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Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants by Danae Horst

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve impulsively purchased houseplants only to get them home and realize that perhaps I’m not able to provide an environment in which they’ll thrive. Yet I try. As of this writing, I have about 30, most of which do well enough alongside a few that sort of languish. A languishing plant is a sad sight to behold, so I sought a solution and found it in Danae Horst’s Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants.

In her introduction, Horst admits, “Unfortunately, enjoying plants and keeping them happy do not always have a direct correlation” and she discusses her experience with collecting houseplants, unknowingly making mistakes, and watching them struggle or die. Like many of us who’ve watched our houseplants die slow deaths, Horst began questioning her plant-parenting abilities. After making a move with a handful of houseplants that she managed to keep alive, she continued caring for them and learning more about them, eventually having the “Aha” moment that she needed: “When I began to choose plants based on what they needed rather than just how I wanted my home to look, I found my plants seemed happier and healthier.” Aha, indeed!

In Houseplants for All, Horst debunks what she calls the “back thumb myth” and shares with us the essentials we must understand to be able to choose plants based on their needs rather than just our preferences. Also, she teaches us how to assess our space and what we’re able to provide, as well as advice for creating environments in which plants will thrive. Plus, she includes design tips and plant profiles throughout the book, which are accompanied by bright, beautiful photographs. Although a lot of information is packed into fewer than 200 pages, its arranged and presented in an approachable manner.

In section one, “the right plants for you,” we learn about the misconceptions and truths of light and humidity and how they impact the health and happiness of plants. Particularly helpful is the explanation of how light comes in through our windows and the definitions of the different types of light we’ll find within our homes. Also, Horst further defines the light terms we encounter on plant care cards. For example, “partial shade or mixed shade” for outdoor plants is equivalent to “a mix of direct sun and bright indirect light” in houseplants. Suggestions for how to measure light within your home, whether by observation, with a light meter, or an app on your phone, are included. Section one concludes with humidity and light strength “quizzes” that are less like quizzes and more like questionnaires with flow charts to help us measure and determine how much of each we do (or do not) have in our homes so we may plant accordingly.

Section two, “environment profiles,” is my favorite section of the book, as it breaks them down into five easily understood profiles: bright and sunny space, lower light space, humid space, indoor-outdoor space, and shifting light. Each profile begins with the pros and cons of having that type of space. For example, a pro of a bright space is that you’ll have more plant options, but you’ll need to water more often because they’ll dry out quicker. Each environment profile goes on to include the different types of light you might encounter within that profile, as well as specific suggestions for which plants will do well in that type of space. Detailed plant profiles, care, placement, and styling tips are also a part of each environment profile, as well as other tidbits.

Section three, the final section of the book, is applicable to caring for plants in all environment types, as it covers the “plant care essentials,” from the basics of choosing healthy plants at the store to various methods of watering and propagating them. “Plant Problems” and “Pets and Plants” are great subsections within this section.

Horst concludes her title with a list of further resources and a reminder that “plant care is a journey” and that we’ll no doubt make, as well as learn from, the mistakes we make along the way. In the 20 years that I’ve kept houseplants, I’ve made mistakes aplenty and learned a lot. I wish that I would’ve had a book like this back when I started my journey, but I’m glad to have it now. I recommend it to houseplant aficionados and beginners alike.

As always, happy reading.

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Gardening At Any Age

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lifelong Gardener: Garden With Ease & Joy At Any Age by Toni Gattone

Plant, Cook, Eat!: A Children’s Cookbook by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig

Summer is upon us! Flowers are blooming, and so is this new crop of illustrated gardening books. It’s a great time for all ages to get outside and dig in the dirt!

Plant, Cook, Eat!: A Children’s Cookbook by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig encourages kids to explore edible crops in the garden and in the kitchen. The first half of the book walks readers through basic gardening concepts–plant parts, seed germination, soil preparation and amendment, starting plants, maintenance, and pest control–in clear, concise text with just enough information to engage without overwhelming. Brief sections, “Healthy Eating” and “Get Ready to Cook” bridge the gap between vegetable patch and plate by introducing food groups, cooking equipment, and kitchen safety and sanitation. The book’s second half pairs growing instructions with recipes for a variety of vegetables from beans to zucchini. Each featured crop gets a lively four-page spread to document the garden-to-table journey. Recipes range from entrees to sides to snacks to dessert and include a variety of techniques from stir frying to baking. Two recipes I can’t wait to try are the Chocolate Beet Cake and the Tomato, Feta, and Basil Pizza.

Inside and out, Plant, Cook, Eat! is a feast for the eyes, a riot of color that enhances the content. Pages are layered in color–a muted background, color photographs bordered by a contrasting shade, cheerful cut-paper veggies and kitchen utensils peppered among text and photos. The book provides a fun opportunity for families to make memories together and sneak in some life skills building at the same time. The kitchen tasks and some of the garden activities require adult supervision and are a better fit for middle-upper elementary students than for the younger set. A glossary and list of vegetable varieties round out the resources.

The beauty of gardening is that, like cooking (and reading), it’s a lifelong pursuit adaptable to a variety of circumstances. In her book The Lifelong Gardener: Garden With Ease & Joy At Any Age, Toni Gattone offers strategies to keep gardening despite physical challenges. A certified Master Gardener with “a persistent bad back”, she writes knowledgeably from experience. Adaptive gardening provides approaches to greater safety and comfort for gardeners of all ages who may have a limited range of motion, use mobility aids, want to reduce stress on their joints, experience decreased strength, etc. The goal is “to identify what works for them in their garden according to their personal physical realities”.

Preferring to “focus on proactive solutions”, Gattone provides a variety of tips and techniques so that readers can choose what works best for their situations. In “You and Your Body”, she encourages self-examination (what chores or movements are easier or harder) then moves to acceptance of change (know your limits, expect ease) and resilience (change the way you operate, don’t be afraid to ask for help). She proposes modifications for challenges with balance, stamina, mobility, pain, strength, reaction time, eyesight, memory, and temperature sensitivity. Easy stretches and lifting techniques complete the section.

The remainder of the book focuses on specifics for adapting the garden space itself and the tools to work it. The goal is “a garden of ease” that provides comfort and safety without sacrificing enjoyment. Gattone’s suggestions are as wide ranging as gardens themselves: incorporate ADA standards for wheelchair access, consider downsizing the garden, add seating (or more seating), use contrasting colors for hardscapes and railings, try raised beds or square foot gardens or vertical gardens, remove gravel and wide gaps in paths, use drip irrigation instead of lugging heavy hoses, add a bike grip to tool handles, use long-reach handles on tools. “Toni’s Tips” and “Brand Loyalty” feature ideas and tools directly from the author’s experience.

Like Plant, Cook, Eat!, The Lifelong Gardener bursts with color–a multitude of color photographs (many Instagram-worthy) plus muted borders and information boxes. This book invites you in, effectively illustrates its message, and exudes congeniality while addressing a difficult topic. A helpful resources list and a form for an “Adaptive Gardening Action Plan” add to the package.

Gardens and books have something to offer all ages. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy both this summer!