Like my mom, I'm passionate about having an attractive yard. For summer color, I usually reach for lime green sweet potato vine and purple fan flower (Scaevola) without even thinking. That color combo complements our outdoor living area and these heat-lovers tend to thrive no matter how hot and dry our Texas summer gets. But after seeing an explosion of pretty plant pairings at the Dallas Arboretum recently, I decided it's time to turn off the auto-pilot and get more creative.
Need gardening inspiration? These new paperbacks offer oodles of easy ideas for dressing up your landscape in ways that spell time, effort and dollars well spent.
Gardening Made Simple
A must for beginning gardeners, Better Homes & Gardens Gardening Made Simple is packed with down-to-earth ways to create stunning spaces. This know-it-all guide will soon have you painting with plants. It includes all the basics of planting, growing and caring for trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits, vegetables, lawns and other greenery. Plus, more than 1,200 I-can-hardly-wait-to-try-that photographs and step-by-step instructions for 65 gardening projects designed to help you reach your green-thumb dreams.
A helpful introductory section covers basic tools and techniques and shows how to choose the right garden plans and plants for your zone, prepare your soil, manage pests, and prune, mulch, fertilize and water with ease. Featuring 145 easy-to-grow garden showoffs, this helpful resource simplifies life for nature-loving Boomers like me who stress over plant choices. Sections on creative container gardening, foolproof houseplants and making more plants encourage you to have fun experimenting. (November 2011; John Wiley & Sons Inc.; 360 pages; $24.99)
Want an eye-catching garden that's also useful? In Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces, gardening expert Gayla Trail offers simple tips for filling small spaces with beautiful, organic herbs and edible flowers. After 15 years growing produce on her rooftop, in windowsills and in a community garden in Toronto, this girl knows all the ins and outs of creating pots with WOW power and getting the most out of cramped quarters.
Many herbs will grow just about anywhere and require much less coddling than vegetables. Gayla starts with the basics of creating a healthy herb garden, helps you find your dream style (grow a garden by color, shape or texture) and walks you through the ABCs of more than 200 herbs and edible flowers. Passionate about productive gardening, she also guides you through harvesting, preserving and storing the garden's rewards. Her easy DIY projects (you can grow a Ginger plant anywhere), recipes (say hello to Hibiscus Punch) and home-preserving techniques come in handy for stocking a year-round herb pantry. (February 2012; Clarkson Potter/Publishers; 208 pages; $19.99)
All-Seasons Garden Guide
So long ho-hum surroundings. The 2012 edition of this annual gardener's go-to shows how to use unexpected elements to transform your space (an old dresser makes a fun, multilevel planter). It also includes a plan for yearlong garden beauty, advice for getting the most out of sloped or hilly landscapes, and tips for growing wildflowers and adding edibles to the scene.
You'll soon be growing salad fixin's like my favorite tomatoes (the most widely grown edible in North America) in nothing more than containers. And since cooking and gardening go hand-in-hand, you'll find recipes to take advantage of all that tomato goodness as well as for drying herbs, creating flavored vinegars and making delicious pesto. (Yankee Publishing Inc.; 128 pages; $3.99)
Size does matter ... but not much, at least when it comes to gardening. In The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening, Master Gardener Chris McLaughlin shows how to turn containers, windowsills, balconies even fire escapes into living tapestries.
This petite plot primer begins by discussing what to plant (flowers, shrubs, fruits, vegetables and more) depending on your available space, growing zone and other factors. It covers dos and don'ts for successful container gardening, planting in raised beds and vertical growing (think climbing vines). And it includes easy ideas for enhancing challenging spaces with structures that help plants grow up instead of out, mini ponds and fountains as well as planting beautiful borders and walkways. (January 2012; Alpha - A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.; 331 pages; $19.95)
You can create a dream garden without breaking the bank with a little help from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Seed Saving and Starting by Sheri Ann Richerson. Long fascinated with collecting seeds, I'm looking forward to trying Sheri's simple suggestions for deciding which seeds to save, gathering and storing seeds for next year's garden, and planting with seeds indoors and outdoors.
Since seed-saving techniques vary between plants, I'm particularly interested in this book's herb, spice, grain, fruit, vegetable and flower seed directories. They give harvesting, germinating and sowing advice and germination time by plant. Thanks to these tips, I've learned Cockscomb flowers should dry on the plant. And it's easier to save their tiny, black seeds if you cover the bloom with pantyhose when its color begins to fade. Genius! (March 2012; Alpha - A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.; 331 pages; $18.95)