Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thrift Week Day Two: The Weekend Garden Guide

The second entry on my Thrift Week book list is The Weekend Garden Guide by Susan A. Roth. As its title suggests, this book is an all-purpose reference for those who want a low-maintenance
garden they can care for in the free hours they have on the weekends. She starts out the book by comparing her garden with her next-door neighbor Bill's, which she considers a perfect example of "the wrong kind of weekend gardening." Bill used to spend all weekend, every weekend, out in the yard—mowing his steeply sloped lawn, pruning his massive overgrown shrubs, weeding the flower beds, and hauling "bag after bag of leaves" in the fall—even though he didn't seem to get much enjoyment from any of it. By contrast, Roth and her husband invested most of their gardening hours (which she estimates at about one-fourth of Bill's) in revamping their landscape to make it easier to maintain, as well as more attractive. Over the first four years in their home, they drastically cut back the amount of lawn, filling in the areas with mulch, ground covers, and beds of herbs and perennial flowers. They also added a salad garden to one side of the house, as well as beds of berries and cutting flowers, thus turning a scruffy and hard-to-mow area to productive use.

The Roths' gardening style is fundamentally ecofrugal: they've arranged their yard to make the best possible use of all their resources, including space, money, and time. Whenever possible, they've taken plantings that weren't attractive in one area and put them to good use elsewhere, such as the crowded azalea border hemming in their patio that they transplanted to an open area along one side of the yard, where the bushes could grow to their full size and natural shape while helping to conceal an "unsightly split-rail fence." Rather than bag up their leaves and haul them to the curb as Bill did, they mulched them all up with the mower to spread across the wooded back corner of their lot—thus turning a waste product into a useful resource. And most of all, they always chose their plantings carefully to require little maintenance in future, so that they would need less time, less water, less fertilizer, and less resources in general to keep looking their best.

The Weekend Garden Guide has sections on ground covers, shrubs, flowers (with a special emphasis on perennials), vegetables, fruits, and trees, as well as a full-color insert with 32 pages of photos of gorgeous yards designed along weekend-garden principles. There are also handy boxed features on such topics as pruning techniques, how to divide various types of groundcovers, the best plants for various areas (shade, sun, foundations, etc.), and lists of high-maintenance plants not to include in your yard, from disease-prone trees to "finicky" perennials. Perhaps the most useful section, however, is the "Encyclopedia of Easy-Care Plants for Weekend Gardens," a huge table of plants sorted by type and botanical name with notes on their appearance, cultivation, and uses in the landscape. Combing through this section helped steer me toward potentilla (bush cinquefoil) and bearberry cotoneaster as the best plants to replace the overgrown forsythias and weeds on the steep northern slope in our back yard; other pages throughout the section are bookmarked to indicate plants I hope to incorporate into our yard, such as Meidiland roses, littleleaf boxwood (a possible replacement for some of our oversized foundation shrubs), and barren strawberry (a potential ground cover to replace our hard-to-mow front lawn).

I can't remember exactly where I first got my copy of The Weekend Garden Guide. I can tell it's a secondhand copy, but I can't remember whether I found it at a yard sale, picked it up at the annual library book sale, or actually ordered a copy on Amazon.com. What I do know is that, although I have a whole shelf devoted to gardening books, this is the one I refer to most often—perhaps even the only one I refer to often. If all the books on my gardening shelf were destroyed in some kind of freak accident, this is the first one, if not the only one, I'd replace. The pages of my copy, like those of my Complete Tightwad Gazette, are liberally sprinkled with color-coded paper tags (pink for fruits, yellow for flowers, and green for all other plants). This is the book that taught me the easy way to care for raspberries and informed me about the existence of bush cherries, which aren't even covered in most gardening books (and, as I discovered when we went searching for them, aren't sold by many nurseries either). I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a beautiful garden but doesn't want it to be a full-time job. Whether you hate gardening (but love the results) or love gardening (but have limited time for it), this book will save you hours of effort and leave you more time for the best part of gardening: enjoying the fruits of your labors.
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