Tag Archives: books

interesting, challenging reading

This is a post for the reader who might enjoy an occasional book on gardening and landscape architecture that isn’t designed to sit on your coffee table or nightstand.

The British Library has recently unveiled EThOS, a portal to electronic theses and dissertations from the UK. If the thesis has been digitized, it’s available to you for download once you register. Registration is free, and so are most of the texts. If something isn’t available yet, you can request it to be digitized within thirty days so that you can download it. Once again, that process is usually free.

Only a small minority of theses and dissertations written these days is on gardening of course, but there’s some great work being done on the topic in British institutions, with the University of Sheffield leading the way.

Do a basic search on “Sheffield” and “landscape” and you’ll get titles like the following that are available without waiting thirty days:

Wu, Jiahua. Landscape morphology : a comparative study of landscape aesthetics.

Jorgensen, Anna. Living in the urban wild woods : a case study of the ecological woodland approach to landscape planning and design at Birchwood, Warrington New Town.

Alturki, Ashraf. Attitudes towards designed landscapes in two desert cities : Medina, Saudi Arabia and Tucson, Arizona.

Zhao, Jijun. Thirty years of landscape design in China (1949-1979): The era of Mao Zedong. (The abstract for this one outlines some fascinating ideas about designed landscape and ideology: “[L]andscape architects first emerging in early twentieth century China concerned themselves especially with the design of gardens and parks. This situation remained almost unchanged during the radical socialist revolution, which resulted in the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 that was led by Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976). During the Mao era (1949-1979), the impact of the Chinese communist ideology on landscape was far-ranging and ground breaking. Besides extensive development of public parks for socialist education as well as recreational purposes, cities were reshaped with large housing areas created for workers–the proletariats, and urban squares playing a crucial role in exhibiting political power, while the countryside was reshaped from a hierarchical landscape with an exploitative nature to an egalitarian one, where the broad masses were to benefit from improvements.”)

Alternately, try a search on “Sheffield” and “garden” and you’ll find titles like these, digitized and ready to download:

Gilberthorpe, Enid Constance. British botanical gardens in the 1980s : changes reflected by bibliographical and social survey.

Kellett, J.E. Public policy and the private garden : An analysis of the effect of government policy on private garden provision in England and Wales 1918-81. (Sheffield City Polytechnic)

…and then there are intriguing titles like these that still need to be digitized though you could be reading them in not much more time than it takes for a book to be delivered to your doorstep:

Qasim, Mohammad. The potential role of private gardens in developing greater environmental sustainability in cities.

Cannon, Andrew R. Wild birds in urban gardens : opportunity or constraint?

Be forewarned. From the skimming I did, these texts read like…well, college dissertations. Even among the authors who write really clearly you sense a certain amount of them playing academic buzzword bingo. After all, the authors have to tell their profs that they know the literature and can use their lingo. In addition, the photos accompanying the texts aren’t picture-book quality the way they appear online. But once you get beyond that, you cross over to a world rich in ideas.

[ Electronic Theses Online Service ]

it came from the florist


Not long ago one of John’s friends, a florist, stopped by the house for a visit. She brought with her a single long-stemmed red rose in a tall vase. When I came home there was the flower, huge, red, perfect and scentless, sitting on the counter.

As you might guess from my title, there’s a good chance I might have an uncomfortable relationship with flowers from a florist. If you go to someone’s house and want to give them something special, do you stop by the grocery and pick up a pound of tomatoes as a host or hostess gift? Of course not. You’d pick some from your garden and share something special, something seasonal, something that gives of yourself and your garden. For me a store tomato has always shared something with a florist’s rose. What you hold in your hands might be cosmetically stunning, but it leaves me with a question…what is this thing, anyway? Is it botanical? Or maybe some industrial product?

It just so happened that a couple nights before I’d finished reading Amy Stewart’s 2007 book, Flower Confidential. If you don’t know her as an author of books, you might know her as the woman behind the blog, Dirt. And if you don’t know the book, it’s basically a look inside the cut-flower industry and reveals it to be just that: an industry. The three big sections of the book, “Breeding,” “Growing” and “Selling” may well explode any warm and fuzzies you might have about the florist trade, and show it to be possibly worse for the environment, workers and public health than the part of big agribusiness dedicated to food crops.

Here are just a few snippets:

[U]nlike imported fruits and vegetables, flowers are not tested for illegal pesticide residue. After all, they’re not going to be eaten. That creates a situation in which growers have an incentive to use the maximum amount of pesticides to eliminate the possibility of a single gnat turning up in a box.

The complaints about labor and environmental problems have been part of the flower industry’s legacy for as long as it has been in Latin America. Although the situation has been thoroughly reported by investigative journalists, it doesn’t appear to have changed American’s buying habits. Every year, a greater share of flowers sold in the United States come from Latin America. Over the last decade, sales of domestically grown roses have dropped from almost 500 million to just under 100 million. Meanwhile, imports of cut roses have increased to over 1.3 billion stems a year.

At the grocery store, I can buy organic wine, fair-trade chocolate, and hormone-free milk from a local creamery. But the flowers in buckets by the cash register are unlabeled, unmarked, entirely undifferentiated. There’s no basis on which to compare and choose, except for price… The anonymity of cut flowers has made it impossible for customers to demand anything different.

There’s a lot more to the book than rants against the trade, and it’s a worthwhile read if you’d like to know more about what you find at the store.

Several days after the perfect florist’s rose finally passed on to the next plane in the way that florist’s roses do–without opening up, without showing the stamens and pistils that are a flower’s very reason for existing–Linda showed up at the house with a bouquet of roses from her garden. Even before I saw them I knew there were roses in her hands. There was a breeze coming in the front door, and there was scent of roses coloring the air.



Over the next days the roses proceeded to do what roses do. They opened. They continued to release their scents. And in a couple more days they’ll start to drop their petals and fade. They participate in a natural process in a way that their more primped runner-up in a beauty pageant relative does not, and I appreciate them for that.

the dry gardening handbook

Olivier and Clara Filippi have been gardening in the south of France for well over a quarter century. Theirs is a mediterranean climate, and their nursery, Pépinière Filippi, located near Montpellier, specializes in plants adapted to the dry-summer/wet-winter cycles that you find in only five large regions on earth: the Mediterranean zone, proper; South Africa; the southwest corner of Australia; Chile; and much of California.

Cover or The Dry Gardening Handbook

When I picked up Olivier Filippi’s recent The Dry Gardening Handbook: Plants and Practices for a Changing Climate, I was expecting it to be a different sort of book than it is, maybe something about general drought-tolerant plants, or a volume dedicated to helping your garden adapt to using less water. What this is, however, is a straight book on mediterranean gardening and plants suited to mediterranean climates–something that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise since that’s the focus of the author’s nursery.

There’s a brief introduction to what constitutes a mediterranean climate, followed by notes on the strategies plants use to survive and thrive in it. Good advice on planning, planting, establishing and watering a new mediterranean garden comes next. Then Filippi gives us the heart of the book, a listing of over 400 mediterranean-adapted species, containing common and scientific names, approximate mature plant sizes, and notes on cultivation and propagation. (If you can begin to read French, you can check out the online catalog at the author’s nursery, which closely mirrors the list of plants recommended in the book. There you’ll also find some of the advice that’s offered in the book, although without the nice photos in the book.)

Olivier Filippi gardens in France, and the plant list definitely Eurocentric: lots of different lavenders, cistus, phlomis, for example, with relatively few plants from other the other great mediterranean regions. In fact, many of the non-Mediterranean mediterranean-friendly plants listed are drought tolerant selections from several non-mediterranean climates. For gardeners in dry climates that don’t undergo mediterranean cycles, these suggestions might be some of the best options to try. But those plants might not the be greatest of discoveries: Photinia, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), red-hot poker (Kniphofia sarmentosa) and American gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), for instance, are probably already common offerings in many American nurseries.

One of the book’s most outstanding features is the use of a “drought resistance code” that assigns a number from one to six to each of the species in its plant list. Based on work by plant geographer Henri Gaussen, the number quantifies the number of months of the year a plant can be expected to survive under drought stress. The book also contains instructions on how to calculate the climatic profile of where you live. (I figured out that my coastal San Diego location exerts a 3.5 to 4 drought stress factor. (Edit May 20: I oopsed on my figuring for coastal San Diego. My revised number is a much dryer drought stress factor of 6.)) All that’s a really useful way to understand drought.

When you see plants sold in nurseries and catalogs as drought-tolerant, the description can be meaningless. A variety that would go fine for two weeks without water could turn into seasoned kindling if subjected to six or seven months of continued drying. Realizing that a “drought-tolerant” chamomile plant has a drought resistance code of 2 would begin to tell you that it wouldn’t thrive in the same conditions that would suit California’s more “drought-proof” Romneya coulteri, which has a drought resistance code of 6. Having that information could help you plan companion plantings, as well as help you avoid plants altogether that would only lead to expensive mistakes.

Coming at plantings from a mediterranean focus leads the author to say some choice things about lawns:

You don’t have to be a visionary to see that the traditional lawn is an absurdity in mediterranean climates. If you nurture a deeply rooted feeling that you can’t be happy without a vast, lush lawn, then perhaps you ought to consider going to live in Cornwall… People often imagine that they need a huge expanse of lawn, but all too often the only person who walks over a traditional lawn in its entirety is the unfortunate individual who has to mow it every Sunday.

The author’s solution? Landscaping that pays attention to where you live. For those of you in mediterranean climates, this book can help you develop a deeper understanding of what’s unique about your environment. It can help you come up with good plant choices compatible with what your location offers. Along the way, it could help you save water, reduce pesticide use and maybe even free up some of those Sundays you spend mowing the lawn.

just about to be published


Linda brought by my desk the 2009 Spring catalog of the Princeton Architectural Press. She really like the photo on the cover, a planting by Andrea Cochran, a San Francisco-based landscape architect and the subject of a new book, Andrea Chochran: Landscapes, which is just about to be published. (The project shown is the Ivy Street Roof Terrace Hayes Valley Roof Garden in San Francisco.)

You may recall that Linda is a quilter, and the cover design really looks quilt-like in the way it’s put together: blocks of different plantings (not just blocks of single kinds of plants), all assembled together so that one grouping of plants contrasts dramatically against another, like one patterned fabric in a quilt that’s been set against another. In fact the author of of the book describes Cochan’s work as “studies in repetition and order, orchestrations of movement in the landscape, and elements placed in geometric conversation”–which almost sounds like the principles operating behind many quilts.

Check out Andrea Cochran’s website for other examples of her strong, linear landscape designs.

Thumbing through the catalog I ran across another title that made me stop for a closer look, Bamboo Fences, by Isao Yoshikawa and Osamu Suzuki. The catalog says that the book “provides a detailed look at the complex art of bamboo fence design in Japan, presenting these unique structures in over 250 photographs and line drawings. From the widely used ‘four-eyed fence’ (yotsume-gaki) and the fine ‘raincoat fence’ (mino-gaki) to the expensive ‘spicebush fence’ (kuromoji-gaki), these exquisite designs impress with their simple beauty, providing plenty of inspiration for your own bamboo fence.


“Author Isao Yoshikawa gives a brief overview of the history of bamboo fence building in Japan and classifies the different designs by type. A glossary provides explanation of Japanese fence names and structural terms.”

Of course, fences like this probably wouldn’t work so well if your house is in the Tudor or Spanish taste. Unless of course you want your home to develop a “home store Gothic” look that one writer called the look that suburban houses accrue over time as their owners buy whatever strikes their fancy at the local Home Depot, historical accuracy and style be damned.


But imagine these around a clean-lined modern house. In fact, Richard Neutra was known to like his glass-walled homes to look out on a Japanese-styled landscape. And some of the more geometric versions might even look amazing behind a landscape designed the the subject of the first book….


Above: Images from the book, photographed by Osamu Suzuki.