Book Review: Garden Up!

We usually review books about California native plants on this blog, and we actually have quite a nice collection of book reviews. But I'm making an exception for this book, which I've found insightful, inspiring, and a must for any serious gardener's library.

(Disclaimer: I personally know both authors. Susan Morrison has the popular website Blue Planet Gardening and a fun and irreverent blog. Rebecca Sweet lives practically down the street from here, she writes at Gossip in the Garden and in different gardening and horticulture magazine and has the most amazing jewel of a garden. But I would have just skipped the review of their book if I didn't like it. Honest.)

I was already won over when I read the introductory section about invasive plants. It's that kind of consideration for both the beauty of the garden and the sustainability of the design choices that impressed me very much in this book (and the sustainability aspect is often sadly lacking in garden books).

But as I got into the book I became completely enchanted by the photos (amazing photos), the practical advice, and the design spotlight section. I also liked the organization, which split the book into these topics:
  • Arbors and trellises
  • Skinny spaces
  • Garden secrets
  • Urban gardens
  • Edibles
  • Living walls
  • Plant picks
  • Design Spotlights -- Then & Now
Very clearly, this is not another book about multi-acre estates and the challenge of creating enough garden rooms. It's practical, and has great design ideas especially for small gardens with roof lines, chain link fences, and narrow spaces. I really liked, for example, the idea of layering up, not out, and the photos and design drawings really made sense to me.

The section about green walls surprised me by being very realistic. The authors set expectations, and make it clear that a green wall is a work in progress and will require more frequent replanting than a horizontal planting bed. Their discussion of different choices still made it sound tempting, but I realized this is not a project to rush into. 

Now, where are the natives? you might ask. To which I have to reply that a book meant for the whole country or even the whole continent and beyond, does well not to recommend specific "native" plants. We know that California poppies and seep monkey flower are weeds in other countries, while some plants from other countries are weeds here (pampas grass, anyone?). So I'm happy the book sticks to showing us amazing vines, plants with upright growth habits, and other well-behaved garden plants. Did I mention they have great photos?


Sounds like a goodie. And, I love the title...
I haven't had a chance to look at this book yet, so thanks for the review. Sounds like one to bump up my reading list. I agree, recommending natives is risky at best, unless the book is geared for a specific location. I do love the seep monkeyflowers though...and am glad I live where they're supposed to grow! ;)
Country Mouse said…
I have a hard time with gardening "up" myself. Growing up, our gardens were pocket-handkerchief sized, with annuals refreshed regularly around the edge of a tiny lawn. I'm like a root bound plant, unable to reach up when I envision garden spaces! So this sounds like a great eye opener book for me! Great review.
susan morrison said…
Thanks for the great review, TM! About invasives - as you point out, it IS difficult to address this thoroughly in a national book, particularly one that is more about design than traditional gardening. I am a fan of the way Fine Gardening Magazine includes a table in each issue that lists every plant mentioned in the articles and the states where it is considered invasive. After discussing this with our editor, it was determined an approach that detailed wasn't practical, but we were able to include a more general discussion.