Garden Cleanup and (Garden) Reading

How did it get to be November?

Back in October, when I was in the midst of my garden cleanup I thought, “I could write a post about this.” But, then I realized there was nothing remarkable about pulling plants out.

Well, except for these gladiolus bulbs that is. Because gladiolus aren’t cold-hardy at zone 5b-6a, where I live, you have to dig them up each fall and store them somewhere cool and dry if you want to plant them again in the spring.

bulbs, gladiolus, gladiolus bulbs

Not a great picture to show scale, but they’re about the size of a medium-large onion.

I cut most of my gladiolus blooms for use in arrangements, which meant the plants started putting energy into building up the bulbs rather than making seeds, and, as you can see they did a good job of it. They were huge! I’m so proud of my little patch of gladiolus.

But, other than that, like I said, there wasn’t anything note-worthy about my fall cleanup.

So, instead, I spent a few days on vacation with my family enjoying views like this:

Limber Pine trail, Bear Lake

And then my husband and I purchased the apple trees featured here and have been searching, comparing, and dreaming (I’m not even kidding. I have the weirdest dreams.) about house plans ever since.

Finally, instead of writing about plants, I’ve been reading about them. I’ve always loved to read; as a kid (and teenager) you could usually find me somewhere with my nose stuck in a book. But I think graduate school kind of ruined my ability to focus on just one book, because these days I’m usually reading at least two. Sometimes three. Or maybe even four. Right now, I’ve got three on my “currently-reading” list. Because they are so interesting (and mostly plant-related) I thought I’d do a brief review of them here. Just in case you’re looking for a good plant-related book (or three) to read.

I will warn you now, though, that these are very very nerdy. In the best possible way.

P.S. Clicking on the titles will take you to; not because I’m affiliated with them or these books in any way, but because that way you can read other reviews than my own.

First up, Planting A New Perspective by Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf. Due to our recent apple-tree-lot purchase I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to design my future yard and garden. I love plants, but I’ll be the first to admit that the design aspect isn’t my strong suit. I took a class in college, sure, but I’ve never been too confident when people ask me “what should I do with my yard?”. I’ve been poking around more garden design blogs lately, and the name “Piet Oudolf” seemed to keep popping up, so I decided to look into him and his style a little more. My library had Planting A New Perspective available, so I snagged it and have been perusing its pages for the last few weeks. Being a weed scientist, I have cringed a bit at some of the plants highlighted because, though they are beautiful ornamental plants, here they are considered noxious weeds (and for good reasons, I might add). However, I have enjoyed reading, and it has given me a “new perspective” on planting design – thinking about the ecology of the selected plants, how they interact with each other and with the environment, and thinking beyond colorful flowers for more year-round interest. The photos are lovely; the descriptions and explanations are thorough and helpful; some planting plans are even included. But the part I think is most helpful is the plant list in the appendix. With over 200 plants included, it describes not only the size, foliage and flower color of each plant, but also their longevity, their propensity for self-seeding, preferred habitat, months of structural interest, hardiness zone, and additional notes about seasonal interest or important cultivars.

Next up, 1491:New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. My boss has mentioned this book to me several times, so when it came up in conversation again a couple weeks ago I decided to check it out (both literally and figuratively). I recently saw a meme that basically describes my feelings about this book. It went something like this: In elementary school everything you know about the world is neatly packaged, in high school you learn it’s more complex, and in college you realize everything you’ve ever been told is wrong! So maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought “that’s not how I remember learning it in elementary school” as I’ve read this book (for example, remember Squanto the friendly Indian? Well, his real name was Tisquantum and he may have had some ulterior motives for his friendliness). It’s a fascinating history of the Americas pre-Columbus. The civilizations were enormous, agriculturally advanced, and incredibly susceptible to the diseases that the Europeans brought with them. I haven’t finished, but it has been eye-opening for me to learn about the many different cultures and ways of life, from the Massachusset of present-day New England, to the Inka (and the many peoples they conquered) in South America, to the Shoshone of the American West.

And, finally, The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson. Perhaps it’s because of my life-long love of seeds (I used to have a horse chestnut collection, in a shoebox under my bed, in elementary school) or because of all the time I spent counting hundreds and hundreds of seeds for my graduate research, but I really like this book. Again, I haven’t finished it, but I’ve been recommending it to everyone I talk to. It’s written in such a way that is accessible and interesting to the plants-person and non-plants-person alike because everyone at some point, whether they realize it or not, has interacted with a seed. He tells of his little son Noah who, though only a toddler, loves seeds. He tells of his own graduate research with seeds. And he tells of the seeds themselves – how they can remain viable for thousands of years, how they are basically baby plants with a lunchbox just waiting for the right time to grow, and how they came to dominate the plant kingdom.

What are you currently reading? Something nerdy, like me?


Happy fall and happy reading!


  1. I saw some seeds on my walk that reminded me of you! Remember those crinkly seed pods we used for “money” at the park? Those! Also, did you teach Cal about seedlings? Because she was talking about them at our park visit this afternoon.

    I just finished An Invisible Thread and I quite liked it. I just started Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good and after only a few pages, I like it so far. I’m on a memoir kick apparently.

    • Heather

      November 16, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Ok, Cal is seriously my favorite. I don’t remember teaching her about seedlings, but maybe I mentioned them. Also, I love the “money” pods!

      I’ll have to add those to my ever-growing book list. 🙂

  2. Thank you Heather, your book reviews were very helpful to me. I have the first book although I haven’t read it yet. But I love your perspective from a weed scientist hehe. I found really interesting the other two too. I love the way of thinking about seeds that you talk about in the last book, it is just awesome!

    • Heather

      November 17, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      You’re welcome! When you read the Piet Oudolf one you’ll have to tell me what you think. It’s really more focused on large-landscape design, but I think there are principles that can be applied to smaller landscapes as well.

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