Fairy Gardening Book Reviews – and a Giveaway!

I’m reviewing a couple of really fun gardening books today!

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Fairy Gardening 101: How to Design, Plant, Grow, and Create Over 25 Miniature Gardens – Fiona McDonald (2014, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Need some ideas to get you started on making your very own fairy garden?  Or maybe you’re already well-experienced in the art of designing fairy gardens and you’re looking for some new inspiration – either way, Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101 is for you!

This purposeful how-to book gives you all the information you need to create a fairy garden, with lists of supplies, suggestions for interesting containers or settings, and tips for successful long-term maintenance of your beautiful creation.  Easy to follow, step-by-step instructions cover the making of miniature furniture, fences and other garden structures – and, of course, even the fairies themselves! What I’ve always loved about fairy gardens is the use of recycled/upcycled materials and found objects (either natural or man-made) that you discover in your home, yard, neighbourhood…or garage or thrift sale!  The sky truly is the limit when it comes to sourcing materials for your mini-garden – and that’s half the fun!

Putting it all together is where you can really let your artistic side shine, and McDonald offers twenty-five whimsical, artistic designs guaranteed to delight:  you’ll find everything from hanging gardens to ferneries and terrariums, even a Mexican garden!

One of my favourite chapters in the book covers “Wild Fairy Gardens,” where an old tree stump is converted into a castle – so fun!  I am also pleased to see that McDonald covers how to grow and/or sustainably source mosses for use in the gardens.  This is truly an inventive and enjoyable book!

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Fairy Gardening:  Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden – Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner (2013, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner’s beautiful book Fairy Gardening doesn’t delve into specific fairy garden designs such as the ones you’ll find in Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101, but it is more detailed in all of the crafting aspects needed to make your own amazing fairy gardens.  One of the most charming reasons to create a fairy garden is the way you can tell a story with your living work, and Bawden-Davis and Turner cover everything from developing a theme to establishing a focal point, developing your story, and creating a sense of movement, all discussed in accessible, practical terms, with tips and suggestions to apply these ideas to your own gardens.  Additional chapters include comprehensive information about choosing containers for your garden, and selecting the perfect plants to grow.  Delightful photographs and a friendly, approachable writing style make this book a joy to read – and a wealth of inspiration for creating your very own fairy garden!

(The publisher generously provided copies of Fairy Gardening 101 and Fairy Gardening for me to review, but I was not compensated for my opinion).

I have one copy of each book to give away!  If you’re interested, please leave me a comment below – you can tell me what kind of fairy garden you’d like to create (or have created!), or just drop me a “count me in,” or “yes,” for your chance to win.  If you have a preference for one book over the other, please let me know that, too, and I’ll try to accommodate if you win.  Contest closes at midnight, MST, on Friday, August 28, 2015. (And yes, it is open to everyone!).  I will announce the two lucky winners on Monday, August 31, 2015.

Book review: Rah, rah, radishes.

Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant by April Pully Sayre – (2011 Beach Lane Books, New York)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will get a share in a new CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program getting underway this coming season – my mouth is watering just thinking of all the fresh, LOCAL produce that I will get every week (and my head is spinning trying to imagine how I will prepare them all in meals, especially given my meatatarian hubby’s “allergy” to veggies!).    I’m thrilled that more and more of these CSA programs are becoming available for Albertans – especially for those of us who do not have the space to grow a significant amount of our own produce!

While I anticipate the CSA share and look forward to the opening dates of the local (seasonal) farmers’ markets and U-Pick farms, I simply have to share an adorable picture book I found at the library the other day:  April Pulley Sayre’s Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant.  A celebration of farmers’ markets and all of the good, fresh food harvested and sold by local growers, Rah, Rah, Radishes!  is a total gem, with punchy, fun, rhymes:

Root for rutabagas.

Bounce for beets!

Pile up parsnips.

Turnip treats!

Snag some sweet corn!

Shuck an ear.

Celebrate celery.

Give a cheer!

Accompanied by absolutely STELLAR photography of all of the vegetables in their full, colourful glory, the book looks good enough to eat.  It’s like a seed catalogue with a boppin’ soundtrack (and no confusing cultivar names).  If you’ve got a little one in your life, introduce him or her to this book – and the exciting world of vegetables.

Now, ‘scuse me, I’m off to make a recording of this book to play back while my hubby is sleeping…I’ll get him to eat kohlrabi somehow!

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Check out April Sayre’s veggie photos and more info at AprilSayre.com.  (And watch for her fruit-themed picture book Go, Go, Grapes! in May of this year).

Related posts:  Book review:  Water, Weed, and Wait.

Book review: Sugar snaps and strawberries.

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries:  Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden – Andrea Bellamy (2010, Timber Press, Inc., Portland)

This beautifully-photographed tome is a must-have for wannabe small-space urban gardeners:  it’s a comprehensive how-to manual that details all of the necessities for creating an aesthetically-pleasing and highly productive food garden on a balcony, deck, courtyard, driveway, or small yard.  Containers, of course, are the cornerstones of Bellamy’s designs, but she also offers construction plans for raised beds.  All the gardening nuts and bolts are covered:  light, water, soil, amendments, fertilizers, siting, pest control (organically, natch!) and all of the cultural requirements from sowing to pruning to harvest (including a really great section about saving seed and deliniating the terms “heirloom” and “hybrid”).

About one third of the book is devoted to the food plants themselves, with brief, detailed portraits of standby greens, herbs, tomatoes, root veggies and small fruits – and some surprises, such as mushrooms and grains.  I’m a bit astonished that Bellamy has included larger plants such as apples and corn on this list (particularly the latter, about which she writes, “Unfortunately, corn, also known as maize, is not suited to growing in very small places.”   I’m not quite sure it belongs here, especially as she doesn’t mention that it can be grown as shoots, which may be more appropriate given the theme of the book.  In her defense, though, a small yard can support a few corn plants, soooooo).  All in all, however, the plant selections are excellent small-space choices and many of them can be grown even in geographical locations with limited frost-free days.

Written in a easy-going, very accessible manner (and as an aside, I LOVE the fonts and layout!), this is THE primer for small-space gardeners looking to get started on their first food garden…it’s well worth purchasing as a reference tool.

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Bellamy is the creator of the blog Heavy Petal, which can be found here.

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Related posts:  The Book of Little Hostas.

How to Grow Your Food.

Book review: The book of little hostas.

The Book of Little Hostas:  200 Small, Very Small, and Mini Varieties by Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack (Timber Press, Inc, Portland, 2010)

After several weeks of absolutely BALMY winter weather here in Calgary (since when is it plus 13 degrees Celsius in January?), we were hit with a blast of the white stuff and falling temperatures yesterday.  In an instant, I switched back into hibernation mode (well, sans the hot chocolate and Bailey’s – alas, my cupboards are currently bereft of such essentials, and it was far too windy and chilly to walk to the store to restock).  Fortunately, I’ve got quite the stack of gardening books on my kitchen table, enough to fortify my imagination for a few wintery days.

The Book of Little Hostas is pure eye candy for me.  I’m not sure how I would fit these petite perennials in my flowerbeds as they are currently designed, but I have been thinking of undertaking a serious overhaul over the next few years and maybe I can work in some of these beauties as edging.  As the authors state, these are not plants to just plop in a bed willy-nilly – siting them is everything.  Due to their size, they can easily be overwhelmed by larger plants; as well, with the massive variety of foliage colour, pattern, and shape, you really want to show little hostas off in their own raised bed or a rockery, perhaps, or in containers.

Little hostas have been hybridized primarily with the serious plant collector in mind – since 1996, with the introduction of Hosta ‘Pandora’s Box’ (with beautiful variegated white and blue-green leaves), the whole little hosta trend has mushroomed so much that the American Hosta Society had to create categories to distinguish the miniature from the just “small.”  To determine if a hosta is small, very small, or miniature, the size of the leaf blade area is measured:  plants with a leaf blade area smaller than approximately 11 cm² is considered miniature, while a small hosta has a leaf blade area between roughly 25 cm² and 60 cm².  (Notice the categories don’t make mention of the overall height or spread of the plant, but don’t worry, these are definitely space-saving compared to full-size hostas.  I believe in most circles, “miniature” hostas are less than 15 cm in height, and “small” plants are between 15 and 25 cm tall). ¹

Authors Michael Shadrack and Kathy Guest Shadrack carefully outline all of the maintenance and care needs of little hostas, including specific cautions regarding soil and amendments:  little hostas, it seems, are far more choosy when it comes to soil type than their bigger siblings.  Addressing the collectible nature of these plants, there’s even a section in the book about mapping and labelling cultivars, and a list of things to consider if you plan to journal as you grow your collection.

But, it’s all about the photographs, really, and it’s easy to spend A LOT of time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the amazing diversity of little hosta cultivars.  I’ve always has a soft spot for variegated hostas, so I was immediately drawn to ‘Calypso’ and ‘Hi Ho Silver’ and the gorgeously streaked ‘Fireworks.’  And what about ‘Lakeside Zing Zang’, which has white to cream-coloured leaves splattered with green flecks and blotches?   Extremely cool.  Other (non-variegated) favourites include ‘Cheatin Heart’, which sports heart-shaped leaves (of course) in gold.  Or, there is ‘Plug Nickel,’ with shiny bright green oval foliage and delicate lilac-coloured flowers.  If you want just-plain-weird, look no further than ‘Hacksaw’, with light green, narrow, extremely serrated leaf blades.  It doesn’t resemble any other hosta I’ve ever seen, but the texture and colour of the foliage really draws the eye.

(And you have to admit, the cultivar names are pretty creative:  ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’, ‘Little Stiffy’ (???), or ‘Holy Mouse Ears’, anyone?).

While I’m uncertain that ALL of these cultivars would perform in challenging zone 3a, it’s just so wonderful to go through a book like this and consider the possibilities….

¹I got this info from Durable Gardening.  (I switched the measurements to metric, though).   You can check out a photo of another crazily-named hosta – ‘Wheee!’ PPAF – on the same page.   It’s a full-sized hosta cultivar, but it was introduced just last year and it’s a hot selection right now.

Book review: Water, weed, and wait.

Water, Weed, and Wait – Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin (illustrated by Colleen Madden), 2010, Tricycle Press, Berkeley. 

There’s an encouraging and inspiring trend going on in North America:  getting children to dig in the dirt and learn about food and horticultural plants through community and school gardens.  Whether parents or teachers are leading the projects, the emphasis is always on fostering community involvement:  entire families or neighbourhoods may help out with the gardening duties in fun social events that take the shape of work-bees.  I even came across a project online at City Farmer where students of an elementary school and the retirement home next door joined forces, in North Vancouver.   If the growers don’t consume the produce themselves, it may be donated to those in need, or used in restaurants or cafeterias, or sold as part of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares.   And, from start to finish, the growing season is full of lessons for both adults and children – there’s simply nothing better than an outdoor classroom!

Books like Weed, Water, and Wait celebrate the “school garden” movement in a big way.  Full of bold, bright, and extremely colourful illustrations, this children’s picture book is ideal for introducing the idea of a school garden, to get the ball rolling before actually doing the work.  In it, a master gardener appropriately named Miss Marigold leads her student charges – and a whole host of adult helpers – in building a school garden, literally from the ground up.  Along the way, a curmudgeonly neighbour named Mr. Barkley lends comic relief with his grumpy “hmmmmphs,” while Miss Marigold teaches valuable lessons about “worm poop” (her words, not mine) and beneficial insects.   Great, snappy writing and catchy repetition of key phrases and concepts (as well as a silly song about veggies and fruits, sung by a certain character in a carrot costume) make the book ideal for reading aloud.   The lessons in the book can be taken out of the context of “school gardens” and can be applied to any gardening venture, even a tiny container garden or raised bed at home, so don’t be afraid to try the book out on the little ones in your life.  (Maybe wait until spring, though, or you’ll have a whole lot of “How many more sleeps until I can plant the peas and carrots??!!”).