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Give garden a fighting chance by brushing up on knowledge

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Ed Suba Jr. | Akron Beacon Journal

As flowers spring with the warmer weather so do the books to make home gardens shine. 

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Gardening books pop up this time of year like spring wildflowers. Here’s an overview of some of the titles that are new this spring to bookstores and libraries.

“The Plant Lover’s Guides” (Timber Press, $24.95 each): This isn’t a book, but rather a collection of four books on specific types of plants, written by experts in the field: “Salvias,” by John Whittlesey; “Sedums,” by Brent Horvath; “Dahlias,” by Andy Vernon; and “Snowdrops,” by Naomi Slade.

They’re visual and informational candy for people who are passionate about those plants.

Each book digs deeply into its topic and includes hundreds of photos, including intriguing close-ups of flowers and foliage. The authors offered detailed information on maintenance, pests, propagation and other plant-care topics, but the bulk of each book is devoted to descriptions of specific species.

The series was produced in association with London’s Kew Gardens, an institution renowned for its expertise.

“Hellstrip Gardening” by Evelyn J. Hadden (Timber Press, $24.95): “Hellstrip Gardening” is devoted to beautifying the strip of land between the curb and the sidewalk, the space that in Akron is commonly called the devil strip. Gardening in that narrow plot brings its own challenges, from salt and exhaust fumes to vandalism and inconsiderate dog owners.

Hadden inspires her readers by spotlighting a dozen gardens in various climates, some of which were designed to solve problems like poor drainage or too much shade for grass. Some of the gardens actually occupy all or most of the front yard, which stretches the hellstrip definition.

Nevertheless, Hadden includes a wealth of information useful to gardeners.

She includes real-world challenges, like the homeowner who had to add granite stepping stones to her pea-gravel patio to discourage cats from using it as a litter box. She also offers strategies for addressing problems common to curbside gardens, such as lack of access to water, poor and contaminated soil, restrictive laws and covenants, vehicle damage and road salt.

The book also guides readers on designing a garden and using sustainable techniques to minimize upkeep, and an entire section is devoted to plants that do well in curbside environments.

“Five-Plant Gardens” by Nancy J. Ondra (Storey Publishing, $18.95): If you’re a beginner to perennial gardening, “Five-Plant Gardens” is for you.

Ondra knows eager novices too often take on more than they can handle, so she created garden plans that are limited in scope to make the gardens more manageable and, she hopes, more successful.

The book contains 52 garden designs, each of which contains just five types of plants. She chose plants that look and grow well together, with enough variety in height, shape and seasonal interest to keep things captivating.

The gardens are divided according to sun requirement, but Ondra further refined her offerings to include gardens for slopes, soggy spots, areas prone to deer damage and other challenges. For each, she includes a list of plants needed, a garden layout and guidance on caring for the garden throughout the growing season.

“The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” by Roy Diblik (Timber Press, $24.95): More experienced perennial gardeners will appreciate “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden,” a book based on the premise that knowing your plants helps you care for them more effectively, with less work.

In the book, Diblik throws some common gardening practices on their ears. He believes gardeners need to understand each plant’s requirements and respond to them only as needed, so the plant thrives without undue fuss. It’s a holistic approach rather than a set of rules, he said.

He starts with the advice all good gardeners should heed: Assess your site — the sunlight, the soil, the moisture conditions — and then match plants to those conditions. Then he encourages gardeners to get to know each plant and all its parts, as well as how it grows.

Don’t expect to come away from Diblik’s book with a firm grasp on the needs of all your plants. He wants gardeners to learn by observing and doing.

Luckily, though, Diblik makes that work a little easier by recommending dependable plants for northern gardens, along with information about their care. He also includes planting plans, some of them inspired by works of art or notable gardens such as New York’s High Line.

“Taming Wildflowers” by Miriam Goldberger (St. Lynne’s Press, $18.95): Native plants are survivors. They can take just about anything nature dishes out, and they can do it without human help, thank you very much. Yet so often, we tend to think of flowers that grow in the wild as less suitable for our gardens than plants bred for that purpose.

Miriam Goldberger thinks otherwise.

Goldberger, a flower farmer in Ontario, believes wildflowers belong in any garden or flower arrangement.

She isn’t a purist — she even recommends some non-native annuals to add punch to a garden — but she does argue that wildflowers are beautiful in a cultivated setting and beneficial to wildlife and the earth.

Goldberger’s book includes growing information for specific wildflowers, divided by season, as well as guidance on starting wildflowers from seed and creating gardens of wildflowers. She also offers instructions for harvesting those flowers and using them in floral designs, even wedding bouquets and arrangements.

“Groundbreaking Food Gardens” by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, $19.95): Jabbour believes that where there’s a will to garden, someone has found a way.

Jabbour profiles dozens of food gardens covering a variety of needs and conditions, including challenging sites like a rooftop, an apartment balcony and a shady urban lot. She shows readers techniques they may not be familiar with, such as growing in a rain gutter or a pallet mounted on a wall. She even includes gardens designed for specific purposes — growing chile peppers, for example, or the toppings for an authentic Chicago hot dog.

Each of the gardens Jabbour writes about is tended by one of 73 noteworthy gardeners, including garden writers and designers, bloggers and horticulturists, entrepreneurs and others. They include some names that are recognizable to gardening fans: author Amy Stewart, TV personalities Donna Balzer and Joe Lamp’l, and Renee Shepherd, founder of the seed company Renee’s Garden.

In her descriptions of the gardens, Jabbour includes planting schematics and recommended plants. She also shares plenty of hard-earned knowledge from people who’ve experienced the challenges of their gardening situations, be it lugging soil to an upstairs apartment or keeping wildlife from devouring the parsnips.

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Ed Suba Jr. | Akron Beacon Journal

As flowers spring with the warmer weather so do the books to make home gardens shine. 

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