How Plants Work: A Fascinating Resource

Acer Palmatum 'volunteer' growing in our border. I've been working with this little tree over the past several years, ever since I recognized it as a useful seedling and not a week in 2011.

An Acer Palmatum ‘volunteer’ growing in our border. I’ve been working with this little tree ever since I recognized it as a useful seedling, and not a weed, a few summers ago.

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Have you ever wished that you knew more about why plants do the often strange and mysterious things they do?  Ever wondered about why a newly planted tree isn’t growing as you expected?  Or how some plants can live in salty soils?

Have you wondered whether you should pay a premium price for some artisinal compost tea?  Or wondered why some vines twist themselves around any available support while others can not?

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April 12, 2015 flowers 075

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I am currently reading Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott’s newly released book, How Plants Work: The Science Behind the  Amazing Things Plants Do. index

Published this year by Timber Press, this is one of the most engrossing and useful books on gardening I’ve found in a very long time.

Linda not only teaches classes in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Washington, she is also an ISA-certified arborist and an extension urban horticulturist for Washington State University.

Linda specializes in helping ordinary gardeners, like us, enjoy more success by understanding the plants we want to grow.  You might have visited The Garden Professors blog which she and several colleagues host.

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Mayapples appeared through the leaf mulch this week in our garden.

Mayapples appeared through the leaf mulch this week in our garden.

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Linda begins with her own garden, and some of her own gardening mistakes, to help us solve our own gardening conundrums. After a quick refresher course in plant biology, enough for us to understand the explanations she offers in the remainder of the book; Linda moves on to an additional eight chapters which cover everything from soil management and pruning to how plants move, why their leaves turn various colors, plant associations, and seed production.  I’m finding new and useful information in each and every chapter.

She also offers ‘myth busting’ sidebars throughout, which explain why some traditional practices, such as staking trees, actually cause problems in the garden.  Do you dig a large hole and ammend the soil when planting a new shrub?  Linda explains why this might actually stunt the development of your shrub over several seasons.

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Overwintered planters with an ivy Geranium popped in. My color combinations this spring are a little shocking, perhaps....

Overwintered planters with an ivy Geranium popped in. My color combinations this spring are a little shocking, perhaps….

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How Plants Work extends the principles of botany to better inform our practices as gardeners.  It explains how plants use the common components of fertilizers and other substances and why they respond as they do to the care we give them.  So much ‘common knowledge’ about gardening practices just doesn’t hold up when examined in terms of a plant’s real needs.

Linda offers her advice and guidance in a very friendly, anecdotal style clearly written to help us enjoy more success with the plants we grow in our gardens.  I learned why potting soil with moisture retaining crystals can easily kill the plant it is supposed to support.  I learned how to bring light sensitive holiday plants, like Poinsettia and Christmas Cactus, into bloom.

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This red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia has come back strong after an oak tree fell on it in 2013.

This red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, has come back strong after an oak tree fell on it in 2013.  This part of the garden is mulched with wood chips made from the oak’s branches.

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And I learned why it is always better to mulch with chipped wood than with landscaping fabric or paper products.  Did you know that roots must have oxygen? Every chapter thus far has been packed with new understandings about plant growth and  the sort of helpful tips one can  put to use immediately.

Linda’s discussion of whether or not native plants are a good choice for suburban gardens offered a fresh perspective on this contentious issue.  And I agree with her. 

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

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I’ve been waiting for this book for more than a year, and was delighted to find it in the mail this week.  Timber Press contacted me last April to request the rights to use one of my photos from Forest Garden in the book.  I was happy to agree, and asked for a copy of the completed book as partial payment for the photo.  The anticipation of reading Linda’s completed book has percolated in the back of my mind ever since.

And this book is in every way beautiful.  Filled with interesting, sound and helpful information, it is also beautifully illustrated with color photographs throughout.  These photos illustrate some of the most interesting phenomena of the plant world. The photo I contributed was of an Oregon Grape Holly whose leaves had turned scarlet in our extreme cold last winter.

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Azaleas, dogwoods, and redbud in bloom together. Who could hope for more in a forest garden?

Azaleas, dogwoods, and redbud in bloom together. Who could hope for more in a forest garden?

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If you are a serious gardener, if you love working with the amazing beings of the Plant Kingdom; then you will enjoy reading How Plants Work.  It will become one of your ‘go to’ reference books when you need to solve a problem in the garden.   And when you get your copy, check out page 124… you just might remember that photo from one of my posts last winter.

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April 17, 2015 spring garden 016~

Woodland Gnome 2015

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April 17, 2015 spring garden 021

 

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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