Books, Tools and Equipment

Ta Daaa! Winners of Margaret Roach’s The Backyard Parables

new england aster and cardoon

If you’re planning to grow cardoons, it’s time to start the seeds.


Please see update at end of post

We have just concluded our first contest!   (Announced on February 2nd, at the end of an interview with my friend Margaret Roach about her new book, The Backyard Parables, a very Margaret melange of memoir, garden philosophy and practical garden advice.)

One winner  was chosen by random  drawing  from the names of everyone who asked to be included. The other went to the person who was best able, in my sole judgment, to write without being cloying, predictable or religious about a happy garden experience. The Happy Story winner was chosen first, so the names of all the runners-up  could be added to the random drawing list.

And the winners are:

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Margaret Roach on Garden Writing and The Backyard Parables, plus Inkitchen’s First Contest

As garden blogger, I owe Margaret Roach a lot, and have already thanked her for being such an ongoing inspiration.

But it’s more than time to thank her again, and not just for A Way to Garden, blog extraordinaire.  Although she’s working more than full time to build A Way into what I’m sure will soon be a horticultural empire (look out P.W.; there are people as enterprising as you are who can actually write, to say nothing of taking better photographs), she has continued to be a generous friend to all her fellow members of  the plant-besotted community.

That being the case, it’s no surprise that dozens of us who’ve  been given the chance have joined the “ blog book tour” for her latest book, The Backyard Parables.

the backyard parables, margaret roach, cover

Seldom have I seen a book’s cover more in tune with its content: One part ephemeral, beautiful, slightly funny gift from nature; two or more parts eternal, beautiful, serious-but-non-judgmental more or less Buddhist philosophy.

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Garden Alert! Before The Storm…

alliums on table/movable objects

How many things can you find in this picture that ought to get put away?

Not much can be done to protect the garden itself – but a quick patrol may well uncover potential missiles.

Put inside:

Flowerpots, empty or full


Solar lights (even with spikes in the ground; heavy rains can loosen them enough for a wind gust to pick ‘em up)

Birdbath bowls not attached to strong bases (also the bases if just standing there)

Thermometers and rain gauges not securely fixed to strong supports.

Statuary, gazing balls, any ornament that weighs less than 40 lbs. (or more, if winds are expected to gust over 75 MPH).

Reduce hazards from:

Tuteurs – if possible to turn on their sides without destroying vines, do that. If the vines are annuals, consider saying goodbye and bringing the supports in.

Wheelbarrows – turn upside down

Tables, chairs and benches – if there isn’t room inside, turn tables upside down; put chairs and benches in the lee of a building with the least wind-catching side up.

Flapping doors on outbuildings – if you have a door with loose hinges or a slider, be sure it’s secured.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, please add to the list!

The New U.S.D.A. Climate Zone Map

lavender hybrid gladioli in a cutting garden

Zone 6 zone denial tip: standard hybrid gladioli are reliably hardy only to zone 9 - or 8b, maybe - but if you have well drained soil, plant them 5 or 6 inches deep and mulch heavily in fall (in this case before the ground freezes), there’s a good chance they’ll come back.

By now you’ve probably gotten the word: the long awaited, massively updated USDA Climate Zone map, the first revision since 1990, has finally arrived. And  – insert giant snarky “this is news?” – it shows large swaths of the country have moved up at least a half zone.

In 1991, when I got together with Bill and began gardening in the Hudson Valley, I could joke that my new life didn’t net me a single climate zone, even though the NY garden is about 300 miles southwest of the one in Maine. Until a couple of weeks ago, they were both in zone 5b. Now, while New York remains 5b – by the skin of its teeth, from the looks of things – Maine has been promoted to 6a.

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Why Snow is Good (mostly), and The Art of Driveway Maintenance

Acording to reputable measurements, fifty three inches of snow have fallen – so far –  on our corner of the Hudson Valley. Fine with me, especially because I’m not the one shoveling (see below). But also fine with the gardens, safely insulated beneath a protective blanket that keeps roots from heaving, shelters essential microorganisms, and helps prevent excessive breakdown of nutrients.

None of this is news to long time plant people, but even as a very long time plant person I was amazed at the extent to which snow matters in the larger environment. If you wish to be amazed too, check out Colder Soils in a Warmer World: Snow Depth, Soil Freezing and Nitrogen losses in the Northern Hardwood Forest. We learned about it at Snow is Good, a lecture given by Dr. Peter  Groffman (last Friday, at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies), a lecture we were only able to attend because Bill thinks snow shoveling is good.

snow shoveler and his work

Bill, mover of tons (and tons) of snow. You will notice that he is smiling.

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the DIY Greenhouse – Instructions for Home Handypersons

greenhouse from the kitchen

When I posted this view of our little greenhouse, it was to emphasize how too-small it is for major seed starting. But sharp-eyed and perhaps hopeful Melinda asked about the brickwork; I passed the comment along to Bill (who built the whole thing) and he promised he’d describe building it, just as he has described building our  wood-burning clay oven.

greenhouse from the lower side yard

Short version: Adding this greenhouse was neither difficult nor expensive. For longer version, with instructions

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Planting a Delicious New Year – Favorite Sources for Seeds

The wassail bowl is still standing by, awaiting New Year’s and Twelfth Night duty.  In spite of brutal temperatures, we’re still harvesting late fall greens (radicchio rules!) from their snug plastic tunnels. But the garden of 2010 has commenced; there are seed catalogs strewn all over the house, most with pens falling out of them. Vegetables dominate the lists, vegetables not seen on seed racks in stores, but there are also a few flowers

Tashkent marigold ( from Southern Exposure). The foliage has a sweet fragrance, the plants grow bushy with minimal pinching and the flowers absolutely glow.

Here’s my roundup of favorite sources:

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Gifts For Gardeners

Just a little reminder it’s not going to be winter forever.

Just a little reminder it’s not going to be winter forever.

First, though, present time. Here’s my perennial shopping list ( with source links) of  good gifts for gardeners.

Membership in The Garden Conservancy is on that list without further explanation and at this point none may be needed. But just for the record: after starting small and being exceedingly Northeast-centric, the Conservancy is now saving significant gardens all over the US and offering benefits almost everywhere. Just the ticket for garden-loving friends, regardless of skill level or actual possession of garden.

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Fig Tree Protection Update

The discussion about protecting the fig was resolved in favor of the trench method, so I went back and put in a few more details about how we actually did it. Just a few – right now the story is a report , not a recommendation.

The bundled fig in its leaf-lined trench

The bundled fig in its leaf-lined trench

The trunk is of course a bit springy and must be held down until the leaf pile is big enough to act as a weight. The holder here is Bill’s ever-handy Italian rototiller, still on site after being used to dig the trench.

The Italian Rototiller

I have a number of garden tools to which I am mightily attached, but none so precious as the Italian rototiller, my husband Bill, who has written this guest post about his favorite tool.

The Italian Rototiller

By Bill Bakaitis

It may not be what T. S. Elliot meant when he referred to April as being the cruelest month, but around here the breaking of spring ground also means breaking the sweet silence of winter.  Motorcycles roar, dogs bark, the machinery of lawn maintenance springs into gear and out come the rototillers, churning and burning their way into the modern landscape. The ‘greening of exurbia’ is what they say.  Consumer doublespeak is more like it.

 The Grape Hoe, Mattock or Italian Rototiller, all oiled up and ready to go!

The Grape Hoe, Mattock or Italian Rototiller, all oiled up and ready to go!

When I break ground I use Grandfather’s tool. Anglo types who hang out at the Agway probably call it a Mattock, and it is often listed in specialty garden supply outlets as an Italian Grape Hoe. I once heard it referred to disparagingly as an “Italian Rototiller” and in honor of my Calabrese Grandfather, that’s what I call it. Were he alive today he would chuckle and cherish the approbation.  Leslie, of course, says it only works when used by an Italian (meaning me).

Why do I use and love it? Let me count the ways: Read More…