March 10, 2009

And Inspiration Struck

I have had extra time to enjoy some garden-related reading lately. This is partly because NOTHING is happening in my still-frozen garden, and partly because I've been passing kidney stones and feeling too lousy to do much else. Housework has been procrastinated and children mildly neglected (why don't you make your own PB&J sandwich, dear, as I've only got 10 pages left in this chapter). Here are reviews and some take-home messages gathered from the books. They're all available from (click on the book cover to get there), though I just borrowed them from my local library.

Design in the Plant Collector's Garden by Roger Turner
After reading Turner's philosophical first chapter on plant enthusiasts, I had the sneaking suspicion that he had read my mind. He beautifully captures the way I feel about plants and my garden. He also describes the pitfalls that come when plant enthusiasts try to mold their collections into gardens. His best piece of advice: look up from the plants and see the garden! With numerous practical ideas for creating a lovely garden-as-a-whole instead of just a plant museum, this book will be helpful to any gardener with plant-collecting tendencies.

Paths of Desire by Dominique Browning
My husband would not have enjoyed this book, but I did. Browning writes in a wistful tone about the bittersweet experiences of life and gardening on her suburban plot. Her narrative definitely appealed to my feminine sensibilities. Sometimes life is sad, sometimes the garden goes awry, but we press forward and find joy where we can. This is a good read for a grey day, preferably with a crackling fire nearby and a cozy blanket over top.

Beautiful Madness by James Dodson
I sped through this book like I do through a suspenseful novel. Dodson chronicles his year of horticultural exploration and discovery in an enjoyable way that kept me wondering where his adventure would lead next. He convinced me that I definitely need to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show but I definitely don't need to travel to South Africa to search out new plant species. Mostly, I came away feeling relieved that there are plenty of more garden-crazy people out there, so my level of obsession is perfectly acceptable.

The Welcoming Garden by Gordon Hayward
And this was where inspiration struck. Hayward teaches how to create inviting gardens at the front of the home. I was innocently enjoying the pretty pictures and agreeing with his helpful ideas when he suggested that we should walk among our plants and not past them on the way to the front door. Aha! The entry to my home, pictured below (note - the picture was taken just before we moved in, and many of the plants and junk have been replaced since then), is just sad. The giant concrete driveway funnels into a short concrete sidewalk, edged on one side by the garage. I realized that I wanted to walk among my plants instead of past them, so I should rip out my existing sidewalk and swing it out to the left to make bed space on both sides of the walkway. Hubby was mildly supportive of the project, it wouldn't be too awfully expensive, and we should do it before the plants get much larger and harder to transplant. So it might actually get done this fall. We'll move the steps and remove the railing, but will it be too strange if the door isn't directly at the top of the steps? Moving the door would require moving the window and would make a big project, but maybe someday it will happen.


  1. VW, Looks like the wheels have been spinning. Lots of good stuff to read and ideas to formulate. I like the idea of moving the steps a bit. I think the door can stay where it is. You want to lead folks in and open up a sitting area. Works for me. ;-)

  2. Good stuff to read for sure. I DO hope you are feeling better soon. Kidney stones are not fun I hear.

    I don't think the door would look weird at all moved over. In fact, you could just move the stairs to the end of the porch and have folks come up that way. It would be along way from the driveway but lots of garden area. I think you should make your home uniquely yours and whatever works for you, is best.

  3. Hi VW,
    Mr. Meems has had a couple of bouts with kidney stones. Not fun. He only managed the excruciating pain on lots of drugs while waiting for them to pass. Sounds like you've made the most of your time. Don't know how you do it with 3 kids. Saying my prayers for you. :-)

    I don't know how resolved you are to removing the sidewalk but it occurred to me you could possibly leave it and place some potted container plants on it (as background to what you would plant in front of it)IF you were moving the steps over. Then maybe (can't really see the dimensions you are working with) you could do a curvy natural stone path (was thinking really large here) winding up to the steps with plants on both sides of the path. ????
    I don't think it is a problem not having the door right behind the steps. You could think about making the steps wider than they are now and more angles like a V (upside down V actually- does that make sense?)Sorry so long... just my first instincts. I'm sure you will make it lovely and you will love it.

    Don't you just love it when inspiration comes?
    Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

  4. Hi VW

    Sorry to hear about The kidney stones. You weren't kidding when you state on your profile 'I'm a bookworm'.

    As for the door lining up with the steps, I suppose you could always do the trace over a photo trick and then play about with it. At least you get to visualise it. It's a difficult call.

    It's good to read book reviews. Thanks


  5. Great book reviews! I love finding them at the library too. The second and third sound like the types of books I've been looking for.
    I'm sorry to hear about the kidney stones. I just went through that before Thanksgiving. No fun, especially when you have a family to take care of.

  6. I think I need to read the first book. I am forever bringing home plants for no rhyme or reason, just because I liked them at the nursery and then I am disappointed that my garden looks like a hodge-podge!

  7. Wow... let me say, your library is much better stocked than mine! Lol.... ours is all from 1964 I think. I love to read garden books and look at the ones I have over and over again. I think it is a slight depression we gardners go through when winter drags on. But cheer up, Spring's a comin'!

    As for your health, take it easy. Rest and enjoy all the "planning". I too agree on the sidewalk project. we built 3 years ago and did not have any front walk the first year until I did the border. Then it was moved out last year and crushed stones and small boulders added. But I spent many an hour thinking it out. Best of luck and enjoy looking for your garden to "wake up" soon. ~Brooke

  8. Thank you for the well wishes and suggestions! The current sidewalk is 4 ft wide - not really wide enough for pots, though I'll put some of those up on the porch. I think I'd move the steps 4 ft to the left and have the sidewalk do a wide curve from steps to the driveway. That would leave a new bed about 4 ft by 5 ft on the right - enough for a clematis on a trellis against the garage wall, an english rose, some catmint, daylilies or liriope, and possibly an ornamental stone (I want to add some of those around the front for winter interest, especially). A vine on a trellis would go an especially long way toward softening and 'plantifying' the area. The existing beds would be adjusted around the new walkway. It's so fun to have an idea and get feedback about it from knowledgeable gardeners - thanks again.

  9. Hope all goes well with passing the kidney stones--sounds miserable. But you certainly have made the best of it with all the book-reading and reviews!
    I can understand your desire to redesign too. I keep telling myself that dreams sometimes come true (I have some big dreams)! :)
    Oh, and one thing about having the kidney stones can't really work outside in the gardens.
    Take care and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  10. VW .. My god you poor thing with the kidney stones .. that is so painful. The kids can make PJ sandwiches for sure : )
    These books look wonderful .. I need to make time to read .. Teza has recommended so great ones too .. finding time to do that is hard but when the deck is being worked on I will need diversion from the NOISE ? LOL
    Hope you feel better SOON !

  11. Hi VW,I am so sorry for your kidnew stones, ouch! Hope it is over quickly and with a minimum of discomfort. Thanks for all those great book choices. I even have the madness one and have not read it. I don't even remember buying it, but that is nothing new. I will put it on the top of the pile. Your walkway does seem a little puny and shunted off to the side. Moving the porch steps to the center seems a good solution. I think having the door to the side would be okay, but it's what you guys think that counts. Moving the door and window to the house sounds like a much larger project!

  12. VW thanks for the reviews, I have just ordered The Welcoming Garden! Front gardens are rarely discussed in the UK and if they are they are always hedged, walled or fenced, never open plan like mine. We don't spend time in our front gardens in the same way you do, were I come from sitting in the front garden isn't the done thing! I first discovered blogs because I was looking to the USA for inspiration for my front garden.

    Good luck with your front garden, I look forward to seeing the results. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  13. Your timing is perfect for me! I'm working on a new virtual project and am looking for books to recommend so will check out some of your suggestsions (already have a stack from the library to go through).

    Take my feedback with a grain of salt as I might not be grasping the scale of your front correctly, but I would not move the stairs, I think your instinct that it might look odd is correct. I prefer Meems idea of expanding the stairs, although given the short journey to the driveway, I'm not sure I would do the inverted V but instead would expand the steps to 8', or even consider having the steps connect all the way across, thus eliminating the railing in front altogether. This would create a veranda effect and really open up the space. I like the red door, great way to draw the eye, but the railing around the front porch cramps the space. Any chance of taking the path all the way to the street with a smaller connector path to the driveway? That would be ideal, but more expensive. If a longer path to the street is an option (think of the garden opportunity!) I would also increase my path width to 5 or 5 1/2'.

    Sorry now that you asked for feedback? :>)

  14. Susan - WOW! This is why you're a professional (thanks for the free consultation). Hubby and I are very intrigued by the idea of steps stretching all the way across the porch. The actual house feels dwarfed by the garage, which is made worse by the fact that 99% of visitors approach the house from the garage side, so that's all you see. Steps across the front would add visual weight to balance out the garage. Of course, then I'd be walking past the plants instead of through them on the way to the front door, but I could fit pots in many places with the extra stair space . . . will have to keep thinking about it all. Thanks again for the suggestions!

  15. Sorry you haven't been feeling well. Thank you for the reviews. I am very tempted by all of your selections. I hope you are able to make of your front the way you want it.~~Dee

  16. Hello VW!

    So great to see another quality gardening blog in the Spokane/CDA area! I'm in CDA! I want to introduce myself.....My name is Ben Fairfield and I am one of the founders of The Urban Garden Project™. The Urban Garden Project™ is the initiative to encourage Americans to learn from history, become more self-reliant, save a significant amount of money, and eat healthier, all as a result of planting their own urban garden! The goal of The Urban Garden Project™ is to encourage and catalogue the creation of 100,000 urban gardens by 2020. We know that this is a sizeable goal, but we will accomplish it 1 garden at a time!

    As a result of your successful blog and your obvious passion for gardening I was hoping that you would visit our website at to learn more about the project. It costs nothing to support the project; we simply need help getting the word out to the world so that we can begin to catalog existing or new urban gardens. It would also be great to be able to add you to our garden catalog and link to your site through our blogroll! The official kick off for the project is April 1st 2009 and we are busy creating videos, tutorials, product reviews and more to make visiting worth everyone’s time!

    I am hoping that as a result of our shared passion for gardening you can help us in spreading the word about The Urban Garden Project™. Again, your support costs nothing. Our mission is pure and we hope that you can come along side us in this project to grow the gardening community and the number of urban gardens!

    Thank you so much for your time and we are looking forward to you visiting our site and letting us add your garden to our growing catalog of gardens from across the world!

    Have a great day!

    Ben Fairfield

  17. Oh, what's more fun that messing with someone else's house?! First of all, congrats on having a front porch! I like Garden Chick's idea of steps that run the width of your front porch. You will need a stair rail (for oldsters) and I would put that on the house/garage wall. My only other tip, that you probably already know, is to have the front door color harmonize with the color of your roof--that's not going to change in the next 20 years.


Thanks for leaving a comment! I have comment moderation turned on to catch spam, so your comment will show up as soon as I can read and approve it.