Nonfiction, That Reading Life, What Shannon Read

My favorite gardening books: Part 1 – NONFICTION

Here’s what I like in a gardening/plant book:

  1. Straightforward and thorough how-to: If you tell me how to plant a certain type of seed indoors, for example, you’d better also tell me when to pot it up and harden off.

    Don’t be skimpy on the details. I am new here.

  2. Beauty: Great photography, good graphics, illuminating illustrations, lovely plants to take in with my eyeballs, etc.

  3. Opinions: The personality of the writer-gardener is of utmost importance to me. If you are boring or are suppressing your personality in the interest of widening your book’s appeal, I’m out. The library shelves are stacked with boring gardening books. Even if I don’t like your personality, I would much prefer that you have one. It makes the writing so much more interesting.

    Have opinions! State them! Let me decide if I like you and your work or not.

  4. Inspiration: Show me the way. I want to know things but also be inspired to do things.

  5. Unique content: I’m thinking of books like The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

  6. Plants in my zone: I know. You can’t show and write about plants in everyone’s growing zone all the time. But I’m not gonna’ lie–if I’m reading your plant book, I’m looking for plants I can grow in zone 5a.

(Weird to have a list with an even number, but here we are.)

With all that said…

My Favorite NONFICTION Books About Gardening and Plants

Bottom shelf: where I keep the goods

Anything by Alys Fowler

Alys Fowler doesn’t know it, but she is one of my mentors. I first got to know her through her book Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery. This is her memoir of kayaking (pack-rafting, actually) the canals of Birmingham, England.

It’s a beautiful book about finding nature wherever you are, and it’s also the story of how she left her husband and realized she was gay.

Fowler is a former presenter on the British show Gardener’s World (with which I am obsessed), and she has a whole catalog of gardening books under her belt.

These are three I own. I reread them all the time and have two of the audiobooks through Audible because I like listening to them whenever I need a hit.

They meet all six of my criteria above.

The Thrifty Gardener

Garden Anywhere

The Edible Garden


From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is a long-time gardening writer. She is one of the founders of Garden Rant, a favorite gardening site of mine. She’s also the author of The Drunken Botanist and the Kopp Sisters mystery series–Girl Waits with Gun is the first. You may recognize it.

Honestly, this is the only book of hers I’ve read so far. I loved it and plan to reread it this summer.


In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West

Oh Vita. So much glamour. So much intrigue.

For those who don’t know, Vita Sackville-West famously had an affair with Virginia Woolf. She became a tangential member of the Bloomsbury set, which included Woolf and her husband, plus Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and the crowd whose base was the famous Charleston farmhouse.

That was a lot, sorry, but I’m deep in the Bloomsbury life right now.

At any rate, apart from all this, Vita was also a writer and gardener. With her husband Harold Nicolson, she created a famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent in England.

This particular book, In Your Garden, is a compilation of Vita’s gardening essays, which she wrote for the London Observer.

They are pure plant poetry.


Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon

Here’s a famous book among gardeners.

This book is for those of us who don’t necessarily want a science lesson, but who need a science lesson to understand more about plants. *raises hand*

It’s exceptionally readable science, which is the point of the book, and has helped me get to know the whys and wherefores of my plants.


A Year at Brandywine Cottage: Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms by David L. Culp

Ok, I’m cheating here because I had to return this to the library before I could read the whole thing. But this book is so darn pretty. I’m buying it.

The author is a renowned garden designer and, in this book, filled with lovely photos, he provides both advice and inspiration.


Magazines!

And here’s another cheat.

My favorite gardening magazines:

The English Garden — A must for anglophile gardeners, obviously.

Fine Gardening — An American publication with style and substance; You’ll definitely find plants for your zone in its pages.


I do have some gardening-related fiction to share with you, but this post has turned out to be really long already. I will save those for a future post.

If you have favorite gardening books, share them with me! I’m always looking for new ones.


from my Instagram stories

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: April/May 2021

`Tis the season when I give everything the brush-off in favor of gardening and outdoor activities. If you live in a Northern state or, you know, the Northern Hemisphere, I assume you understand why. Total desperation.

Special thanks to Mother Nature for giving us a real spring here in Northern Indiana. I’ve got all kinds of plant babies cookin’.

Terrible lighting and terrible phone camera photos, but clockwise from top left:


> Geranium phaeum ‘Raven’–a real stunner in the shade garden
> Rhododendron maximum: (Great laurel aka azaleas, as they’re generally referred to around here)
> Proof you can grow seeds in anything–those are plastic berry containers and they’re growing in the guest room under lights.
> Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern)–another shade garden special. I planted it last year and it was just getting going when the cold hit. Looking forward to seeing how big it gets this year.

And there is lots of porch sitting to be done.

We’ve gotten an awesome dog trainer and that nervous little muffin is getting schooled on proper behavior–not biting small children being one of the objectives.

I’m still collaging and posting to Instagram @shannonrooneycreative.

And our crew is playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly weekly now. I feel like a qualified nerd now that I’ve played, even though I don’t understand half of what’s happening and why. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’re about to see Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies added to my current reads.

But my Jacob, our DM (that’s Dungeon Master for the unschooled), is awfully patient and helpful. He’s amazing at running our campaigns, writing fun adventures each week. He even does special voices for the characters we encounter.

In other news, my mom and I hit Chicago last week and it was so fun to get out into a big city and pal around. We went to the Art Institute first, always a joy. Then we walked around downtown, hit some shops, mourned the loss of Fields, stared at the river for awhile, and wound up at Navy Pier. That place was hoppin’. Did you know you can walk around with frozen margs there now??? Saving this info. for future trips.

We look a lot alike.

That’s the life update for now because BOOKS.


Past recaps here.

What Shannon read in April/May:

NOTES

Women Who Run with Wolves: A feminist new-classic. Meaning, it was written in the 90s so it’s somewhat contemporary, but it has a very Second Wave feel.

I recommend it for any woman looking to *eyeroll* step into her power. I’m rolling my eyes because that’s become a bit of a meaningless catch-phrase. But let me just say that if you know you have innate power but are having trouble accessing it, or are feeling powerless, it may help to read this book because it is about the natural power of being woman-identified in our world.

The House of Mirth and The Old Maid: MOAR Edith Wharton! I can’t get enough of her ever, so I’m now rereading the major novels and finally dipping into more of the novellas. The Old Maid is one such novella. I loved it.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden: Read this for the first time last year and it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I can see myself rereading it each spring. I got myself a very pretty Penguin version as a gift.

I have loved every book I’ve read in the past two months. If I had to pick a few favorites, other than the rereads, which are always favorites, I’d have to list every book.


I leave you now with a glimpse of my fussy spring mantel-scape, including my two Mother’s Day cards made by Jacob and Desiree’ (peep my hand in the mirror, haha).

Thanks for stopping by!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Thrifty Gardener

I love Alys Fowler. I didn’t know a thing about her until I read her memoir Hidden Nature last year, in which she kayaks the Birmingham, England canals and details her coming out as a gay woman.

Fowler, I learned, was a presenter on the BBC’s Gardener’s World, a show I only came to last year. I haven’t seen a single episode with her in it. But I have embraced gardening in the last couple of years and am now totally in love with the show. And Monty Don. In a platonic way, of course.

I’m also on a budget. So when I learned of Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Gardener, I popped onto Amazon, where I discovered it was $80! Lol. No.

I searched AbeBooks, a much kinder source for books anyway, and got it for $24.

Anyway, in her lovely conversational style, Fowler doles out advice for the rest of us–those that don’t have tons of extra cash, or you know, any at all, to spend on the garden of their dreams.

Above: The rockery I created in our side yard. Please ignore the trash bins–we’re moving them eventually. Bricks and rocks were free from neighbors who were getting rid of them. Plants were purchased on sale or for less than $4 a piece, or again, given by neighbors. My mom bought five of them for me, bless her. She also helped with the digging! It may not look like much to a stranger, but it’s heaven to me…

Fowler spends time on topics like saving seeds and taking cuttings from your own plants for propagation; making compost and comfrey tea–sometimes featured on Gardener’s World, I noticed; and “scrap craft,” which is what most Americans might call upcycling.

I also appreciated her recommendations on plants that are easy to grow from seed, which is much cheaper than buying plants from a nursery. At her suggestion, my garden will most certainly include poppies and nasturtiums grown from seed next year as I don’t like to spend money on annuals bought from nurseries.

In addition to these tips and tricks, I just like the approach, the mindset that Fowler encourages.

This is from her introduction:

“This much I’ve learnt. Gardening is something you do, not something you buy. You don’t have to spend money to have a great garden. Slow gardening, like slow food, is taking time to savour. It’s the process, not the sudden transformation that matters. When you build a little, dig a bit, plant a little, harvest often and, more importantly, don’t try to do it all at once, nature works with you.”

In my own gardening, I need to reread these words every day. I should put it on a sign. There is so much I want to grow and do now that I have discovered the world of gardening. It gives me so much joy and I just want more and more of it.

Also, I’m a very impatient person. I like immediate gratification. But it’s utterly ridiculous to fall into gardening and expect that.

So, instead, I continually work on taking the slow road. Just like Alys.

Hydrangeas in my own garden
And a sweet coreopsis bloom making his presence known.
Baby fern tendril in the bottom middle
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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: June 2020

Welp, I upped my game and managed three-ish reviews this month and none of them were books I actually read in June. A slow start, but here we are.

Happy 4th to the Americans and happy weekend to everyone else! I’m not particularly proud of my country at the moment, but I’m doing my best on my own anti-racist journey and hoping to encourage others to embark on the same.

In that vein, I’m reading My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capo Crucet. Her first essay is quite moving and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in how a first-generation, minority college student might experience their first semester on a majority-white college campus.


On to the June books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March
April/May

What Shannon read in June:

Shannon’s Notes:

After the Flood: SO good. Will review it shortly.

-Two rereads: It Was Me All Along because I’m a sucker for a weight loss/eating disorder memoir; and Somewhere Towards the End because I never want to stop reading Diana Athill’s thoughts on aging and life in general.

More Edith Wharton

-Can’t say enough about Nothing Good Can Come from This. Another book that made me feel seen.

The Obstacle is the Way: What a load of schlock.

What Ben read in June:

Ben’s notes:

The Genealogy of Morals: It was good to come back and revisit this. I hadn’t read much Nietzsche since college days.

Legend: Another reread, this is the book that got me started on the delightful fantasy of David Gemmell. Mostly a pretty light action/adventure, it does also dabble in philosophizing about life in the shadow of death.

The Rap Yearbook: This was a fun read, and denser than you might expect from looking at it. The author has a rather frenetic, wisecracking style which complements his enthusiasm for the topic. He chooses the rap song that he deems most important for each year. Not necessarily “best” or “his favorite” but the one that mattered most in the history of the genre, and supports his choice with an essay, supplemented with charts, graphs, and illustrations.He often allows critics a little sidebar to make their case for an alternate pick. It was fun to get an inside perspective on genre trends that I had observed casually without really unpacking and dissecting the way a true aficionado like Serrano would.


Shameless Garden Update

Shannon again:

Here is a shameless garden update because I can’t stop myself. It’s my new obsession.

My lovely mother came over last weekend and helped me dig out the rest of the rockery area. Seriously, she is amazing and I am so grateful. It would’ve taken me three days to do the work we did together in a couple of hours.

The dirt we dug up waiting under a tarp (to prevent washing over the yard in the rain) waiting to be hauled away:

It doesn’t look like much under that tarp, but…it is.

Was, rather. Filthy Hands Property Preservation came over yesterday and hauled it away for us. Took two guys around 45 mins. to shovel it into their truck.

You have to pay to get rid of dirt. Not a thing I anticipated when I started gardening. I do not understand the world sometimes.

Rocks laid out and representative of Neighborhood Squirrel Watch on back porch:

All the rocks and bricks were given to me by neighbors and this week I received enough to finish the job. More shameless updates to come.

In the meantime, here are Steven Q. Squirrel and his lady friend availing themselves of the birdseed I threw in the yard for them. Because of my habit of throwing seed off the porch to them, some of it has landed in the mulch bed and germinated. So we are growing an accidental millet crop.

Quarantine continues to make me real weird. 😉

Happy reading and, if you garden, happy gardening!

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