Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of books, plant related and otherwise.

Book Review—When Perennials Bloom by Tomasz Anisko


In this book I finally found an answer to my question ‘Why do some trees bloom so early?’  Early spring is a hard time, when the wind and the snow keep trying to disturb those beautiful spring flowers.  In When Perennials Bloom—An Almanac For Planning and Planting (2008),  Tomasz Anisko states “Blooming may be timed so the flowers are more visible to the pollinators.  In forests, such conditions exist when deciduous trees are leafless, causing woodland floras to have many species that flower in early spring.”  Yes, it makes perfect sense.  It’s early in the season, it’s cold outside, who wants to spend all their time buzzing and hunting through all that foliage looking for the flowers?  Just show me the money!  “For flowering to be successful it needs not only to be synchronous, it also has to be precisely timed with a particular season.  Seasonality of bloom thus allows flowering to take place during periods of pollinator availability.”  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  The flowers or the bees?  Maybe it is the sun that rules the earth.  The all great weather factor.  Weather is what gardeners are talking about all the time.  “Perennials have evolved many adaptations which not only allow them to survive periods of severe weather, but also to time their flowering so that it takes place when environmental conditions are favorable for sexual reproduction.  This, the timing of flowering, is determined in response to change in the environment and through the plants interactions with its surroundings.”


Most of the book is an encyclopedia of perennials and their bloom times, from Acanthus to Yucca.  I like the way he starts each plant section with the meaning behind each name.  For example,  Liriope is for the nymph Liriope of Greek mythology and Hosta commemorates Nikolaus Thomas Host, an Austrian botanist and physician.   The final chapter has information and floral charts to create ever-blooming borders.  The charts are easy to use and well organized, listing what is in bloom each month from April through November.  Don’t skip the introductory chapters, there is a fascinating discussion on phenology, bloom time and how perennials respond to the environment found therein.

For plants growing in the temperate zone, Anisko states that temperature is possibly the most important factor in controlling flowering.  Something most of us inherently know is that plants usually start growth only when temperatures rise above a certain threshold.  “Plants injured from extreme low winter temperatures may flower weeks or months later than normal and their bloom can be uneven, sporadic or extended in time.”

Another factor in flowering is day length.  “The response of plants to the length of day and night is photoperiodism.  The length of day precisely times flowering in the most appropriate season and  synchronizes the simultaneous flowering of all plants within the same population, facilitating the most effective cross-pollination.”  We have temperature and light, but don’t forget about water!  During the summer months, moist conditions can delay flowering, and then extend the bloom when it finally does begin.  Another great part of this book is the information on length of bloom.  The leucanthemum ‘Becky’ for instance is reported to flower for 8 weeks, while Arum italicum only for 2-3 weeks.  I would definitely recommend this book for any perennial gardener.


Book Review—Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

“A tree sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed stops the heart; a shrub causes intolerable pain; a vine intoxicates; a leaf triggers a war.  Within the plant kingdom lurk unfathomable evils.”  And so begins this tidy little book about our dangerous green world.  I never realized there were quite so many wicked and wild plants.  I thought most of the plants around me were tame.  Mild lettuce, soft rose petals, fresh green grass.  Then I picked up this book at the library and suddenly my world turned upside down.  My botanical dreams of sitting under grandmother willow changed into ideas of a great battle.  Me against them.  They will do anything to survive:  burn, cut, poison, sicken, alter consciousness.  Do plants have more weapons at their disposal? Who is the higher species here?  They certainly have many strategies to survive.  An example is the section on grasses, or the Lawn of Death.  There are grasses with sharp blades (Southern Cut Grass), grasses responsible for severe hay fever (Kentucky Bluegrass, Timothy Grass), grasses with enough cyanide to kill (Johnson Grass) and Invasive grasses (Pampas) that just won’t go away.

There are plants commonly sold in the nursery trade that are not very nice.  That beautiful blue Monkshood, or Aconitum should be called the grim reaper: “Swallowing the plant or it’s roots can bring on severe vomiting and then death by asphyxiation.  Even casual skin contact can cause numbness, tingling, and cardiac symptoms.”  Keep that one out of my garden!  Datura, or Jimson Weed, is another scary plant.  It produces a nice blue or white trumpet shaped flower, but all parts are poisonous, especially the seeds.  It can cause hallucinations, seizures, coma and death.  Also included in the common garden plants but dangerous are azalea, rhododendron, daphne, hydrangea, foxglove and hellebore.

I enjoyed reading about how many of these plants have changed the course of history.  Jimson Weed was used by the early American colonists to poison the British Soldiers in Jamestown, Virginia in 1677.  Death Camas may have played a role in the terrible illness suffered by the Lewis and Clarke expedition in 1805.

I would highly recommend this book to all plant-lovers.  It’s full of interesting tales, dangerous poisons and positively wicked plants.  You’ll want to wear gloves in the garden from now on.

Territorial Seed Company

Seed Catalog

I recently received a scrumptious catalog in the mail from Territorial Seed Company. They’re out of Oregon and I’ve had fun going through it and planning my small garden plot.  Not having full sun, I’m planning on a salad garden, with leafy greens and an herb garden.  Some of the things from the catalog that piqued my interest were (and I am not making these up…they are in print, check for yourself!)  Crisp Mint Lettuce, Flashy Trout’s Back Lettuce,   Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed Lettuce, Red Velvet Lettuce, Ruby Streaks Mustard Greens, Kyoto Mizuna Mustard Greens and Magenta Sunset Swiss Chard.  Suddenly I really want a salad!


Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear

As this is a plant blog, I will start with my plant reference.  Every book has them.  It can’t be denied….plants are everywhere! This scene is when the young hero, Kvothe, is wandering in the Fae.  He spies a tree…..

“It was no type of tree I had ever seen before, and I approached it slowly.  It resembled a vast spreading willow, with broader leaves of a darker green.  The tree had deep, hanging foliage scattered with pale, powder-blue blossoms. 

The wind shifted, and as the leaves stirred I smelled a strange, sweet smell.  It was like smoke and spice and leather and lemon.  It was a compelling smell.  Not in the same way that food smells appealing.  It didn’t make my mouth water or my stomach growl.  Despite this, if I’d seen something sitting on a table that smelled this way, even if it were a lump of stone or a piece of wood, I would have felt compelled to put it in my mouth.  Not out of hunger, but from sheer curiosity, much like a child might.”

It turns out to be an evil tree.  How can a tree be evil?  You’ll have to read the book to find out why.  Yes, I do recommend this story, but only after the first book, The Name of the Wind, because they are tied tightly together.  They are both subtitled, The Kingkiller Chronicles.  The Name of the Wind is Day 1 and The Wise Man’s Fear is Day 2. One story. Compelling. Well-written. Nice and long, the way I like a good epic fantasy.

I carried it close for a week, not wanting to put it down.  Until page 640 or so, when I suddenly stopped for two days.  I couldn’t take the Felurian descriptions anymore.  The most beautiful face, the most beautiful body, the most beautiful feet.  On and on they went and I thought, too much perfection, it’s the imperfections that make life intriguing.  And as a woman I began to dislike the portrayal of female characters. I can’t help but identify myself with the characters in the books I read, and I wasn’t finding much to work with here. Enough running around naked in fairy-land!  But then she made a cloak out of shadows and sewed it together with starlight and moonbeams, and things got interesting again.  Also, the main character stayed in each place a little too long for me.  This story is about his adventures and travels and when he was in the Fae and then again in Ademre I kept thinking, okay, enough of this, time to move on.

But he always did move on.  And had some great adventures.  I loved the part about names.  “There are two things you must remember.  first, our names shape us, and we shape our names in turn….Second, even the simplest name is so complex that your mind could never begin to feel the boundaries of it, let alone understand it well enough for you to speak it.”   I like how he describes the importance of knowing something or someones name, I quite agree.  When he captures the name of the wind, it’s fascinating.

“And then, my mind open and empty, I saw the wind spread out before me.  It was like frost forming on a blank sheet of window glass.  One moment, nothing.  The next, I could see the name of the wind as clearly as the back of my own hand.  

I looked around for a moment, marveling in it.  I tasted the shape of it on my tongue and knew if desired I could stir it to a storm.  I could hush it to a whisper, leaving the sword tree hanging empty and still.:

But that seemed wrong.  Instead I simply opened my eyes wide to the wind, watching where it would choose to push the branches.  Watching where it would flick the leaves.”

After reading this, I thought, maybe I could learn the name of the wind too?  I really enjoyed this book by Patrick Rothfuss and look forward to The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 3 (please don’t make us wait too long!)

Dirr’s Trees and Shrubs are all Mine!

Thank you dear, sweet sister for giving me the gift that will last a lifetime.  My very own copies of these two classic books…I am soooo happy!  All that horticultural knowledge is at my fingertips.  My review?  They speak for themselves…

Two essential reference books.

Book Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Normally when I’m taking a short ride in the car with my family, I never take along a book.  It would be rude to read when everyone wants conversation and attention.  Yesterday, however, while driving to our church, on a Sunday, with my family, I greedily carried along  The Alloy of Law.  I was at the end of the book, and the ending was that good.  How often have you read about a gunfight between the good guys and the bad guys where they use magic to to push the bullets harder, create speed bubbles to escape flying bullets, soar into the air while pushing off metal and other unimaginable tricks to win?  I’ve never read a book like that, and that’s what makes The Alloy of Law so good.  It’s new and it’s different.  A departure from the typical fantasy, but with a familiar setting and an intriguing magic system.

The story is about a former lawman, Waxillium, who returns to his home in the city after twenty years in the Roughs.  He quickly becomes involved in a robbery/kidnapping  operation.   With the help of his former partner, Wayne (Yes, we have Wax and Wayne as the main characters!) and a University student studying law, Marasi, the three of them try to get the bad guys and stay alive at the same time.  I really liked how this book was tied to the Mistborn world, with lots of references and connections to the original story.   I was wishing I had read Mistborn more recently, so I could remember more details, but this is a good opportunity to re-read it.  I liked the characters Wax and Wayne, they have a fun repartee.  Wayne was really interesting with the way he could impersonate people by ‘collecting’ their accents. Marasi however, I didn’t find as believable.  Something was missing, I felt that I didn’t really understand who she was and what her purposes were (sorry Brandon!).  But the story is excellent, the solutions imaginative and the ending, as mentioned above, is a page-turner.

Here is an excerpt from The Alloy of Law, and yes, it took some digging, but I found a plant reference, just for this blog  (Try and find a book without one, I don’t think that it exists).  “Well, they already knew he was Twinborn—that was  a matter of public record.  His disappearance wasn’t going to do much to help patch his family’s reputation. For the moment, he didn’t care  He’d spent almost every evening since his return to the city at one social function or another, and they hadn’t had a misty night in weeks.  He needed the mists.  This was who he was.  Wax dashed across the rooftop and leaped off, moving toward Demoux Promenade.  Just before hitting the ground, he flipped a spent casing down and Pushed on it, slowing his descent.  He landed in a patch of decorative shrubs that caught his coat tassels and made a rustling noise.  Damn.  Nobody planted decorative shrubs out in the Roughs.”

Don’t we love our decorative shrubs?  And thank you Brandon for not having him land in the ‘bushes’!  Read this book!  It’s great!   To find out more about The Alloy of Law and all his other works, check out Brandon Sanderson’s website.

Brandon Sanderson book signing....and me!