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Ask the Gardener: Holiday book ideas for gardeners and flower arrangers

For those who dig right in to those who dream of spring blooms from their arm chairs. Get more gardening advice at

A photo from "Native Plants for New England Gardens" by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe. Pictured: Blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), once wrongly touted as a cure for syphllis, is a true blue flower, It's shape gives bees a place to land, and it does well in moist to wet soils. Dan Jaffe

What to do this week: Water Christmas trees daily. A humidifier is good for both plants and people. Outdoor lighting at night can disrupt the night/day cycles of owls and other wildlife, so install a timer to turn them off at bedtime. And for a family-friendly outdoor lights display, catch the delightful “Winterlights” this month at three historic gardens owned by the Trustees of Reservations: the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, and Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

Books make great gifts for gardeners. Many are lushly illustrated with eye candy that will help even dilettante gardeners ward off the winter blues. My recommendations and their cover prices:


For the new gardener: “Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Healthy Garden’’ by Deborah L. Martin (Rodale, $19.99). Using jargon-free terms, she takes you chronologically from planning in the winter through harvesting the next fall.

For the flower arranger: “Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest & Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms” by Erin Benzakein with Julie Chai (Chronical Books, $29.99). Erin Benzakein’s successful cut-flower farm in Washington’s lush Skagit Valley (where she’s been called the “Dahlia Lama”) has inspired a nationwide wave of green-thumb women to grow flowers for market, as well as for fun. A bestseller, this book tells you the best flowers for cutting and their needs, which can be very different than landscape plants’. “Seasonal Flower Arranging: Fill Your Home With Blooms, Branches, and Foraged Materials All Year Round’’ (Ten Speed Press, $25) by Ariella Chezar and Julie Michaels. Michaels is a former Boston Globe editor, and Chezar is an arranger and flower grower who also has pioneered the trend toward more fragile locally sourced bouquets as a “green’’ alternative to the overly familiar and rather stiff mass-produced flowers air-freighted from abroad with big carbon footprints. This book gives step-by-step instructions on creating 39 specific floral arrangements and projects from local materials.


For the design buff: “Everything for the Garden’’ by Judith B. Tankard, Richard C. Nylander, Alan Emmet, and Virginia Lopez Begg (Historic New England, $29.95). Before color photography took over, exuberantly stylized commercial graphics did the work of selling Americans visions of a backyard paradise. Drawings of giant vegetables and other exaggerations were part of the fun. Historic New England, which owns many period gardens, displays its collection of antique seed catalogs, magazine advertisements, and garden ornaments on these heady pages. Pink flamingos anyone? The accompanying essays by leading garden historians add welcome details about this often mysterious ephemera. Who knew that Fitchburg artist Don Featherstone designed those iconic plastic flamingos in 1957 for Union Products of Leominster?

For the local-garden visitor: “The Garden Tourist’s New England: A Guide to 140 Outstanding Gardens & Nurseries’’ by Jana Milbocker (Enchanted Gardens, $21.95). Milbocker maps out horticultural must-sees throughout the region and tells you where to buy “everything for the garden.’’ (Shopping is a big part of gardening, so keep this book in your glove compartment.) The energetic author also has started a Garden Tourists Facebook group for readers to share their photos and travel tips. She will be signing books from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, at Briggs Garden & Home, 295 Kelley Boulevard, North Attleborough.


For the armchair traveler: “English Gardens: From the Archives of Country Life’’ by Kathryn Bradley-Hole (Rizzoli, $85). With its history and portraits of more than 70 beautiful gardens, this book is an instant classic. The author is the former garden editor of the revered British magazine, and uses its exceptional photographs. Many of these gardens, new and old, are open to the public.

For the wildflower enthusiast: Native Plants for New England Gardens’’ by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe (Globe Pequot, $21.95). This paperback guide to growing 100 carefully selected native flowers shares the expertise of the pioneering Native Plant Trust in Framingham. It will help you select the right plant for the right place in your yard, based on light, moisture, and space availability.

For the bird lover: “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants’’ by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, $19.95). This classic keeps getting expanded, as does the need for it. Tallamy has done groundbreaking research about what kinds of plants provide food for birds, butterflies, and pollinators, and which plants don’t (mostly “pest-free” imports from Asia). As developers clear-cut our fields and woodlands and replace them with the biological desert of hydroseeded lawns, concerned home gardeners can slow the rate of species extinction by planting native plants, especially trees like oaks, willows, crabapples, wild cherries, and fruit. As the concrete and plastic landscape expands around me, I am increasingly converting my own garden into a nature sanctuary. Tallamy’s appendix of plants of high value to wildlife is also of high value to me.


For the winter gardener: “Pruning and Training: What, When, and How to Prune,” by Christopher Brickell & David Joyce (DK, $19.95). If your gardener gets stir-crazy in the winter, you have four choices: indoor houseplants, garden planning, seed-starting, and pruning. I favor pruning because it’s the one that can get you outdoors on a sunny winter’s day. The step-by-step illustrations in DK books are always excellent. It’s a good gift for a restless spouse, along with pruning tools.

Horticultural news

John Trexler, the founding director of Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, died last month in retirement. During his 25-year tenure, Trexler turned a historic farm in Boylston overlooking the Wachusett Reservoir into a surprising 171-acre arboretum with well-planned classical buildings and courtyards. Tower Hill became the impressive new home of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, which had been based in downtown Worcester. “It takes courage to start a new garden,” said Tower Hill CEO Grace Elton, who also remembered Trexler for his “humor and savvy and won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude.” Visit for information about the garden and its programs.

James Hearsum will start as the president and executive director of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in January. “He has a good vision. He’s strong in horticulture, smart, articulate, and personable. I am thrilled that we’ve found him,” said overseer Betsy Ridge Madsen. Hearsum has been executive director of St. Andrews Botanic Garden in Scotland since 2014 and will succeed Suzanne Maas, who has been interim head of Mass. Hort. since last year. Visit for more information on events at its Wellesley headquarters at Elm Bank.


This is my last garden column of 2019. I will start taking readers questions again in March. Enjoy the holidays and stay cozy!

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