Good Garden Reads

Two new books to help the home gardener

Ooh, la la! Ciscoe Morris, well loved TV and radio host and recently retired Seattle Times columnist, has published a new book. His previous book, Ask Ciscoe, became a nationwide best seller. 

Oh, La La!: Homegrown Stories, Helpful Tips, and Garden Wisdom (2020, Sasquatch Books) is a compilation of amusing — well, sometimes downright hilarious — anecdotes, each containing a nugget of gardening gold. The author is a self-described storyteller, born into a large family of storytellers who honed their skills around the dinner table. “Dinner at our house was pandemonium,” he says, “with everyone competing to tell the best story.”

After working for landscaping companies and as a certified arborist, Morris served for many years as head gardener at Seattle University, the source of many of his funniest stories. Several involve extremely large objects, heavy machinery and run-ins with the priests in charge of that Catholic institution. Mostly, things work out well in the end.

Humor aside, Morris really does know gardening, and these wide-ranging stories based on personal experience have plenty of wisdom to offer. Morris, a longtime proponent of organic methods, is particularly good on pruning and on integrated pest management. Dogs and other critters are featured often, as are insects, good and bad. He has a brilliant tip for keepers of orchard mason bees, which prevents the bees laying eggs in the tubes from which they just emerged before the keeper has a chance to clean them out (yes, I do keep mason bees). 

Morris tells us, in great and valuable detail, how to train a wisteria, how to get a recalcitrant specimen to bloom and how to prune it (four times a year!) so it won’t consume the house and garden. He describes how to deal with overzealous shrubs such as forsythia. He’s very good on fruit trees, too. 

Speaking of fruit trees: I don’t buy many gardening books these days, but I couldn’t resist Fruit Trees for Every Garden: An Organic Approach to Growing Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, Citrus and More (2019, Ten Speed Press). I picked up this handsome book while browsing J. Michaels Books shortly before browsing in person ceased to be an option (J. Michaels still takes book orders — they are delivered to you outside the store, in a bag, with a gloved hand). 

Fruit Trees for Every Garden is a comprehensive guide to the planting and maintenance of tree fruits. The author (along with his daughter, Manjula Martin) of this beautifully written and illustrated book is Orin Martin, long-time manager of the Chadwick Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This small but celebrated teaching garden was started in the ’70s by biodynamic gardener Alan Chadwick. Alice Waters, in a foreword, describes the garden as “a living, growing, thriving model of how we can rebuild and nurture the land instead of stripping it of its biodiversity.” 

Martin joined the garden in 1972. Under his care, the three-acre garden is now home to 600 fruit trees. Waters quotes Martin on his approach: “Gardening is very much a process of observation, decision, action and reaction. Rinse, repeat.” Fruit Trees for Every Garden deals with every aspect of organic tree-fruit cultivation, year-round and from the soil up. I believe it has a touch of California bias when it comes to variety selection, but I would happily have bought this book for the pruning advice alone.