10 Best Books for Planning a Garden

The internet is weedy with words of wisdom on gardening, but sometimes there is nothing like settling down in a corner of your garden with an actual book. If you are planning a garden here are 10 of the best books available telling you everything you need to know to create the garden you have always dreamed of.

The Backyard Homestead gives details often lacking in other garden planning books. It breaks down exactly what you can expect to raise on a given size of property ranging from a quarter acres and up. Find out if you have room for just a few garden beds or bee hives, chickens, goats and more. It also includes how much you will need to raise to feed your family as well as detailed instructions on how to harvest vegetables, honey and more.

Storey’s Basic Country Skills is a prepper’s bible. If you have lots of property and energy to match, this book will cover everything you need to know to be completely self-reliant as you live off the land. If you only have a slice of land you can still learn lots of valuable tips for making the most out of what you do have.

If you don’t have room, time or energy for taking on a life of total self-sufficiency Mel Bartholomew’s updated version of Square Foot Gardening has you covered. Learn how to raise all the food you need in just a few raised beds.

No matter what size of space you have-even if it’s only a single windowsill-you can have a productive garden. Nothing gives you more return on your investment than herbs. Growing your very own blends of herbal teas is a wonderful use of your space. Herbal Tea Gardens introduces the reader to 22 plans for tea gardens that are easy to duplicate. It also covers specific applications you can grow tea for such as colds, headaches and arthritis as well as blends designed for energy boosts and to work as aphrodisiacs. Nothing can compare to settling back with a cup of tea and a good book unless it’s a cup of tea you have grown and blended yourself! This book will help you do just that.

If you prefer ornamental gardening you will love this book. Designing Borders showcases the work of seven renowned designers in detailed designs that anyone can copy into their own landscape. It’s kind of like a paint by number kit for beginner artists, except that once you’ve planted your border by following your chosen design, no one will ever guess you weren’t the original mastermind.

Continuous Bloom by Pam Duthie is a gorgeous coffee-table-type book loaded with color images and all the information you need to create a garden that never stops blooming right from its launch in early spring until the final hard frost of fall. If you are lucky enough to live in more temperate climates this book will help you achieve bloom year round. It also helps you choose plants to match your personal color scheme.

Continuous Color is another offering from Pam Duthie, this time featuring trees and shrubs in your landscape for year round attraction. The perfect complement to her first book. Armed with both of these works, any gardener can achieve show-stopping seamless landscapes that result in your very own personal botanical garden packed full of color and interest.

Humans garden for all sorts of reasons. Some focus on feeding their stomachs while others wish to feed their souls. If your gardening goal is to create a sacred space where you can unwind and find peace in an otherwise hectic life, Cultivating Sacred Space; Gardening for the Soul by Elizabeth Murray will help you achieve just that. Inside you will find a dozen gardens designed for serenity as well as all sorts of tips.

The Medicine Wheel Garden; Creating a Sacred Space for Healing, Celebration and Tranquility teaches the reader how to design their garden using the ancient Native American Medicine Wheel designed to harness energies from the earth. This book includes plants for every garden zone.

Just because you are short on space doesn’t mean you can’t unleash your botanical creativity. With the help of Container Gardening; 250 Design Ideas & Step-By-Step Techniques you can turn any pot of plants into a curb stopping work of art. As well as featuring 250 design ideas the book also shows the reader how to save money by making their own potting soil, creating Hypertufa pots, growing plants from cuttings as well as tons of tips on general container garden care.

Happy Reading!



24 Scented Flowers for Spring, Summer and Fall

Lily of the Valley


  1. Apple Blossoms (tree)
  2. Daphne odora (perennial)
  3. Grape Hyacinth Muscari armeniacum (perennial bulb)
  4. Lilac (shrub)
  5. Lily of the Valley (perennial)
  6. Primrose (choose white or yellow as blues and reds have little to no scent) (perennial)
  7. Wallflowers (short-lived perennials often grown as annuals)
  8. Violets Sweet Violet Viola odorata (perennial)


Sweet William offers up a wonderful clove-like scent


  1. Honeysuckle (vine)
  2. Jasmine (vine)
  3. Lilies (perennial)
  4. Lavender (perennial in warmer climates; annual in colder gardens)
  5. Mock Orange (shrub)
  6. Nicotiana (annual)
  7. Roses (perennial)
  8. Stocks Evening Scented (annual)
  9. Sweet Alyssum (annual)
  10. Sweet Peas (traditionally an annual though a few perennial varieties do exist)
  11. Sweet William (biannual)
  12. Valerian (perennial and can be somewhat invasive)




  1. Chrysanthemum (perennial)
  2. Hymalayan Balsam (annual)
  3. Katsura (tree) Cercidiphyllum japonicum
  4. Phlox (annuals and perennials)

Always check tags and packages to ensure you are choosing a fragrant variety. Many formerly dependable scented flowers, such as Sweet Peas (annual) and roses (perennial) have been bred up for eye appeal, losing much in the way of scent. A quick check of the label should tell you if you are, indeed, choosing a scented variety.

While we have included in brackets whether the plant is an annual, perennial, biannual, shrub or tree always check the garden zone to be sure how the plant will perform in your particular growing area.


Exciting News for Cold Climate Balcony Gardeners!

I ventured out to sweep, vacuum and mop my garden this morning in preparation for a possible (whisper) spring and guess what I saw? Buds! Several of them bravely pushing out from the American Cranberry Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ that I planted in a pot in my balcony garden last spring.

I can’t believe it!

Yes, all the experts say choosing a perennial or shrub that is at least one zone lower than the one you live in should ensure the plant survives balcony heights, but I had my doubts. We live in such a harsh climate and this winter we had cold weather, high winds and lots of freezing and thawing. And we officially live in 2b while this viburnum is simply zone 2. I wasn’t sure if zone 2 to zone 2b counted as a full zone, but no matter what the numbers say, the proof is in the bud and I am one happy balcony gardener!

I apologize for the blurry photo-I must have been shaking with excitement-but you can still see at least two fat green buds to the right.

And it gets better. The Sweet Grass is also sending green spears skyward and some crocuses that I planted in a pot in the late fall have also hatched.

Sweet Grass Hierochloe odorata Zone 1

Crocuses on deck!

Oh, the possibilities this presents! Clearly a trip to the hardy perennial section of a few local nurseries is in order.

How to Freeze Peas!

I was raised in the world of blanching where you plunge vegetables into boiling water for a specified amount of time before transferring them to ice water and then to a freezer bag or container and then finally to the freezer. It was with a mixture of chagrin and joy that I found out all that boiling of water and time was completely unnecessary.

To freeze peas simply pour the shelled peas into a bag or freezer container and pop them into the freezer. That’s it! If you want to put them in a big container such as an ice cream bucket first follow the same routine normally reserved for berries. Simply pour the shelled peas on a cookie sheet and carefully set the sheet in the freezer. After a couple of hours transfer the now-frozen peas into the bucket and return to the freezer. Spreading them out on the cookie sheet first keeps the peas from clumping together making it easy to simply scoop out a cup or two as needed.

People might squawk and talk about peas losing quality and flavor if you don’t blanch them first. All I can say is try both methods (that’s what I did) and let the results speak for themselves.

Eight Great Tips on Growing Spring Bulbs

1.  Big Bulbs Equal Big Blooms.  After writing in the last post that the best onions sets come from the smallest bulbs, we now turn that logic on its head when it comes to flowering bulbs. If flowers are what you’re after then you want the biggest bulbs you can buy. The problem with big onion sets is they flower and set seed rather than producing a tasty, edible onion the following season. But when flowering is what you’re after, big bulbs mean big blooms!

2.  Always Pull Weeds in Your Bulb Patch by Hand. Using a hoe or other sharp tool makes it too easy to accidentally nick and damage a bulb while digging. Applying a couple of inches of mulch (compost, dried grass clippings or straw) will help keep the weeds down and make it easier to hand pull the weeds that do pop through.

3.  Why You Can Plant Sun Loving Spring Bulbs in the Shade. Planting a sea of spring bulbs beneath a deciduous tree (trees that lose their leaves in the fall) is a perfect pairing. Bulbs in bloom appreciate plenty of sunshine and since the tree is just starting to leaf out in the spring, the bulbs are free to work on their tan. By the time the tree is in full leaf, the spring bulbs are resting up for next year’s show and are more than content to kick back in the shade.

4.  Leave those Leaves Alone! After your bulbs finish blooming it is tempting to cut the ragged foliage to the ground for appearance sake. Unfortunately, this could spell disaster for your bulbs. The foliage serves as a conduit to transfer energy into the bulbs for next year’s blooms. Instead of cutting the foliage down, try planting annuals or late maturing perennials nearby to hide the fading foliage instead.

Another alternative is to grow your bulbs in containers. When the blooming period is done it is easy to whisk the pots out of sight.

5. Feed after the Frenzy. Be sure to serve up some compost or natural fertilizer for the bulbs to feed on once the bloom period is done. Blooming for a bulb is like running a marathon for a human. When the race is done it is time to rest and refuel for the next run!

6. Plan to Plant for Next Spring. The best time to plant spring bulbs is in the fall, preferably a month or so before freeze up, to give them time to settle in to their new digs. Wait until evening temperatures run between 40 – 50 F (5-10 C). If you’re planting a lot of bulbs you can find a handy bulb digger tool at most garden sections in hardware stores or at your local nursery. You can also pick one up on places like Amazon.

The one below is a great hand tool.

Or you can treat yourself and spend a bit more to save your back with a long-handled version like this one from Garden Weasel.

Whatever method you use, the reward is this…

beautiful harbingers of spring poking up through the snow to tell us those lazy, hazy days of summer are almost here.

7.  How Low Should You Go? As a general rule of thumb plant bulbs four times deeper than their length. So if a crocus bulb measures an inch long (from top to bottom), plant it four inches deep. If your soil is heavy clay you should plant a little shallower and if it’s a rich, fluffy, loam you can plant a bit deeper.

8.  Which End is Up? If you’re a long time gardener you know what end is up (usually your rear end) but if you’re just starting out it can be frustrating. The garden world is rife with broad assumptions that everyone knows the basics, such as which end of the bulb faces up. The pointy part faces up. The bottom is the one with string-like roots – that’s the end you want set in the soil.

That said, Mother Nature is pretty tenacious. Even if you plant the bulb upside down or sideways, it usually figures things out and manages to work its roots down and the stem up despite any errors on the gardener’s part.




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Earning Our Seasons

The Peace Country has shifted into spring. You can feel it just as if you were in a sports car and slipped into third gear. There’s an extra thrum in the air and the earth is starting to vibrate and shimmy with life.

On my walks I have seen a patch of purple crocuses, some yellow daffodils and everywhere people are raking a winter’s worth of gravel off their lawns and back onto to the streets. I wonder if the street sweepers recycle the gravel for next winter’s traction. I don’t have a clue if that is even feasible. Likely not.

All winter we slip our way up and down the streets and say, “Why don’t they put down more gravel?” Then here comes spring and I bet more than a few front lawn rakers mutter to themselves, “Why did they put down so much gravel?”

On my way down to Dawson on Saturday I noted the trees in Taylor were already turning into clouds of catkins. Always a couple weeks ahead of the rest of us, I am hoping to see some green leaves when I pass through next week. A week after that? Green leaves for us all I hope!

I was watching a movie the other night called Tumbledown where the lead character looks out over a frozen lake and says, “I love living in a place where you earn your seasons, you know? Tough it out, see the ice return itself to mud, slimy reeds… become hopeful again.”

I loved that line so much, I grabbed my notebook and wrote it down. I’m thinking those words will resonate with anyone who calls the Peace Country (or anywhere else with long winters) home by choice, so I’m sharing it here this morning!

Like most northerners we sometimes talk about moving south, but at the end of the winter, I too love living in a place where you have to earn your seasons. After half a century of earned springs, it has become who I am.

Enjoy the weeks to come. After all, you’ve earned them!

Yes, Mable, there is still ice on the lake but you know what just occurred to me? These poor people live here all year round. They have no wings to fly south. Think about THAT Mable. Suck it up Princess.