because kids are losing touch with what is natural. Given the opportunity, my kids would choose the ipad over any other toy, and while I think the educational apps are fantastic, for their mental health and mine we all need to be outside. It’s the main reason we moved to a place in the woods – to regain that connection to nature that I feel is so important for our health and development. If our area had one, I’d sign my youngest up for Forest Kindergarten. Since we don’t, we will incorporate some of those teaching theories at home. More on how natural playspaces benefit kids, and this provocative article by David Orr

The location of our natural playground will be in the back portion of our lot, adjacent to the forest preserve. I had been thinking about where to site it since we moved in, and the other morning while pruning some trees, I noticed a large black walnut tree inside a small clearing. The ground is covered with pachysandra there, so we will spend some time in the next few weeks clearing that out and doing a bit more pruning of the trees. Then the fun will start – building the play components. I think we will start with a balance beam and a stage, and go from there. Updates coming soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Permaculture: Observing

An introductory permaculture class at The Resiliency Institute has heightened my years-long interest in permaculture. And now that we are in our new house, we are ready to start thinking about a landscape design that incorporates our interests as a family, food producing plants, and my favorite perennials, shrubs, and trees.

The word permaculture comes from a combination of two words – permanent, and agriculture. It’s about designing a space in a way that provides for people, wildlife, and plants. It’s about creating a sustainable landscape, yes, but takes that to a completely different level with ethics and design principles that help move us from mere consumers to responsible producers of food.

So, while it’s more in my nature to rip out plants and ask questions later, I’m taking it slow and applying the first principle of permaculture.

Principle 1 – Observe and Interact
They say gardening is all about “trowel and error” (har, har, har). I’ll be the first to admit that once I get an idea in my head, I’m off to the nursery as fast as I can get there, the plants in the ground before I ever get a chance to sleep on it.

David Holmgren, a student of Bill Mollison, the "father of permaculture", said, "Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration."

Permaculture Principle 1 teaches us to engage with nature so as not to make hasty design decisions that we will regret later, costing us more time, more money, and produce loss. We need to take the time to look closely at our environment and take note of what’s already happening before we decide to change it. What are the sunlight patterns? How does water flow through the site? What wildlife is prevalent in the area? What kind of microclimates exist? Where does traffic flow through the space?

The part of my yard that I’ll be focusing much of my attention on in the spring is the south-west side, where we get the most sun - a necessity for most food production. It includes part of our front yard, all of the side yard, and part of the backyard closest to the house. I’ve been watching the sun patterns since we bought the house in May, and most of those areas receive at least six hours of sun. It’s a relatively flat area, so water does not pool in any one location, but I do want to incorporate a rain garden where my downspouts let out that will filter rainwater back into the soil (I don’t use rain barrels – here’s why) and attract beneficial pollinators. While the main use for the space will be food production, we do need to create a path to get to the backyard, and reduce the lawn. We also need to design the space in a way that will discourage visits from deer, which are numerous in our area (this article is good inspiration for a deer-resistant design).  

So for now, I’m observing and interacting – not acting. And I can’t say I’m all that patient, but I want to be sure I’m making the right choices that will result in max food production and ecological health. Keep following the blog to watch the transformation of this space and others in my yard, as well as more landscape design client before and afters. 

If you'd like to read more about permaculture, some books that I've enjoyed include Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemensway, Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier, and Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. Enjoy!

Front yard herbs and veggies, coming soon.

Not sure what plant this is, but I observed that bees love it.

Need to incorporate a path to the backyard, which will make enclosing
the garden with a fence a challenge.

Oh deer. They come from here. 

A place to grow food, right by the back door. 

While there is shade in the area where I want to grow food, there is mostly sun.
Japanese painted fern.

Gratuitous kid shot

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Between Homes

It's been over a month since I've posted last. A month! I know my thousands of readers are on the edge of their seats, wondering what life has been like for us over this last month, right? Truth is, I'm feeling a bit of a disconnect from this blog. Most of my content is inspired by my own gardens, and I currently don't have one.

We sold our house in 10 days, so we were quite frazzled as we worked to wrap up a life in Glen Ellyn, and prepare for a new one further west. The days leading up to our closing date were filled with packing, school year-end activities for both kids, finishing up landscape design jobs and shutting down the business for the summer, building gardens for families in need with GardenWorks, and most importantly, squeezing in play dates and dinners with good friends (even though I keep reminding them that we will not be that far away).

I already miss the things we left behind. That house holds eleven years of incredible memories. Major home renovations, my wedding reception, treatment and recovery from cancer, bringing two beautiful babies home to start their lives, and countless gatherings of friends and family. And my plants! I don't even want to think about all of the work I put into the gardens there and how much that property taught me about horticulture. But all of that belongs to someone else now, along with the noise, traffic, lack of privacy, and a number of other little reasons that made us want to leave in the first place.

I'm feeling very displaced, as we are in limbo between homes. We will close on the new house next week, but then we will have to endure weeks of renovations before we can move in. I'm glad it's summer, because I don't know how we would have managed all of this with school thrown in. We're staying with family, which is kind of like a little vacation, though I hate living out of a suitcase! We will be traveling a bit, but mostly are just spending our days like tourists - checking out the hot spots around Chicago and the burbs until we can get in the new place.

My connection to the blog will return, I assume, after we are in the new house. The previous owner, an artist, planted an incredible woodland garden, and I look forward to learning how to garden in a forest. I've got a lot to learn about designing with deer-resistant plants, and I'm eager to share tips on the blog. Veggie gardening will be a lot different in the dappled sun of my southwest-facing future potager. I'm also excited to share projects related to our plans to build a natural playground for the kids, as a big swingset would look out of place there (check out my Pinterest pins if you've never heard of a natural playground). And I'll include pics of the home renovations in the meantime, until I can start getting my hands dirty with some garden projects.

So hang in there, my thousands upon thousands of readers. We're having a laid-back summer and I won't be posting much, but things will pick up in late-summer/early-fall with new gardening content that I hope you'll enjoy. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Woodland Plants in Bloom

Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'

Mertensia virginica, Dicentra spectabilis, Anemone nemerosa

Stylophorum diphyllum

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Forest Gardener - New Home, New Blog

It's been over five weeks since I've posted, my longest absence from the blog in the two+ years since I started Suddenly I Seed. I've got good reasons, really! We recently purchased a new home, well, new to us anyway. I can't wait to share more, but until then, I'll share some pictures from a Mother's Day hike that we took in the forest preserve adjacent to our new property. Welcome to our backyard.

Considering how this property is quite a bit different than where we currently live, and where I've based most of the content for Suddenly I Seed, I will be changing the title and focus of the blog to all things forest gardening. Until that is up and running, enjoy a taste of what's to come. Happy Mother's Day to all of the beautiful moms in my life!

A massive oak

The kids could have played by the stream for hours

Spring wildflowers

Fields of bluebells

Can't wait to get our feet wet this summer

Wildlife and tracks everywhere

Spongy moss

A healthy forest

Red barn and crabtrees

Rolling around in the sun

Hiking sticks are a necessity

A fellow hiker

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's Blooming at the Ada Harmon Wildflower Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL

Welcome to the first in a series of posts highlighting a place I am eager to learn more about, the Ada Harmon Wildflower Preserve in Glen Ellyn, IL.

The Ada Harmon Wildflower Preserve is located on Crescent Avenue in Glen Ellyn, IL, just east of Glenbard West High School.

The preserve is named for Ada Douglas Harmon (1860-1943), a local philanthropist, watercolor artist, and founding member of the Glen Ellyn Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Harmon was also instrumental in bringing the first public library to Glen Ellyn. I think if I was around during Ada's time, we may have been pals, since it appears she was into books, watercolor painting, and horticulture.

I've driven past this small piece of natural space near downtown Glen Ellyn hundreds of times in my ten years here, and have been interested in learning more about its history. In this series of posts I'll share some of the the history of the space, highlight wildflowers as they come into bloom, and talk about how we can protect and conserve the ecosystem there.

The location of the Ada Harmon Wildflower Preserve was a protected area purchased by a group of locals who an organization called the Parks and Playground Extension Association back in the early 20's. Their main goal was stop the expansion of the Nichol-Brown lumber yard. The group rallied with other interested stakeholders in the Village, and their efforts resulted in spaces that are still undeveloped today, including the wildflower preserve.

More history in future posts...let's see what's blooming! I took my youngest for a walk over to the area this past weekend, and even though I can never get him to smile normal for a picture, he did enjoy exploring the area.

Not much was blooming this early in the season, possibly because of the late onset of warmer weather, but we did spot this group of aconite...


...and if we really searched, we could find a couple bluebells peeking out of the dried leaves.

I'm excited to document more of the Ada Harmon Wildflower Preserve as more flowers come into bloom. In the meantime, check out these posts for more history about Ada Douglas Harmon.

More about Ada Douglas Harmon from the Glen Ellyn Historical Society

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Spring in My Garden

Never planted this little one, but it was a nice surprise!

Snowdrops, a spring ephemeral that is always a first bloomer in my garden.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome, Handpicked Nation Readers!

Thanks for visiting! Please feel free to stay a while and poke around!

I'm a stay-at-home mom, trying to keep up with my two little ones while running a landscape design business and a nonprofit project in my off hours (usually late at night). My blog is a little over two years old.

If you like articles about sustainable landscape design, native plants, backyard vegetable gardening, and nature-based play (for kids and adults), then feel free to visit often!

Tina Koral Gardens - my landscape design studio in Chicago's west suburbs
Tina Koral Gardens on Facebook

GardenWorks DuPage - a grassroots, volunteer-led project working to relieve hunger by providing vegetable gardens to families in need.
GardenWorks DuPage on Facebook

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Geocaching Fail

Inspired by the latest issue of Leaf magazine, I decided to take the kids geocaching. It's like a treasure hunt using GPS. I downloaded the app, picked out some exchange treasures with the kids, bundled them up, and hit the road. Even though it was cold, cloudy, and windy, we were excited for what we might find on this new adventure!

Our exchange treasures - a shark's tooth, beads, a shell, and a toy car.
We didn't need to travel far, since we live close to the Great Western Trail, and according to my app, there were lots of caches hidden there.

We set off for the first, my GPS pinpointing our location and the location of the cache, which was allegedly only 250 feet away. We found the exact spot, but no cache. Admittedly, we didn't really know what we were looking for, but I assumed we'd find a box or plastic container where we could trade treasures. But nothing! Tried two more locations along the GWT with no luck. We did, however, find a bird nest...

Horseshoe tracks...

And sadly, lots of garbage.
So, what am I missing? Any experienced geocachers out there that can tell me what went wrong? From the information on my app about the caches, they were found last only about a month ago. Any tips?
I'm really excited to try again on a warmer day. I think it will be a great way to get outside for some fresh air and exercise doing an activity that we can all get into. 



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Green Events in Chicago's West Suburbs

If there was ever a time to get into the sustainability movement in Chicago's west suburbs, it's now. There are many green events that you can attend to learn the issues, hang with like-minded people, and have fun. Check out this list provided by my friend Jeff Garhis of the Glen Ellyn Cool Cities Coalition:
March 20 - Village of Glen Ellyn hosts "Invite Nature to Your Yard," Glen Ellyn Public Library, 7pm. RSVP to the Environmental Commission Staff Liason at 630-469-5000.  

March 23 - Earth Hour dinner and party at Honey Cafe, Glen Ellyn,

April 11 - GardenWorks DuPage New Volunteer Orientation. Glen Ellyn Public Library, 7pm.

April 16 - "(Re)connecting With Nature: Exploring Biomimicry in Your Own Backyard", Chicago Center for Green Technology,

April 18
- Earth Day Benefit Dinner, Conservation Foundation,

April 21 - Arbor Week at Morton Arboretum (various events),

April 22 - Glen Ellyn Park District Earth Day Symposium at the Lake Ellyn Boat House, 7pm. Learn what local environmental groups are doing an how you can get involved.

April 27 - Glen Ellyn Recycling event, and other extravaganzas on various dates,

April 27 - Great Western Trail Cleanup,

April 27 - Illinois Prairie Path Earth Day Cleanup,

 May 2 - Environmental Lobby Day, Springfield,

May 5 - Green Earth Fair, Naperville,

May 19 - Sierra Club's "Party on the Farm," see Sierra Club River Prairie Group's new activity calendar,

 August 17-18 - Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Oregon, IL,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Winter Garden Reading

I had to squeeze this post in before the official start of spring!

I usually have much more time to pour over garden books than I did this winter. Thankfully, I had design clients thoughout the winter, and GardenWorks DuPage really ramped up. I did get through some gardening books though, and even though they were sent to me free from the publisher, I'll let you know what I really think of them.

Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening: The No Yard, No Time, No Problem Way to Grow Your Own Food by William Moss
You might recognize this author's name, Moss was host of HGTV's Dig In, a garden makeover show. I loved his personality on that show - very friendly, funny, and down-to-earth. I was lucky enough to meet Moss in person at a garden writer's event held at my plant supplier a couple of years ago, and how he portrayed himself on screen was not an act. He really is a friendly, funny, and down-to-earth guy.

And I also enjoyed his book. It focuses on small-space food production in raised beds, containers, hanging baskets, balconies, rooftops, and community gardens. I especially liked the chapter on time-saving tips, which includes information on mulching, irrigation, amending soil, and growing prolific and disease resistant crops. But the best thing about this book, for me, is the many large, full-color photos. My recommendation: Buy it.

The Modern-Day Pioneer: Simple Living in the 21st Century
by Charlotte Denholtz

While I think I'm a bit 'crunchier' than a lot of my friends, I certainly don't see myself as any kind of pioneer, or as one trying to live a pioneer lifestyle, whatever that is. But there are a lot of topics addressed in the book that I already practice, like vegetable gardening, composting, freezing and drying vegetables, and breadmaking. I would use her tips for vermicomposting, canning, homebrewing, and soap making,m but I could just as easily find this imformation on the web. There are so many topics for sustainable, or "pioneer" living, that none of them get any in-depth coverage. Also, no photos.
One piece of advice Denholtz offers that I don't agree with is using rainbarrel water on vegetables. My opinion is that rainbarrel water is filled with contaminants from roofing materials, pollution, and bird droppings, and should not be used to irrigate food. But hey, that's just my opinion! My recommendation: Skip it.

Harvest by Richard Horan
I have a secret dream. I want to live on a farm one day. I don't think I'd be interested in much more than growing organic veggies and fruits and raising chickens. Oh, and I'd have bees. And maybe a goat or two.

I was excited to receive a review copy of Harvest: An Adventue into the Heart of America's Family Farms by Richard Horan (Harper, 2012). It's Horan's account of traveling the country and spending a few days at each of ten or so family farms during their harvest time. Horan lived with each family, and it was eye-opening to learn of the lives of these farmers. After reading through his experinces, I'm not sure I could cut it. Early mornings, long, hot days, backbreaking physical labor. But also kinship (between people and with the earth), the satisfaction of a completed harvest, and being part of the history of the land. My recommendation: Read it.

Your Midwest Garden: An Owner's Manual by Jan Riggenbach
Have you ever been excited to read a particular gardening book only to dive in and realize that the plants and climates discussed did not fit the region where you live? Not the case with this book (if you live in the Midwest, that is!). Riggenbach tackles annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, vines, and more in this book, which is great for a beginner looking to establish a residential landscape. I like that Riggenbach includes information on edible varieties that do well here. My gripe about this book is that there are no plant images within the text of the chapters. And while there are some pages of color photos in the middle of the book, there are not enough, and many are low-resolution. My recommendation: Skip it.

The Edible Landscape: Creating a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden with Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers by Emily Tepe
My first thought when receiving this book was, "Yay! Potager!," since a potager truly combines the art and function of growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers together. And while Tepe does not go into the elements that define a potager as I expected, she provides loads of inspiration for combining edibles into a traditional landscape. She explains that people are growing their food more than ever before, and often with the restrictions of limited space, sunlight, and homeowners association. Tepe offers tips for working with the conditions you have using strategies like container gardening, growing vertically, and interplanting edibles with perennials in a traditional border planting. The most useful part of the book, for me, was the appendix which lists selected plants for northern landscapes. My recommendation: Buy it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Agave

Agave from my Mom's Florida garden, keeping warm inside until Spring hits Chicago.