Our mission is to share the wonders of the natural world by publishing books from experts in the fields of gardening, horticulture, and natural history. Grow with us.

2015 has been designated the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the importance of soils and the dangers facing them. Continue on to learn more.

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2015 is the International Year of Soils, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of the importance of soils. In this spirit, several of our authors share what they find most impressive about soils and why that matters.

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[Text] (Top image: NOAA, Bottom images: Michael F. Schönitzer)

Between 1963 and 1967, volcanic activity formed a new land mass south of Iceland. Because of the creation of soil, it is now home to many kinds of flora and fauna. (Top image: NOAA, Bottom image: Michael F. Schönitzer)

Soil has a life story. It is born and grows old. The Gardener’s Guide to Weather and Climate author Michael Allaby details the process.

In the beginning, when volcanic action or movements of the Earth’s crust expose a new land surface, there is only bare rock. Between 1963 and 1967 a series of volcanic eruptions on the seabed 32 kilometres south of Iceland thrust a new island above the surface. Icelanders called it Surtsey and today it is a World Heritage Site where biologists monitor the arrival and establishment of living organisms. Its 141 hectares currently support 60 species of vascular plants, 75 species of bryophytes, 71 of lichens, and 24 of fungi, as well as 335 species of invertebrates, and 89 species of birds have visited it. No people live there, so it is a kind of living laboratory where scientists can observe the natural compilation of a habitable environment, based on the production of soil.

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Therapeutic gardens designed with the four principles in mind offer a wide range of therapeutic value for users.

Therapeutic gardens designed with the four principles in mind offer a wide range of therapeutic value for users.

“Gardens can and do restore our state of health,” write Therapeutic Gardens authors Daniel Winterbottom and Amy Wagenfeld. A close look at one school for children with special needs shows us how.

Therapeutic garden design principles

  1. Sense of control (actual and perceived). The garden allows individuals to make choices. It provides a temporary escape, a sensation of “being away,” an opportunity for the user to gain control of his or her emotions and refocus attention.
  2. Sense of belonging and connection. The garden has familiarity and fosters a sense of attachment and place. It has a variety of enclosed and public spaces for private and open exchanges.
  3. Movement and exercise. The garden supports low-impact activities, including walking, wheeled mobility, gardening, play, formal exercise, and physical rehabilitation. These activities build strength, reduce stress, and elevate mood.
  4. Sensory nourishment. The garden offers heightened interactions with nature through the senses. Natural distractions improve emotional states, diminish troublesome thoughts, and foster positive physiological outcomes.

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When aphids attack your roses, why not let the plant call in reinforcements before getting out the pesticides? Image: Lincoln Peh

Aphids attacking your roses? Why not let the plant call in reinforcements before getting out the pesticides? Image: Lincoln Peh

Plants are full of surprises. How Plants Work author Linda Chalker-Scott shares a few of her favorites.

1)  SENDING OUT AN SOS
Like clockwork, the first buds on the rose bushes in our sunny front yard emerge in April, followed by an army of aphids that covers the buds entirely. If I happen to see this, I’ll set my hand sprinkler on stun and blast them away, but sometimes I’ll forget. When that happens, do my rosebuds get sucked away into lifeless husks? No. In fact, they don’t show much damage at all. Eventually our local lacewings and ladybugs stop by for a little green snack.

How do these beneficial predators know where the aphids are? Many plants, ornamentals and vegetables alike, send out very specific gaseous signals when they’re under attack. Over time, certain species of predatory and parasitoid insects have learned that these airborne alarms mean lunch. These signals are only emitted during the day, when natural enemies are active. When the herbivorous pests are gone (having either escaped or been eaten), the compounds are no longer produced. To make this phenomenon even more fascinating, plants downwind of the victim may also pick up on the signal and start building chemical defenses against future attack by the herbivore.

When we gardeners indiscriminately spray pesticides for the slightest pest problem, we not only kill the pest, but also the beneficial organisms that could take care of our problem for us at no charge.

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Weeds love landscape fabric!

Weeds love landscape fabric!

From harpin to xeriscaping, How Plants Work author Linda Chalker-Scott breaks down four common gardening misconceptions.

1)  LANDSCAPE FABRIC (Geotextile, Weed Barrier)

The product
Landscape fabric is laid on top of soil to keep weeds out while letting water and oxygen in.

The supposed benefits
Because the fabric is porous, water and oxygen will pass through to the roots of desirable plants but weeds can’t poke through.

How plants respond
Unlike the claims right on the packaging, these products do not let water and oxygen through for very long. Those little holes are quickly filled with soil particles, and water puddles on top of the fabric, only slowly dripping through to the parched roots below. Dust and soil blow in along with weed seeds, and within a few months—Voila! Weeds spring up like magic. Likewise, aggressive weeds like bindweed and horsetail slip underneath and pop right through the holes and seams. I guess they didn’t read where the package claimed “permanent weed control.”

Meanwhile, your tree and shrub roots are desperately seeking water, oxygen, and nutrients. They will creep up to the soil surface, sometimes growing through and on top of the fabric. This causes the fabric to break down even faster. If you try to remove it, you damage your trees and shrubs in the process. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy this stuff!

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Four or five months after planting, the bulbs of Tulipa clusiana will be flowering. All images: Richard Wilford

Four or five months after planting, the bulbs of Tulipa clusiana will be flowering. All images: Richard Wilford

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips author Edward Lyon describes what it takes to grow tulip species in the home garden.

Growing tulip species is a little different from growing the garden cultivars. Most need free-draining soil, good air movement, and a sunny position, even more so than the cultivars. There are a few exceptions, such as Tulipa sprengeri, that can be grown in a more shaded position and in soil that does retain moisture in the summer, but the vast majority need a dry summer rest and many of them should not have any water at all at this time.

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Art-of-Gardening-GIF-250Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Or so the saying goes. But people do it anyway, a fact we’re keenly aware of here at Timber Press. Our book covers go through an intensive approval process in which we fret over every element: Is the title descriptive enough? Would a subtitle help? Does the image communicate effectively the contents? A book’s cover can make the difference between reaching its intended audience and languishing on the bookstore shelf.

The Art of Gardening is an upcoming work about the celebrated public garden Chanticleer in Pennsylvania. It provides inspiration and practical advice from the gardeners who design and maintain the grounds and R. William Thomas, executive director of the Chanticleer Foundation. Add to that the photography by Rob Cardillo and creating an impressive cover becomes paramount. Which may be why this particular cover has gone through so many iterations. And possibly more to come before publication!

Click on the image after the jump to see the different versions. Each one is numbered and we’d love to know which is your favorite!

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One of the best ways to create a waterwise garden is to grow a variety of plants. These roses deflect rainwater, slowing its fall to the ground, decreasing evaporation. Photo by John Morgan

The drought in the American West has made water use–and conservation–more of a topic than ever. If you’ve found yourself pouring more water into the ground than you want (or than you want to pay for), consider these seven ways to a more waterwise garden.

Create hydro-zones

  • Group together plants with similar moisture needs
  • Put thirstiest plants in depressions and areas that receive water from natural slopes or downspouts.
  • Shelter thirsty plants from drying winds by putting drought-tolerant plants to the north and west of them.

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A mix of native and ornamental plants thrive in this garden, which is watered with greywater from a kitchen sink. Courtesy of Cleo Woelfle-Erskine.

Rain gardens are not just for places that receive a lot of rain. In fact, they may be most beneficial in places that receive very little rain. Brad Lancaster lives in Tucson, Arizona, and shared some of the reasons why he – and his community – create rain gardens. This case study and more can be found in Creating Rain Gardens by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and Apryl Uncapher.

Swiss ecovillage designer Max Lindigger’s story of a walk he took with his grandfather radically changed my view of public streets. His grandfather pointed to condominiums sprawling above his alpine village, “That’s where we grew and gathered food during the war. The forests were common land. What commons remain?”

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