Spring weather calls gardeners into action. Send in that seed order for plants you have hesitated to buy. Hoe and fertilize the weed-awakening beds. Be inspired on chilly, rainy days to read A Way To Garden (Timber Press, 2019) by Margaret Roach. This book guides the reader through the plant world’s yearly life cycle from “conception” in January to “death and afterlife” in December.
A Way to Garden is the second edition of a book published 20 years earlier. Roach explains that so much has changed in horticulture in those years that this book is filled with new information. Running her website (awaytogarden.com), a weekly radio podcast, and writing several other books has kept Roach abreast of the most current garden practices.
Roach writes in a conversational manner. Information on how to do usual activities, like choosing and planting bulbs or keeping water gardens clean, is told from the perspective of her own gardening struggles and discoveries. Many other jobs, like pruning various types of hydrangeas and clematis, are explained clearly enough to know whether to clip or not and how and when. A thoughtful essay about certain aspects of gardening introduces each two-month section.
For the “birth” months of March and April, Roach’s most relevant advice deals with starting plants. A chart provides the times to plant seeds indoors and when to move transplants outside relative to our last frost date, April 15th. She also explains how to calculate back from the first frost date to start a fall garden during the “adulthood” time of summer. Despite Roach’s own garden being in New York, the vegetables and annual flowers listed are all familiar residents of southern gardens.
While Roach discusses ways to control various animals from destroying plants, Deer Resistant Design (Timber Press, 2019) by Karen Chapman will offer better instructions to prevent deer from destroying the yard of your dreams. To prove that achieving beauty despite the presence of animals is possible, Chapman presents examples of deer-resistant gardens on each coast, in the midwest, and one in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Despite the wide range of locations, most of the recommended plants are suited to our local climate. The “Top Ten” deer-resistant plants specifically used in each garden are introduced with photographs and growing instructions. Each featured plant is rated A to D with levels of resistance to damage from deer. Barberry, yarrow, lamb’s ears, spirea, and sumac are among the familiar plants rated highly. Chapman explains that this rating is available on many more plants at the website njaes.rutgers.edu/deer-resistant-plants.
Roach and Chapman both offer advice to deter animals from damaging your garden. Both also agree that under stress, deer will eat anything. With this warning and weather’s unpredictability, first accept the possibility that plant losses will happen. Then, reduce possible plant damage with plant choices recommended by the authors. Finally, indulge yourself by impulsively buying plants that thrill you with their spring beauty.
Featured image: Redbud / JC Raulston Arboretum.
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the JC Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.