vintage gardening books

Like the late Suzy Bales, another garden writer Chester County native garden writer David Culp inspires. 

Suzy Bales inspired me to truly make my current garden one of four seasons and to plant gardens around our home on all four sides. (I still consider it a work in progress, but it’s getting there.) The books she wrote titled Down to Earth Gardener and The Garden in Winter have truly guided me in my current garden to that end.  They are lovely books that you can find quite reasonably priced new and used on Amazon.com.  Mrs. Bales sadly passed away a year ago this time, but you can still benefit from her knowledge through her books.

David Culp is the author of The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage.  You can also find his book easily on Amazon.com. He is the one that made me see the beauty of layering your garden.  It is something that I have always sort of fidfled with, but his book took it to a whole new level.  

I love my gardening books as much as my cookbooks.

I have been collecting vintage gardening books since I was about 19. They are well loved and well used and much like my cookbooks, I do not lend them out. I totally encourage people to look for vintage gardening books, much like vintage cookbooks they often contain basic, time honored traditions that can get lost in translation in the Internet age.

Long before there was the Internet, Facebook, or Pinterest you relied on your own research. You poured through gardening books, you went on garden tours, you belonged to a local gardening club.

I have always been a rabid gardener, and I love to learn about gardens.  I discovered years ago quite by accident but every time you went to a garage sale or a rummage sale or thrift shop a lot of the books that people got rid of were gardening books and cookbooks.  And many of both kinds of books were as pretty to look at as they were practical for the information contained within them.

To an extent while I am a modern woman I am also an old fashioned woman. I love what people used to call the “home arts” – or making your house a home , creating your garden, decorating your home yourself, and cooking.

Some of the gardening books I have are quite old. And a lot of the ones I have are books of actual gardens, a lot of which no longer exist due to development and progress. Families die off, properties are sold.  It is a sad fact of life. Not every person moving into a house wants to garden. And sometimes depending on where something is located, the property and the gardens don’t survive. Often whomever acquires the property will give people permission to take plants, or buy them from them.

That’s how I ended up with really old hellebores years ago.  

There were a pair of old Victorian houses near the Rosemont, PA train station which had been run down apartments for years and years and finally when they were totally decrepit they were sold to a developer. I contacted the developer before they razed the houses for their condominium project.  For years in spite of watching these two once very cool Victorians deteriorate, I was fascinated by these lovely hellebores that I have never seen anyplace else to this day.  The developer let me take a bucketful of the hellebores. And although the gardens were quite overgrown by this point there were still some remnants of the design left and that was also valuable to check out and commit to my memory for future gardens.

I still look at the photos of these gardens in my books, captured and frozen in time, and the majority of the photos are black and white. They also inspire me.  The gardens of yesterday that only live in photos inside an old book.

These gardens that live only in photos of old books can so spark the imagination if you let them. They are to me as valuable as some people find the photos of gardens on Pinterest today.

Gardening is truly an art form. And how your garden looks is entirely personal. You literally get out of your garden what you put into it and as long as your garden make you happy that is what is important.

Look for garden books you like new and old and let them inspire you in your garden.  Good sources for gardening books, and even cookbooks are (again) locally at a garage or rummage sale, at a resale shop or used bookstore. If you want to go online, check out both Amazon and eBay.  Locally, I have also found many fabulous gardening books at Jenkins Arboretum.

I also love book swaps – if you are finished with the book swap it to a friend for another book.  A gardening book swap is also a great excuse for gardeners to get together!

Happy gardening!

the “art” of gardening

I have a gardening group that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Which makes me happy because I love to garden, and love looking at the gardens of others, and talking about gardens. 

I do not pretend to know everything. I am constantly learning. I think gardening is good for the soul and head in part because if you garden, you are always learning.

I have beds on all four sides of our house. The philosophy is simple: I want flowers everywhere. I am going for four seasons of interest and the late Suzy Bales (who was amazing gardener and garden writer who sadly passed away last spring) inspired me to that. She is not the only gardener or garden writer who has inspired me over te years, but she will always be one of my favorites because what she wrote about speaks to me still.

My current garden is pieces of every garden I have ever had, combined with elements I have admired in other gardens. I draw a lot of inspiration from English and Irish cottage gardens, truthfully.

With a few exceptions I have planted it all myself. Except for things I physically can’t do, I maintain my garden myself. Gardening makes me happy.

You get out of your garden what you put into it. A good garden is the result of trial and error, and what defines a good garden is simple: it makes YOU happy.

For me personally, given the knee injury I have been dealing with for several weeks at this point, this will be the year that tests my garden. But the up shot is I have done basically the majority of the planting, so maintenance will be the key. And hopefully I can find help for that until I am healed.

When you are putting your own garden together, it’s kind of like decorating your house – you draw inspiration from lots of places. Make a garden inspiration board on Pinterest- Pinterest is loaded with gardening stuff! I actually love using Pinterest for garden related things – it is so easy to create a virtual cork board of ideas.

In part that is why I created a gardening group and write about gardening is I believe gardeners inspire each other. And somewhere along the way when you least expect it, you develop your own gardening style.

My gardening style includes garden elements – bird baths, a stone path to dress up a hard to make look pretty area, seating areas, and so on. I also love the idea of creating “nooks”.

I love color and texture and how plants “fit” together. I love that you can plant almost anything in a pot, so it is not just about the garden beds. I love the smells and sounds of the garden and how nature rewards you when you plant.

Gardening is art, and trust me everyone has it in them to create their own artistic oasis. 

Happy gardening.

things that really matter

MBM photo/screenshot

Is this about Chester County? No, although we have our share of homeless too.

This is about the true goodness in human beings that exists in spite of mankind today.

Daily News Columnist Ronnie Polaneczky: Havertown homeless man gets a house for Easter

A chance conversation between two strangers brings a homeless man off the street

Updated: APRIL 15, 2017 — 9:00 AM EDT

Jonathan Sweet knows that Jesus loves him. But until he met Michelle McHugh, he wasn’t sure anyone else did.
“I had almost given up on humanity,” says Sweet, 52, a single, childless Havertown native who was homeless for seven years until a chance meeting with McHugh changed his fortunes. “Not every homeless person is a criminal or an addict. But people treat you like you’re a second-class citizen. It gets you down.”….Last December, he and McHugh were chatting at the 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby. McHugh, who lives in Havertown, was waiting for a train to Philly, where she works as associate director of Drexel University’s television management program….Christmas was approaching. McHugh asked Sweet where he’d spend the day.
 “Over there,” he answered, pointing to a forested area within walking distance of the neighborhood where McHugh lives with her husband, Jim, and their preschool son, Nolan.
“I was shocked,” says McHugh, 43. “While my family was warm inside a nice house, Jon was living in the woods behind us. It was heart-wrenching.”…..On Holy Thursday, Sweet moved into his new home, which is fully furnished thanks to donations and the enthusiastic services of Havertown interior designer Liz MacDonald (who even managed to find a sofa in purple, Jon’s favorite color).

This is but a brief excerpt of the article.  The article is so truly beautiful and moving that I hope everyone who reads this post, will read this article.

I remember when Michelle McHugh started the GoFundMe page to help.

You see, I am lucky enough to call Michelle McHugh a friend. 

Michelle and I met many years ago through our dear mutual friend Sherry Tillman.  Sherry, the proprietoress of Ardmore, PA’s Past*Present*Future is also the founder of First Friday Main Line.

We were planning a non-profit special event to benefit First Friday Main Line called “Foodapalooza” and Sherry tossed Michelle and I and our cameras together one Saturday to photograph chefs and local restaurants. Michelle and I had been introduced, but this was what really brought us together as friends. That and Sherry’s uncanny ability to share her friends and bring more people together.  This was in 2009.

I still love the photos I took that afternoon as I felt they were inspired by the company.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Michelle (who lives with MS) was one of my cheerleaders. Her positivity was contagious and she was one of my friends who buoyed me through quite the life challenge.  She always just checked in. Totally casual, no big deal, how are you doing, you’ve got this.

In 2012 when she and her husband welcomed their miracle baby, I was one of the ones who could cheer her on.  She is an example of unwavering faith and goodness. 

So am I surprised that my friend Michelle took on this project? No, although project is the wrong word because her efforts are so indicative of her heart and soul.

 Michelle is a kind and loving and humble person and she deserves the accolades and a beautiful article by Ronnie Polaneczky.

In the world we live in, it’s easy to tear people down. What’s hard and shouldn’t be, is paying it forward just because it’s the right thing to do.

On the holy weekend that is Easter is the perfect time to hear the story of  Jon Sweet and his friend, who is also my friend, Michelle McHugh.

Sometimes it is hard to believe in the goodness of others, but this is such a reminder of why we just have to believe.  It is also a reminder that it’s the right thing to pay it forward, and that doing good and doing the right thing has rewards more precious than money.

This is also a story of love and friendship and the many forms they both take.

I am so very proud of my friend Michelle.

Happy Easter

how pain can steal your joy


Spring usually means I can get back into the garden. Not now, not me.

At the end of February into the first days of March I suffered a knee injury .

I have to be honest, it has been awful, the pain debilitating to say the least.

I am sure I will get fixed up, we are lucky that orthopedic medicine has come a long way but lordy, to not be able to walk and do everyday things sure puts it all into perspective. 

Usually about now I have lots of gardening posts,  now you know why I haven’t just yet. But I will! It is just going to take a while….

In the meantime— please feel free to share your gardening tales with me so I can live vicariously through the gardens of my readers!

Happy spring!

dear toll brothers and other developers: there is another way

Reader submitted photo April 2017

This is important to take note of, because it PROVES there is ANOTHER way then straight cram plan developments.

Chester County has been overrun by greedy developers.  For perspective remember that size-wise Bryn Coed is like a giant super-sized Chesterbrook.

If not for those who care, like Natural Lands Trust, you would be seeing “coming soon” signs for developers like Toll Brothers.


These screen shots are from the Natural Lands Trust Bryn Coed Farms website.   


Imagine living in an expansive, conserved landscape with a thriving nature preserve and miles of trails just next door. That is the unique opportunity available at Bryn Coed Farms.


In order to preserve as much of Bryn Coed Farms as possible, a number of large conservation properties will be made available to individual buyers. Each property will be placed under a conservation easement to be held and monitored by Natural Lands Trust, ensuring that the land is protected in perpetuity.

Seems like a revolutionary idea, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s how parts of Ardrossan are staying intact in Radnor Township and it is how large swaths of countryside and history  in places like England remain intact.

It is a viable solution to developing every square inch. It’s a compromise point.

Now critics will say more land should be saved with these plans and maybe they aren’t necessarily wrong , but this IS a viable compromise in my opinion.

Imagine if the Robinson Family did this at Crebilly, for example?

Or imagine if say developers who want to develop the Bishop Tube site chose a plan like this versus doing things like picking on me for wanting the best clean-up possible?

The Natural Lands Trust has once again proven, there is another way. 

And speaking of Bishop Tube it is a big story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today:

News — Pennsylvania: On toxic site abandoned for decades, developer sees townhouses sprouting in Chesco

Updated: APRIL 10, 2017 — 6:23 AM EDT

by Michaelle Bond, Staff Writer @MichaelleBond | mbond@phillynews.com

Asleep after a long day at her social-work job, Peggy Miros was jolted awake by a booming voice through a loudspeaker urging her and her neighbors to evacuate their homes.
A cloud of toxic gas had formed when chemicals accidentally combined at the steel tube manufacturer next to her housing development in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, in the early morning hours of June 9, 1981. In the sultry air, a steady southwest breeze exported the chemical mist toward General Warren Village, 500 yards away, before the cloud dissipated. Some of Miros’ neighbors went to the hospital with nausea and skin irritation…The EPA later found trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreasing agent linked to cancer, in the property’s groundwater. The former Bishop Tube Co. site, which produced stainless steel tubes from the 1950s until 1999, now is host to graffitied and dilapidated buildings, shattered windows, cracked concrete, and overgrown vegetation, one of more than 450,000 contaminated “brownfields” across the nation.

…Given the site’s history, residents are wary of plans for the property. Neighbors say they fear their families and any new residents could be harmed if workers disturb the polluted soil without removing every bit of contamination.
Last month, 40 people gathered for the first time in the home of one of their neighbors to plan a coordinated effort to oppose the project.

“These people know what they’re talking about and they have a right to be concerned,” said Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, who became involved after residents asked her for help.



Read the entire article. Read where the chair of the supervisors in East Whiteland says he expects the developer will get the zoning variance. That is East Whiteland’s compromise point? Gambling with people’s health and safety? (Notice you hear little to nothing out of state officials and why are these people in office again?)

Read the entire article.  Contact the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and East Whiteland Township today if you think more needs to be done with Bishop Tube,    Ok?