Gardens of Seasonal Senses

A bounty of books to make your garden a thing of beauty throughout the year

THE GARDEN PROBLEM SOLVER: 101 SOLUTIONS TO COMMON LANDSCAPING PROBLEMS. By Catriona Tudor Erler. Photographs by Jerry Pavia. Simon & Schuster. 128 pp., $20.

WATER GARDENS: HOW TO DESIGN, INSTALL, PLANT, AND MAINTAIN A HOME WATER GARDEN. By Jacqueline Heriteau and Charles B. Thomas. Houghton Mifflin. 230 pp., $35.

THE WATER GARDENER: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO DESIGNING, CONSTRUCTING AND PLANTING WATER FEATURES. By Anthony Archer-Wills. Barrons, 192 pp., $45.

TAYLOR'S GUIDE TO SHADE GARDENING. Edited by Frances Tenenbaum. Houghton Mifflin. 501 pp., $18.95 paper.

WINTER GARDEN GLORY: HOW TO GET THE BEST FROM YOUR GARDEN FROM AUTUMN THROUGH TO SPRING. By Adrian Bloom. Harper Collins. 144 pp., $25.

THE INDOOR POTTED BULB: DECORATIVE CONTAINER GARDENING WITH FLOWERING BULBS. By Rob Proctor. Photographs by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor. Simon & Schuster. 128 pp., $20.

NATURE PERFECTED: GARDENS THROUGH HISTORY. By William Howard Adams. Abbeville Press, 356 pp., $49.95.

THE ULTIMATE ROSE BOOK. Written and photographed by Stirling Macoboy. Harry N. Abrams. 472 pp., $49.50.

DAVID AUSTIN'S ENGLISH ROSES: GLORIOUS NEW ROSES FOR AMERICAN GARDENS. By David Austin. Photographs by Clay Perry. Little, Brown & Co., 160 pp., $40.

THE ROSE: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN ROSES, ROSARIANS, AND ROSE LORE. By Sean McCann. Stackpole Books, 182 pp., $24.95.

A CELEBRATION OF GARDENS. By Roy Strong. Sagapress/Timber Press, 385 pp., $35.

ONE of life's minor mysteries is how gardeners find time to read garden books. Less mysterious is how writers of garden books find time to garden.

According to Harry Mitchell, quoted in Sir Roy Strong's compilation of garden writings ``A Celebration of Gardens,'' ``There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners.'' And therein lies the paradox: To be a good garden-book writer you undoubtedly need to be a good gardener.

There is no puzzle, however, about the publishers of garden books. They are apparently sure of a guaranteed market of endless buyers, and every year they release yet another flood of delectable volumes.

Some garden books are largely practical, with advice on how to ``create shade for a cooler microclimate in hot, dry gardens'' or to ``augment space by growing plants in pots.'' These are two suggestions from The Garden Problem Solver: 101 Solutions to Common Landscaping Problems by Catriona Tudor Erler.

This straightforward book aims at both novices and old hands. An underlying trend the author follows is: ``Transform a liability into an asset.'' Meaning, for example, that if you live in a bog, you would do well to grow damp-loving plants; in shade, cultivate ferns and ivy. It's not a new message, but it is a sensible one.

This is really a kick-start book. It does not elaborate. If a reader is inspired to, say, make a water garden, another visit to the bookstore is needed. Fortunately the publishers are ready.

A seductive new book is available: Water Gardens: How to Design, Install, Plant, and Maintain a Home Water Garden by Jacqueline Heriteau and Charles B. Thomas.

The authors' advice is clear, from designing and digging ponds to installing liners, from choosing pumps and filters to coping with ice, dechlorinating water, or dealing with algae. But what sets you dreaming is Part Two on plants and creatures. Thomas is founder of the International Water Lily Society, and it shows. The photographs of waterlilies are an eye-opener. No garden should be without a few of these exotic beauties.

Excellent as this book is, it could still be helpfully supplemented by another: The Water Gardener: A Complete Guide to Designing, Constructing and Planting Water Features by Anthony Archer-Wills. Among other things, this British author gives the most detailed, comprehensible instructions for making ponds with concrete I have encountered. Concrete has certain advantages over the ubiquitous liners. For a start it can last for centuries. Liners, though fast and convenient, can cause difficulties. Completely and permanently hiding them, particularly their edges, is tricky in informal pond and waterfall designs.

Shade gardening - how to make the most of shaded conditions - has also been treated in a number of books before. But this is now the subject of one of those tough little Taylor's Guides: Taylor's Guide to Shade Gardening edited by Frances Tenenbaum. It calls itself ``the most comprehensive guide available'' featuring more than 350 species of plants. It expands one's view of the possibilities of color and variety in the shadow of trees or buildings.

Perennials, annuals, and ground covers are particularly well-illustrated. Bulbs, however, are confined to summer varieties. Not an English bluebell, woodland narcissus, or snowdrop in sight. Cyclamen are confined to the fall-flowering hederifolium only.

Naturals like bloodroot are hardly mentioned. A mere eight ferns are illustrated. So, although self-proclaimed as ``comprehensive,'' the guide has its limits. Cultural hints under each plant description are very short.

Planting to make the garden more interesting in winter is certainly to be encouraged. In recent years several books have emphasized this all-season approach. English commercial horticulturalist Adrian Bloom has added his pennyworth with Winter Garden Glory: How to Get the Best From Your Garden From Autumn Through to Spring. Somewhat biased toward what can or cannot be grown in England (Bloom observes the possibility of a January without frosts in East Anglia where he gardens), his book and its brightly colored illustrations bring out the attraction of leaves fretted with hoarfrost, the striking array of different colors and surfaces in bare twigs, branches and bark, and the vividness of late-winter (or early-spring) flowers.

If your local climate makes the wonders of the first spring bulbs - snowdrops, crocuses, iris reticulata - impossible, then a second-best alternative is to grow them in pots, chilling them first in a garage and then placing them on a windowsill to flower. This is the idea of The Indoor Potted Bulb: Decorative Container Gardening with Flowering Bulbs by Rob Proctor. (A companion volume deals with summer bulbs in outdoor containers.) The author seems convinced that almost any winter bulb can be treated this way. Some succeed, even in central heating, spectacularly.

But I'm not as convinced as Proctor about snowdrops or Fritillaries indoors. Outside, they flower for weeks. Inside, they last no time, the leaves go willowy, the stems elongate, and the flowers turn brown.

Not all garden books are practical. Many are about the history of gardens, or literature connected with gardens, or go into absolutely everything connected with a particular kind of flower. Such books are best when thick and thorough. They are not to be taken into the greenhouse. They are armchair, day-is-over-now reading.

For a lengthy indulgence in the history of gardens, few books range as widely as Nature Perfected: Gardens through History by William Howard Adams. Though first issued two years ago, this study - quite as much about cultures as gardens - now has a new lease on life because a British-made TV series based on it (not the other way around, note), first seen in only six parts, is now being screened in its full 12 parts.

The book is published in the United States and the TV films, currently seen in Britain, are also to be seen in the US. Well-illustrated, intelligently written, the long story of man's need to make gardens is set out chronologically and geographically, and interwoven throughout with the history of architecture and art. A book to be enjoyed slowly and kept for years.

The flower that everybody loves, the rose, is the subject of three fine, but quite different, recent books. They are added to the thousands of rose books before them: Yet each will undoubtedly recommend itself to rose buffs in its own unique way. The Ultimate Rose Book, by Stirling Macoboy, rates the best of the three for its grandeur, comprehensiveness, 1,500 photographs of roses, and fascinating short essays on, for example, ``Rose Hips'' and ``The Rose in Music.''

David Austin's English Roses: Glorious New Roses for American Gardens is by a respected breeder who 30-odd years ago introduced a new-fashioned, old-fashioned-looking brand of rose to the world. Austin's book celebrates his own achievement and presents the evidence: an array of roses lush, full, and perhaps all seeming rather similar at first - but in delicate texture, variations of form, and the subtlest of colors they almost persuade you that they are everything a rose should be.

The Rose: An Encyclopedia of North American Roses, Rosarians, and Rose Lore is horticultural infotainment. Here you can learn about rose names; discover who Robert G. Jelly is; look out for Greta Garbo; and consider the question of the blue rose. The entries are highly instructive and great fun. Just the gift for the rose person who has everything. Except this book, that is.

Which brings us to A Celebration of Gardens. This is a giant compilation of writings about gardens and gardening. One of the assets of this marvelous book is that it avoids the over-familiar. It mentions roses without going mad over them, and best of all it does not quote Gertrude Stein's ``Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.''

Instead, it reprints a Robert Frost variation on the theme.

This tome is by a one-time art historian and museum director-turned-gardening-obsessive, Sir Roy Strong. He puts his affection for everything to do with gardening to outstanding use in this book for a lifetime's dipping. A much-respected English gardener and garden-writer, Rosemary Verey, recently said this was the one book she would take with her if she were cast onto a desert island.

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