Book Review by Janis Wallace, London Free Press

It has everything a gardener needs to know

By Janis Wallace, Special to The Free Press

Excuses are easy to list, especially if it’s summer and you’d rather be swinging in a hammock than digging in the dirt. Whether it’s time, knowledge or energy, Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper banish those excuses with their new book, Gardening from a Hammock.

The writer and master gardener teamed up to put together a practical and easy-to-use guide, tapping the expertise of fellow garden gurus such as Marjorie and Jeff Mason, Paul Zammit, Frank Kershaw and Aldona Satterthwaite.

The result is a wide-ranging romp through issues that all gardeners face: soil, sun and water, design and time. The reader is free to choose from differing views on watering, planning and caring for their own space as they become acquainted with the experts and their views.

“We interviewed 17 top gardeners in Ontario,” Novack said. “None is lazy, but they know how to create low-maintenance gardens with year-round interest.”

The practical layout includes a botanical reference guide you can take to your local plant nursery, a metric conversion chart and tips from each feature garden. The guide is useful for any level gardener. It includes photos, growing habits and bloom times, hardiness zones and uses.

Many of the gardeners continue that practical streak in their comments. “Deal with reality,” Satterthwaite said. “Don’t pretend to have an English country garden if you have shade. In order to be a lazy gardener, you first have to be an industrious one. Your initial job is to work on the soil.”

The book is also clear that low maintenance is not the same as no maintenance. If you want the latter, you better use plastic plants. Belinda Gallagher, head of horticulture at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, said, “The minute you plant, there is some kind of maintenance.”

For those with small spaces or balconies, Katy Anderson’s trough garden is an interesting solution. She plants hardy, drought-resistant alpine, rock and dwarf plants. “Troughs are ideal for an aging population who can tend them without bending over.”

Jeff Mason, who runs the Mason House Gardens with his mother Marjorie, has no interest in working in the garden after doing it all day.

“I hate gardening. I collect plants. I install them but I don’t tinker in the garden. I hate weeding.” He plans his garden accordingly, offering great tips for anyone else who likes plants but not looking after them.

Zammit is the opposite. After a day as director of horticulture for the Toronto Botanical Garden, he loves to work in his garden. “It relaxes me,” he said. But he knows not everyone agrees. “Know how much time you are willing to commit to your garden. Be realistic about your physical abilities.”

Know the physical needs of your plants. Martin Galloway offers advice to eliminate watering. For those with clay, Merle Burston discusses how to improve the soil.

Dugald Cameron also believes starting with the soil is critical to success. The president of shared his advice: “Prepare the soil, plant in the right spots and purchase plants from nurseries that are in business all year.” For a sunny garden, he believes in bold colours.

Sonia Leslie prefers white. “White perennials go with everything. When there is a lot of brilliant sunshine, colours don’t show up as much. But when you go out in the evening, you can enjoy the glow of white flowers.”

Award-winning designer Kim Price thinks gardens are for enjoyment. Her advice includes placing something interesting at the end of a path, making plants in a small garden earn their keep and not being a perfectionist.

“Consider different textures and sizes of plants. Play with your garden. Instead of laying out your plants from small to large, have some large grass at the front that you can see through, something unexpected.”

Both Lorraine Flanigan and Lindsay Dale-Harris play with their gardens, using them as living labs. They change designs and plants to see what works and what suits their lifestyles.

Susan Lipchak chooses native plants, especially grasses. Marion Jarvie, on the other hand, prefers to select aristocrats — plants with pedigrees. “A plant should be beautiful in terms of leaves, bark, flowers and seeds. It gets more points if it attracts birds or butterflies, has fragrance and an artistic shape.”

There is a touch of poetry in some of the comments. For example, Kershaw, who approaches design like a painter, composing a living form of art, describes a plant in his shade garden: “The Chinese witch hazel reminds me of rhythmic gymnasts with its yellowish ribbon-like blooms.”

Any criticism of the book is minor — use of palates instead of palettes to describe choosing colours, a few errors in grammar. The layout is clean and easy to find information quickly. The photography adds to the information. It is beautiful without being overpowering.

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