I was not without strong misgivings when first seeing the cover of Plantiful, the colorful new title engagingly written and photographed by Kristin Green, published by Timber Press, and emblazoned with the tag-line: “Start small, grow big with 150 plants that spread, self-sow and overwinter.”
When I was a young gardener just transplanting myself from my mother’s garden to my own, I was as eager (and obsessed) as gardeners come. I wanted a dense tapestry-like garden overflowing with FLOWERS—the more color and scent the better. I wanted my garden to be filled with stories. I wanted to be able to say things like “this Queen Anne’s lace was started from seed collected from my great aunt’s garden,” or “this was a pass-along cutting from so-and-so’s garden.”
I was a fan of thuggish plants that could hold their own and reproduce with impunity. Let them all slug it out, I thought as I enjoyed gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), clary sage (Salvia sclarea), Verbena bonariensis, mint (Mentha species), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), and various Euphorbia. The plants filled (and overflowed) first my large Vermont backyard where cold winters kept some things under control, and later my small Seattle garden where mild, damp winters did not keep things under control.
What I lacked in experience, knowledge, and skill, I made up for in enthusiasm and flowers…and seeds. I thought.
Then I got a few years of real gardening under my shovel. I grew to understand why other gardeners were always pulling, dividing, and giving away starts of some plants. And the backbreaking work required to keep some plants barely under control became more irritating to me. The devastating tragedy of native wetlands choked with pampas grass, broom, and purple loosetrife, all of which had looked lovely to me prior to understanding their pernicious and destructive tendencies, became painfully obvious to me.
Like many well-intentioned gardeners before me, I accumulated my fair share of poor plant choices ill-suited for the amount of time I had to mind them and inappropriate for my region. I will be making amends for these choices the length of my gardening life.
So, when I picked up Plantiful, I thought: “Great Idea. But why is there no very large WARNING sticker across the front cover: Not for the uninitiated. Proceed with great and mindful caution”?
Introductory sections of the book thoroughly explain the author’s process and outline what to expect from the book: 50 spreading plants, 50 self-sowing plants, 50 plants to overwinter. Green covers the importance of working with your site and plant lifecycles in order to grow them successfully and keep them under control. In chapter three “Opportunistic or Invasive?” she provides a thorough and fair discussion of the real dangers of invasive plants and our job as gardeners to pay close attention and not add to this burden in our world. “We all have a responsibility to garden conscientiously.”
These chapters assured me that Ms. Green was knowledgeable, skilled, experienced, and well intentioned. She’s also an enjoyable read.
However, I would have preferred to read a few of the cautions and responsibility sentiments a little earlier in the book—in the preface even, alongside her personal philosophy and natural impatience to wait 12 years before her garden looked full and established. I would also have liked to read an even more forceful statement regarding the importance of not waiting until a plant is listed on statewide or nationwide invasive plant lists to act. Rather, that a good gardener should use their developing sense of understanding and observation and remove any plant that looks like it could jump the garden fence.
The photographs throughout the book are just what we gardening book lovers yearn for—and which Timber Press does well to provide for us—big, glossy, rich garden shots, predominantly taken by Ms. Green, which always deepens my appreciation for a writer.
I enjoyed and was intrigued by the 50 of this and that portions of the book and found her descriptions to be accurate in my experience, but I was also a bit perplexed as to why a handful of known invasives (duly marked as such) were included when other plants that sow and spread nicely were not? Why would you include creeping jenny—invasive in much of the eastern portion of the country or Arundo grass—invasive in much of the western portion, and not for instance, include helianthus, asters, rudbeckias, and some of the hardy geraniums?
The highlights of Plantiful for me were Ms. Green’s conversational style and her excellent sections on skills and techniques, such as how to take stem and root cuttings and how to prepare plants for overwintering.
I hope that we might hear more from Kristin Green as a garden writer who works the soil for both her passion and her living and documents that work with well-crafted words and lovely photographs. But I still want that CAUTION tape on the premise behind Plantiful.
Jennifer Jewell, PHS board member Chico, California