Maybe I’m not really a gardener. Maybe I just like to think about gardening a lot, because the last two posts have been about other (albeit related) activities. These, reading and shopping, are things I love to do if they are plant related, but plants are purchased and then not planted promptly, and books are read and their advice goes unheeded. I have to work on both of these bad habits. For now, however, I have a wonderful (relatively) new book to recommend. It is by the Gossler family, who run the nursery which I described in my last post. By the way, I am truly not on the take from these people. I paid full price for my plants, honest. This is just how my mind works–in the area, go to the nursery, love the nursery, read their book. Now I have just ordered from the library the book written by two of the reviewers from the back of the Gossler book dust jacket. And, in turn, that book will lead to some other thread, of books, plants or new ways to look at or manage my garden.
Anyway, the Gossler book, written and photographed by Roger, Eric and their mom Marjory Gossler, is entitled The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs. It was published in 2009 by Timber Press, so should be very up-to-date. It has an alphabetical list of over 250 varieties of shrubs (some of which veer into being small trees), which are hardy for a broad range of northern gardens, approximately USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8, give or take a zone here or there. In many ways this is a very timely book. Shrubs are a more forgiving form of gardening. They do not require the constant maintenance of many herbaceous perennials: deadheading, cutting back, lifting and dividing. Therefore, they are better suited to an aging population of gardening Boomers. Once they are planted, they need only basic maintenance, pruning for shape, watering, fertilizing, and for a very few (notably Rhododendrons), deadheading. Furthermore, they fall into the medium size appropriate for even the smallest garden. Delving into the plant lists in The Guide is absolutely mouthwatering. I was reading at four A.M., and was hoping to get back to sleep, so didn’t get up to make plant lists, but there are easily ten or fifteen plants that I want RIGHT NOW (see item above: plants purchased and not planted, must resist until I get the current plants planted). In reality, though, the plants listed are so carefully selected that any of them would be a welcome addition to any garden. The Gosslers make distinctions between different forms of the same plant so that choices of size, shape and foliage and flower color are easy to make.
If I have any criticism it is that I would appreciate more pictures; not every plant is pictured. I also wish there was more cultural information. In my own garden I am increasingly understanding how important drainage is in plant placement and cultivation. Yes, I refer to the mystical and oft-written koan of moist, but well-drained, soil, the non-attainment of which drives us all crazy. This is not routinely addressed in the book. I personally would also like more propagation information, but as nurserymen that certainly would be contrary to their own best interests! All of these omissions are easily rectified simply by Googling any of the plants. There is a plethora of really good plant information available on the internet today. I especially like the websites of the North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon extension services. So for that reason this book can be considered a jumping-off point and its value very much in the literally decades of plant experience and knowledge represented by the authors. They have sifted through hundreds of plants so that we don’t have to. And, as I said previously, there is no plant listed which would not be a jewel in any of our gardens.