Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Posted by on October 7, 2008 in Garden | Comments Off

Gardeningpacnw

Those of us who garden on California’s North Coast tend to
live in a state of denial about the fact that we are actually gardening in the
Pacific Northwest. We like to think of ourselves as California gardeners. You
know, California. Santa Barbara. Monterey. That sort of thing.

But the
fact is that we have much more in common, climate-wise, with our horticultural
compatriots in Portland and Seattle. So when Timber Press sent me a copy of
their new Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest by Carol W. Hall
and Norman E. Hall, I knew that the reference guides to gardening in California
that I keep on my bookshelf were in for some serious competition. (That
includes you, Sunset.)

If you are new to gardening in this climate, or if you know
somebody who is — maybe a new homeowner or recent transplant — this is
definitely the first book to get. The photographs are crisp, gorgeous, and
inspiring. They’ll give you a very clear idea of what you’re getting into when
you start growing heathers or rhododendrons or roses in our climate.

The first couple of chapters
describe, in simple and readable prose, what exactly goes on in gardens around
here. One chapter, called "What’s Different about Gardening Here,"
explains — well — just that. It tells you that you will get rust on your
hollyhocks and mushrooms in your lawn no matter what you do. It lets you know
the difference between warm shade, which some shade-loving tropicals love, and
the cool shade we get here. Another chapter, called "Where Our Plants Come
From," will help people understand the Asian and Mediterranean influences
in Pacific Northwest gardens, as well as the diversity of native plants
available.

Most of the
book is devoted to lists of recommended plants, and this is where it really
shines. The authors are not trying to describe every single plant that someone
might conceivably grow in a Pacific Northwest garden. They’re pointing out
tried and true specimens of trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses that are
guaranteed to work here. They recommend almost 1000 plants, so you could spend
years working through this list before you started craving more variety. But if
you just follow their ideas, you’ll end up with a garden full of plants that
can handle our dry summers, our wet winters, and the diseases and pests that go
along with them. That means you be able to garden organically from the
beginning.

This book
does not have everything. It does not get much into vegetable gardening or
edibles, including the many fruit trees in berry vines that do so well here.
That’s fine with me — I think that the best way to figure out what edibles
grow in your climate is to buy plants at the local farmers market and ask the
farmers for advice. Local, independently-owned garden centers, which don’t have
to stock whatever plants the buyer in New Jersey or Chicago ordered for the
whole country, are also in a great position to recommend edibles for your
microclimate. And of course, there are loads of good reference books on
vegetable and fruit gardening.

My only complaint–and this is a
small one–lies with the book’s gardening calendar. It’s full of great lists
for new gardeners who might have no idea what to plant when, but the narrative
for each month reads like a kind of gardening boot camp, filled with
admonishments for all the work yet to be done. In May, the "pressing
task" is to get flower beds, containers, hanging baskets, and vegetable
beds filled with plants. In June, there are "plenty of other garden
tasks" to get done, but we are reassured that they are not "overly
demanding, strenuous, or disagreeable" compared to all that hectic pruning
and digging we just polished off in the spring. And in September, we are to be
grateful that the weather is so good, because the gardening tasks "are
tripled in addressing past, present, and future." Gardeners should not
pause for too long to enjoy the garden’s beauty, the authors warn, because
"this is September, and there’s not a moment to be wasted."

While these narratives make
gardening sound like a series of demanding tasks, the rest of the book is
inspiring, personable, and entirely useful. I particularly love the
first-person accounts of how plants do in the authors’ garden, which give you
the sense that you’re getting sound advice from an experienced gardener next
door. We could all use a neighbor like that, but if you don’t have one, Carol
and Norman Hall will do the job. Check it out.