Planting Your Garden

Spring is here! As we put those tender seedlings into the ground, up sprouts the constant question: should I go Organic, or should I show up my neighbors by using Miracle Grow? Will I poison my children if I use it on my tomatoes? Is my neighbor’s cancer due to Round Up™, and did it blow over into my yard? If a lawncare company treated my grass, are my grass clippings poisoning my compost?

So many questions for such a busy season!

“Organic” is a shady term to start with. We think of hippies and happy sheep, and fields strewn with mulch and recycled orange peels, when in reality it just means the land cannot have been treated with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers (including Miracle Grow), or GMOs for three years. Sounds nice, right? Except that two of the three companies licensed by the USDA to certify organic farms are for-profit (Oregon Tilth is not). The farmer wanting to be certified pays the company to license them. That’s like paying a teacher to give you a grade. The problem is worse overseas: 100 countries export “organic” produce to the USA, and though they are supposed to abide by US law, the countries inspect and license their own. And let’s not forget that a good percentage of “organic fertilizer” in many countries is human in origin.  (The E. coli that keeps poisoning lettuce is usually animal in origin).

Won’t chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow poison me? No. Plants don’t care where the nutrients come from, horse manure or a green and yellow box. Plants use them the same way. The issues with Miracle Grow are 1) the concentration of ammonium phosphate may be too high for some plants. MG makes different formulas for roses, tomatoes, azaleas, etc. Choose the one you need. 2) The greatest issue for chemical fertilizers is that heavy rains can wash a recent fertilizing away. If twelve homes get washout, and it flows into the brook behind them, too high a concentration in water systems can cause algal blooms that suck up oxygen and kill wildlife.

Okay, but what about Round Up™? If I kill the dandelions in my walk, won’t I die?

Uh, that’s a loaded question. Yes, more than 14 countries have banned Round Up (chemical: glyphosate), and while the courts have said yes, Round Up causes cancer, the US maintains it does not. And there’s the difference: In Europe, you must prove a chemical is safe before it hits the market, and that’s hard to do. In the US, chemicals are presumed innocent and you must prove they’re harmful – which is really easy to sidestep even with math and science. In America, it is up to the manufacturer to show their product is harmful, not the government (Got that? The man making and marketing the product must show that what he’s selling is harmful.) When the people with highest exposure to Round Up were studied (ie, farm workers), they had a 41% higher risk of a type of cancer called Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. People with heavy, frequent exposure over time. NO risk was found in people who go outside three times a year and spritz a weed. If you want to use it, do so sparingly, wear rubber gloves, and wash with soap immediately after, and whatever you do, don’t inhale it. 

But if those chemicals wind up in my compost bin, won’t they pollute my compost? Mm, depends. According to John Reganold, Professor of Soil Science at Washington State University, “The heat and microbial action of most compost piles break down many produce pesticides.” So don’t feel bad throwing that non-organic banana peel in the pile. BUT: some pesticides (like clopyralid – Reclaim) can become concentrated. Things like termiticides bind to the soil and last a long time.  And even treated and composted animal/human waste can still contain parasites. If in doubt, buy local, where you can ask what might have been sprayed on the food.

But rest easy: Miracle Grow has never been shown to cause cancers.

So, is organic worth it? Depends on what you’re willing to pay. The most chemical-contaminated foods in the grocery store are strawberries, peaches (more than 57 pesticides on one sample), celery, lettuce and greens (and that’s not counting the E. coli risk), and most other fruit. If you want to reduce your pesticide ingestion, consider buying organic just for fruits (or grow your own), and wash, wash, wash what you do bring home.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are about the best thing there is for your body, and growing your own, organic or not, is a fun (and tasty) experiment anyone can do anywhere. Try growing some popcorn, or a yellow or brown or purple heirloom tomato. Pole beans are great for kids, because they grow incredibly fast and are very prolific, as are grape tomatoes (so why are they so expensive?).

No matter which method you use, read further on gardening in these topical books:

Starter Vegetable Gardens : 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens by Barbara Pleasant

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

101 Organic Gardening Hacks : eco-friendly solutions to improve any garden by Shawna Coronado

Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, edited by Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis

Organic Gardening for Dummies / by Ann Whitman, Suzanne DeJohn,

The Organic Lawn Care Manual  by Paul Tukey

Vegetable Gardening : from planting to picking by Fern Marshall Bradley, Jane Courtier

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening : grow more of what you want in the space you have by  Colin McCrate and Brad Halm

Northeast Fruit & Vegetable Gardening : plant, grow, and eat the best edibles for Northeast gardens by Charles Nardozzi

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith


Build a Better Backyard

The concept of Outdoor Rooms isn’t new.  The idea of expanding living space to the exterior of our homes has been around a while but planning and building an outdoor space can be a challenge!

Nowadays there are some pretty lavish outdoor areas: multi-tiered decks, anything-but-square patios, gazebos, pergolas, paths, benches, bowers–you name it! Outdoor kitchens are trending in many backyards as families “add” onto their homes by incorporating the space around their houses into three-season living areas.

Getting outside is good for you. Disconnecting from your devices is healthy and there’s no more relaxing place than your own backyard.

If you need  inspiration, check out some of our newest titles on creating outdoor living spaces:

She sheds : a room of your own / Erika Kotite

Happy home outside : everyday magic for outdoor life / Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau

Backyard building : treehouses, sheds, arbors, gates and other garden projects / Jeanie & David Stiles

Gardens are for living : design inspiration for outdoor spaces / by Judy Kameon

Shed decor : how to decorate & furnish your favorite garden room / Sally Coulthard

Simple & stylish backyard projects / Anna & Anders Jeppsson

Porches & outdoor spaces / CountryLiving

Learn about Xeriscaping


Water is a precious resource. As the planet warms and the weather changes, more and more gardeners are turning to xeriscaping as a water-conserving alternative to traditional gardens.

So, the big question is, what is xeriscaping?

Basically, it is landscaping that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water. In an age when weather extremes are becoming the norm, gardens that are indifferent to the amounts of water they receive are a good idea.

Xeriscaping uses drought-tolerant plants and non-plant elements. Crushed stone, boulders, large urns, and decorative pieces of sculpture are often the backbone of xeriscapes. Plants such as cacti, low-water grasses, and succulents add a touch of green.

New to xeriscaping? We have the resources you need to get started.

Jacket1.aspxThe Water Saving Garden:  how to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water by Pam Penick



lawngoneLawn Gone! Low-maintenance, sustainable, attractive alternatives for your yard by Pam Penick



Jacket4.aspxRock Garden Design and Construction by by the North American Rock Garden Society; edited by Jane McGary




Jacket9.aspxDesigning with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin

June is National Rose Month


Roses have a long and colorful history. They have been symbols of love, beauty, war, and politics. The rose is, according to fossil evidence, 35 million years old. In nature, the genus Rosa has some 150 species spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico and including northern Africa.

November 20, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution making the rose the national floral emblem.  Americans have communicated their feelings through roses for years.

rose redRose Color Meanings:


Red:  love, beauty, courage, respect

Yellow:  joy, gladness, friendship

Red and yellow:  jovial, happy

Yellow with red tips:  falling in love

White:  purity, innocence

Pink:  appreciation, thank you, admiration

Orange:  desire, enthusiasm

Peach:  appreciation, sincerity, gratitude, closing the deal

Lavender:  love at first sight

Coral: desire

2 rosesRoses by the Number:


A single rose of any color:  utmost devotion

Two roses entwined:  ‘marry me’

Six roses:  a need to be loved or cherished

Eleven roses:  receipient is truly and deeply loved

Thirteen roses:  secret admirer

Roses make an appearance in many books.  To connect to our catalog for all things roses, click here.  Below are a few fiction books referencing roses.

winter rosesWinter Roses – Diana Palmer – Ranch owner Stuart York is at the mercy of Ivy Conley, his younger sister’s best friend, when she, upon returning home, is determined to prove that she is no longer a little girl, but a woman who wants him more than anything.

chalice of rosesChalice of Roses – Jo Beverley – Four novellas about quests for the Holy Grail, including a woman who must use it to bring peace to England and a Regency lady who must protect it from Napoleon’s spies.


rosesRoses – Leila Meacham – Having not married in spite of their true feelings, cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick struggle with deceit, secrets and tragedies that challenge their children and grandchildren in their small east Texas community.

for the rosesFor The Roses – Julie Garwood – Discovered abandoned as a baby in a New York City alley and raised by the Clayborne brothers, four urchin boys, Mary Rose Clayborne remains fiercely loyal to her misfit family until an English lord reveals a shocking secret that sends her into a confrontation with her past.

coming up rosesComing Up Roses – Catherine Anderson – Widow Kate Blakely, who is wary of love after her failed first marriage, nonetheless falls for her new neighbor, Zachariah McGovern, after he rescues her four-year-old daughter, Miranda, from a well.

bed of rosesBed of Roses – Nora Roberts – Florist Emma Grant despairs of ever finding Mr. Right, until she develops feelings for Jack Cooke, an architect who works closely with her and her colleagues at Vows wedding planning.

summer of rosesSummer of Roses – Luanne Rice – Lily Malone is forced to confront the events and relationships of the past as she deals with the man who has separated her from everything she has ever loved, but who could hold the key to her young daughter Rose’s future.

good year for rosesA Good Year for the Roses – Gil McNeil – Recently divorced and struggling to support her three boys, Molly is stunned when she inherits her aunt’s manor house, a house that includes her eccentric old uncle, an ailing bed-and-breakfast, and a beautiful rose garden.

roses are redRoses Are Red – James Patterson – Facing a particularly vicious breed of killer in his latest investigation, Alex Cross finds his family targeted by the vengeful Mastermind, a situation that is complicated by tension in his relationship with his girlfriend Christine and his daughter Jannie’s unexplained seizures.

the care and handlingThe Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns – Margaret Dilloway – Enduring a strict schedule that balances her teaching job with the hospital regimen required by her kidney disease, Gal Garner devotes her spare hours to cultivating a new rose variation before her world is upended by the arrival of her teenage niece.


If you’re interested in the growing and care of roses, we have a great selection of nonfiction books under 635.9337.

roses a celebrationRoses: a celebrationA unique book on roses gathers together the wisdom of thirty-two well-known rose gardeners, including Rosie Atkins, David Austin, Thomas Christopher, Ken Druse, Joe Eck, Allen Lacy, Anthony Noel, Michale Pollan, David Wheeler, Christopher Lloyd, Anne Raver, and Graham Stuart Thomas, among others.

roses without chemicalsRoses Without ChemicalsA former curator at the New York Botanical Garden describes 150 different varieties of roses that can be grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers and provides information on planting, pruning and caring for these gorgeous blooms.

everyday rosesEveryday RosesA guide to growing roses dispels common myths, offers advice on selecting the right roses for one’s landscape, provides information on disease and chemical-free pest control, and includes suggestions for garden design and maintenance.


designing with rosesDesigning With RosesExplores the versatility of roses and offers advice on planting, feeding, and pruning.


coffeeCoffee For RosesAccompanied by full color photographs, a garden expert reveals the truth behind 71 common garden practices, in this delightful combination of practical advice and gardening history.

complete guide to rosesComplete Guide to RosesAn innovative, lavishly illustrated series of authoritative gardening books from the experts at Miracle-Gro takes the mystery out of horticulture for home gardeners of all skill levels with essential information on plant selection, cultivation, garden maintenance, pest control, soil preparation, climate, landscape design, and more.

Homesteading and Sustainability Practices on the Rise

Prices for many necessities continue to rise, while pay and compensation for most people do not seem to be rising at the same rate. Homesteading, or making the attempt to live more self sufficiently, is becoming a major trend as people make an effort to save more and do more for themselves. Most of these things are things our parents or grandparents did as a matter of course, but more and more people are learning how to revive these methods of taking care of the environment and their families.

Some of the activities that are seeing a major come back for one reason or another that can be considered a step towards homesteading or sustainable living include, knitting or crocheting, sewing, canning, gardening, raising chickens or other livestock, and so much more.  I have done some of the traditional homesteading activities, but I will admit to cheating in some departments. While I might garden and crochet, I have not homesteading1started canning like my family did when I was growing up. Frankly, I still have nightmares of peeling steamed tomatoes from my childhood as we made sauce and stewed tomatoes among other things.  If you are interested in learning more about what exactly homesteading is, or you want to move towards living a more self sufficient lifestyle, here are some resources that can get you started and answer some questions.

Homesteading: a Backyard Guide to Growing Your Own Food, Canning, Keeping Chickens, Generating Your Own Energy, Crafting, Herbal Medicine, and More edited by Abigail R. Gehring

Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit by Ben Hewitt with Penny Hewitt

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen

You might also be interested in Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar, Zero Cost Living: Explore Extreme Frugality by James R. Delcamp, Back to Basics: a Complete Guide to Traditional Skills edited by Abigail R. Gehring, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Self-Sufficient Living by Jerome D. BelangerBarnyard in your Backyard: a Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cattle edited by Gail Damerow, The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects by Spike Carlsen, The Renewable Energy Handbook: a Guide to Rural Independence, Off-Grid and Sustainable Living by William H. Kemp, Mini Farming : Self Sufficiency on a 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham,  and Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place, One Recipe at a Time by Michel Nischan with Mary Goodbody.