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.

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!

august heatwave


The heat has been brutal and my garden is starting to show the wear and tear of the temperature extremes. I have lost a few plants which bums me out but in conditions like this it is survival of the fittest even if you’re watering and setting the sprinklers.

This morning early I was able to do a little light pruning and deadheading, but then the temperature and humidity climbed so fast I stopped and went back inside. 

A lot of my flowers are still quite pretty and spite of the high temperatures, but when you step outside the overwhelming sound you hear is the cacophony of the symphony of cicadas.

And one thing that seems undeterred by the heat and humidity is the poison ivy. This is by far my worst year ever for poison ivy. I had a poison ivy removal service come out and dig out a huge chunk of it but I have so much more to get removed. But at least the vines that were producing seedlings from the seeds – poison ivy has male and female vines – have been removed so hopefully that will slow down. 

My roses are really suffering in this weather. It is so humid that black spot is rampant and it is too hot to spray anything, so the best I can do is keep the leaves and debris cleaned up under the bushes.

I have lost two young azaleas to blight. Also a result of the high humidity in particular.

Anyway sign me looking forward to rain and cooler temperatures.

why you garden

A friend of mine gave me a cache pot that belonged to her grandmother. It’s a beautiful pot and it makes the perfect vehicle for summer flower arrangements. All of these flowers are out of my garden.

This is why gardening is so worth it. With the help of Mother Nature you can create such simple beauty and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

new use for vintage milk bottles


Here is a fun adaptive reuse for you: old milk bottles (vintage and antique) make great little vases for your kitchen windowsill!

I am not the first person I am sure to discover this new use, but I thought I would share anyway! I love my roses and I have found these three old Mill bottles at different times and they are the perfect size for my kitchen windowsill!  These are smaller milk bottles – a quart  or half-gallon would not so easily fit on my windowsill.

This is yet another reason why I love growing my own flowers – I could have a little tiny bouquet anytime I want as long as something is growing and blooming!

in the garden, what inspires you?

 

When you are working in your garden, what inspires you? Who inspires you?

A garden is a labor of love, an artistic expression. To me, my garden is like a living artist’s palette. And that is why I think sometimes I get twitchy about my garden. It’s my creativity and sweat equity. Ideas that begin in my head, take shape out of the earth from my hands. 

I love to inspire but I do not wish to see my garden recreated everywhere necessarily. 

Inspiration is very different from copying.

No one designed my garden for me. I used no landscape computer program. I took what I have loved in every garden I have ever had and inspiration from garden writers I admire from Gertrude Jekyll to Rosemary Verey to Penelope Hobhouse to Suzy Bales to Chester County’s David L. Culp. With my current garden the last two garden writers have been particularly influential.

David Culp’s The Layered Garden is not only visually a thing of beauty but so informative as well. The whole concept of a layered garden appeals to me because a layered garden has many different elements. It’s not just one dimensional, it’s multi dimensional. It’s a feast for the eyes and senses.

Then there are the books by Suzy Bales. I made Mrs. Bales acquaintance via email a few years ago after reading her book  Suzy Bales’ Down to Earth Gardener: Let Nature Guide You to Success in Your Garden. Again, a visually beautiful gardening book, but more than that. It is loaded with practical advice.

When I decided on a whim to write Mrs. Bales and tell her how much I loved her book and how she was inspiring me, to my delight she wrote me back. We corresponded here and there and she sent me autographed copies of her other books. I treasure them.  Her other book I refer to often   is The Garden in Winter: Plant for Beauty and Interest in the Quiet Season.

I was thinking about Mrs. Bales’ books again as I was preparing to write this post and quite sadly I discovered she passed away this March from cancer. What a loss. She was so kind to me every time I wrote to her about gardening. You can find an archive of some of her gardening articles on Huffington Post. What a nice lady and an amazing gardener. And so generous with her time and knowledge.

So my point? Don’t copy someone else’s garden or think some landscape computer program is all you need to have someone else plant your garden. Being inspired is not copying what someone else does including acquiring all of the cultivars they have. Being inspired means crafting your own vision. Getting your hands dirty learning from trial and error.

This is part of the fun of doing your own garden– you can try your ideas out and it’s much more cool (at least to me) than walking around after some random landscaper has put their commercial version of your vision to work. It is just more satisfying.

Anyone can garden. Truly. Buy yourself some basic gardening books so you learn techniques. Join an online gardening group. I joined my first online gardening board easily 2o plus years ago. It was the rose gardeners board on AOL. I made friends on that board from across the country that I still am connected to today. I even started a gardening group on Facebook of my own that has over 500 gardeners in it. We share photos, ask each other questions, inspire each other.

Gardening is truly individualistic. I literally stand outside  (when I probably should be weeding) and day dream about what I would like to see. Gardening writers like Suzy Bales and David Culp really help my envisioning because of their practical advice and beautiful gardens which leap off the pages of their books.  I don’t want their exact garden in my garden, they inspire me to be creative on my own. I figure if they can do it, I can do it.

Occasionally I have help if something is say too big for me to handle planting  on my own. I also don’t do lawns, I kill lawns. I have an experienced arborist. So I do have help, although I do most of my gardening myself. I have learned to tell people I am employing to help me what I want specifically, that way everyone is happy especially  me since it’s my garden. And the people who occasionally help me know I am a benevolent dictator who gets her hands dirty and her face smudged with dirt. 

Bit by bit my garden is coming to life on all four sides of our home. It is trial and error. Some plants don’t make it so I either try them again, or try new ones.  And I am definitely layering. For size , smell, type, bloom cycle, season, colors. It’s a crazy quilt of my own design. Inspired by other gardens and gardeners, but uniquely my own. I don’t pretend to know everything or every proper Latin name. I plant what I like. Sometimes I have researched the plants and a lot of times they are impulse buys because I like the way they look and can envision them in my garden.

So think about it: what inspires you in your garden? Let me know!