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That patch of green

September 02, 2004|Lili Singer; Emily Green

Gardening on

Pavement, Tables, and Hard Surfaces

George Schenk

Timber Press, $29.95

Living in a concrete jungle? This book's solution: Grow a garden on it. Or perhaps you'd like to plant a rock or tabletop garden. Here's everything you need to know about gardening in the most unlikely places.

Schenk, author of the classic "The Complete Shade Gardener," offers examples from public and private spaces -- on parking lots, patio slabs, stumps, stones, benches and, yes, tabletops. He highlights innovative gardens where you least expect them, miniature worlds in outlandish places, as quirky as they are captivating.

Although easy to care for, such plantings may need frequent watering, especially in arid Southern California, and certainly more often than at the author's homes in the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand and Manila. Still, expect clever ideas for showcasing rare plant jewels or bringing a garden vignette closer to its viewer.

If you want to plant a tabletop, Schenk suggests it be very sturdy: Planted and watered, an average patio table surface can weigh hundreds of pounds.

-- Lili Singer


Go native in the garden

Requiem for a Lawnmower: Gardening in a Warmer, Drier World

Sally Wasowski

Taylor, $16.95

Sally Wasowski's collection of gardening essays is like Joan Rivers' joke about her mother-in-law: "May she rest in peace ... soon." This book, recently released in paperback, hopes for the death of something alive and well near you: the grate, roar and whine of lawn mowers, edgers and leaf blowers.

Wasowski dreams of an America where cookie-cutter yards have reverted to controlled prairie. Essay after essay, she plays out the fantasy, season by season, from grasses to trees. Her dream is set in Texas, and many of the plants will not be found in California. Nor, she stresses, should they.

She does not tell us what to plant, but she shows us a new way to think about gardening. Using natives is the surest way to get nature to work for your garden, not against it.

Few garden writers have such a keen and poignant eye. After visiting a rest home, she dreams of a bird garden as an alternative to the TV room. For kitchen gardens, she slips in autumn sage, bergamot and chiles with basil, oregano and thyme.

Emily Green


A symphony of possibility

On the Wild Side: Experiments in a New Naturalism

Keith Wiley

Timber Press, $34.95

Gardens gone wild. The concept is daring, even unsettling. Driven by a devotion to wildflowers, Keith Wiley proposes a radical change in landscape design: that gardens offer ephemeral surges that ebb and flow with the seasons. That even, where possible (such as in our mild winter climate), each garden be a symphony of many stunning movements in well-coordinated tones, rather than one brassy solo that plays year-round.

The author's garden in southwestern England follows rhythms and rainbows set by nature and rocked by the forces of wind, sun and water. Each carefully crafted section captures the essence of an unspoiled distant habitat that has touched his soul.

Images of natural landscapes from Devon to Denver and Crete to California -- places where rocks, flowers and incumbent creatures have stood the test of time -- are included for inspiration. Yet, Wiley advises, the best gardens are not identical copies, but impressions using flora adapted to each garden's conditions. The melody is soothing and familiar: It's about coming home.

-- Lili Singer

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