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June 2014

Book Review: Coffee For Roses by C. L. Fornari

Coffee For Roses by C. L. FornariGardeners often pay more attention to what they hear over the garden fence than to science. Of course, friends and neighbors often provide good advice but sometimes they’re way off the mark. In this “let’s get it straight” book, Cape Cod garden guru C. L. Fornari not only debunks many of the myths of gardening but details why they’re myths and then explains how we should be looking after our plants once we’ve thrown out the old wives’ tales. Let’s look at a few examples.

For sweeter tomatoes, water with sugarwater? No. C. L. explains that watered-on sugar is not even taken up into the fruits, but that for flavor choice of variety is crucial.

Daffodils poison tulips in a vase? No. C. L. points out that tulips are more sensitive to bacteria in the water than daffodils so the tulips collapse first. Just because the tulips were the first to wilt, it doesn’t mean the daffs made them do it.

Mothballs repel garden pests? No. Even assuming you can still buy mothballs, C. L. points out that there’s no evidence that mothballs repel squirrels, mice or any other creatures.

Goldenrod causes hay fever? No. It’s the inconspicuous flowers of ragweed, which often grows with goldenrod, that causes hay fever.

I need to do something before it spreads? Not usually. As C. L. points out, the mildew that attacks your phlox will not attack your roses.

Seal wounds on trees? No. Again, as C. L. points out, covering tree pruning wounds locks in moisture and encourages rot as well inhibits the natural healing process.”

Always put drainage material (crocks) in the bottom of containers? No. Actually, I was taught that before the invention of plastic pots it was a good idea to at least partially cover what was often a large drainage hole in clay pots because the soil really would wash out. Not any more.

You get the idea, really valuable science-based advice instead of hearsay. In all over seventy different issues are covered and I find I only disagree with C. L. on one. You should always stake a newly planted tree. C. L. says that’s almost always wrong but I disgaree, I'd say it’s almost always true. But instead of using a traditional 3-4ft high stake, use a very short stake to keep the roots secure and allow the stem to flex.

This is a really useful book, engagingly written, that will help us all become better gardeners and, as well as righting a few wrongs, Coffee For Roses also encourages us to think about, and perhaps re-assess, all our gardening techniques – and that may be its most valuable lesson.

By the way: Although most of the issues discussed relate to gardening in North America, British gardeners will certainly find Coffee For Roses by C. L. Fornari interesting.

PS Don’t put the coffee grounds on the roses, put them on the compost heap.

Coffee For Roses by C. L. Fornari by published by St. Lynn’s Press

Listen to C. L. Fornari being interviewed about her book on NPR's Weekend Edition.



Spring and summer

Well, it’s been a tough season so far and that’s why posts here have been rather infrequent. First a heart attack, then acute lyme disease and then complications related to the lyme – I’m sure I’ll be fine in the end but in the meantime, well, not so much. Especially as one of the symptoms of lyme is “brain fog” which seems to permit no higher intellectual activity than watching re-runs of Star Trek: Voyager.

But I’ve now started looking at my not-so-little pile of books waiting for review so starting tomorrow I’ll be posting here about Coffee For Roses by C. L. Fornari followed later by Tweet Of The Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss, The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs from the RHS, Where Do Camels Belong? - The Story and Science of Invasive Species by Ken Thompson as well as four new Plant Lovers' Guides from Timber Press. These are all very tempting books so please so stay tuned, although I have to say posts may still be a little sporadic for a while.

Multicolored newcomers

HibiscusSummerificCherryCheesecake-700Every year the good people at Proven Winners send us some new plants to try. This year’s parcel arrived recently and there are two plants that look especially tempting so I thought I’d mention them straight away – before they’re even planted (torrents of rain today).

Hibiscus ‘Cherry Cheesecake’ (left, click to enlarge), in their Summerific® Series, is nothing if not dramatic, and gorgeously colorful. It’s a hardy perennial hibiscus with flowers 7-8in/20cm across set against dark green maple-like foliage on plants about 4-5ft/1.4-1.5m high. And it blooms all the way up the stems, not just at the tips.

It's tough, too; a few years ago I saw the field in Michigan where breeders Walters Gardens test all the their new seedlings; it’s cold, plants are hardy to zone 4/-34C. For British gardeners it’s more the summer that’s the problem: is it hot enough for these plants? Well, we’ll soon see as a British grower has been testing the whole Summerific® Series and if they thrive we’ll see all four varieties in nurseries in a year or two. In North America, you can order Hibiscus ‘Cherry Cheesecake’ from the Vermont Wildflower Farm.

The other plant that caught my attention amongst this year’s Proven Winners samples is Calibrachoa Superbells® ‘Frostfire’ (below, click to enlarge). There have been some gorgeous multicolored calibrachoas introduced in recent years, I especially like Superbells® ‘Lemon Slice’, which was such a success last year, and also Superbells® ‘Tangerine Punch’. In ‘Frostfire’ the white flowers have a yellow throat streaked in red. Unique – but not available until next year.

These newcomers have something in common: the flowers are multicolored, white and cherry red, or white and yellow and red. This gives you a clue as to what to grow with them. Choose plants with white or red flowers alongside the hibiscus, and plants with white yellow or fiery red flowers in a basket with the calibrachoa. That’s the way to create a harmonious look.