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Teri Chace on being a garden writer

by Timber Press on December 13, 2013

in Gardening

Teri to beginning garden writers: "Forgive yourself the spending spree at the nursery or in the bookstore!"

Teri to beginning garden writers: “Forgive yourself the spending spree at the nursery or in the bookstore!” Image: Erin Covey Creative

Teri Dunn Chace knows what it takes to be a garden writer. With more than 30 titles under her name and a résumé that reads like a who’s who of garden publications, there isn’t much about gardening she hasn’t tackled as a writer. Even so, she admits the greatest challenge to being a garden writer is that there’s still so much to learn, “…so many techniques and plants I have yet to try.”

The three books she’s published with Timber Press demonstrate her versatility. From a book of answers to the most common mistakes made by gardeners, to a how-to on eradicating invasive plants, to a reflection on flowers, Teri delivers complex topics in her unique, engaging, and playful way. The editors at Amazon were so impressed that they included two of her books in their Best Books of 2013.

We asked Teri about her journey to garden writer and what advice she has for others beginning their own journey. You’ll find her answers after the jump, along with more about her three Timber Press titles, ample proof that Teri Dunn Chace knows what it takes to be a garden writer.

What made you decide to become a garden writer?
All my life, even from earliest childhood (ask my family!) I have been an avid reader and writer. I’ve also been fascinated by plants in nature and in gardens all my life. In college, I worked to integrate these two parts of myself. I ended up majoring in literature and minoring in environmental science; in particular, I remember a paper I wrote on the tension between garden and wilderness in early America. After I graduated, I continued on this path. I worked at gardening magazines and began writing for them as well as for natural-history magazines such as the local Audubon magazine.

What is your greatest challenge as a garden writer?
There’s so much to learn, so many techniques and plants I have yet to try. I’m also a consumer of books in other areas that interest me, cooking for example, and I know I need to trust and learn from an author. So when I write about gardening, I feel responsible to my readers. I do a ton of research, in my yard, in books and online; plus my network of gardening friends, specialists, and experts gets bigger all the time. It’s an ever-expanding universe! Whoever said “the more I know, the more I need to know” nailed it.

For you, what has been the most rewarding part of being a garden writer?
For me, this question and answer are related to the prior question and answer. It is so thrilling to be constantly learning, and to meet and befriend fellow travelers on the same journey.

Do you have any advice for beginning garden writers?
Write a lot, write often. Don’t worry about it being perfect or publishable or the last word on the topic. When you share your experiences, including your doubts and your discoveries, others will come along for the ride. My first garden-writer hero, Washington Post columnist Henry Mitchell, was great this way. Oh, yes, and try anything, be patient—and forgive yourself the spending spree at the nursery or in the bookstore!

____________________Seeing Flowers____________________

A reflection on 343 common garden flowers, Seeing Flowers matches Teri’s “lyrical and illuminating” essays with the mind-boggling photography of Robert Llewellyn. Together, they give readers a deeper appreciation of these amazing plants. Here is a sneak peak (click image to enlarge):


The exotic appearance of the checkered lily or Guinea-hen flower, Fritillaria meleagris, does not mean it is tricky to grow. Just gently set the bulbs about 6 inches below the soil surface in well-drained ground in the fall.

Complicated, gorgeous, and colorful, tall bearded irises are true garden aristocrats. From the moment a blossom emerges from its papery sheath like a gift being unwrapped, the show is on. First the falls, three sepals, flare downward and outward, while the three inner petals, the standard, arch upward. On the falls is the beard, a dense strip of delicate colored filaments. Colors reveal and deepen until the full glory of a flower is before you. It will last about three days, but if your plants are happy and healthy, more are waiting in the wings. With these beauties there are literally thousands of cultivars to choose from—it seems hybridizers have truly found a rainbow palette.

An individual tubular flower from a yellow foxglove, Digitalis grandiflora, can be up to 2 inches long. These occur in spikes only on one side of the 2- to 3-foot stems. The brownish netting or spots on the interior guide pollinators inward.

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, has seen a lot of interest from gardeners and plant breeders in recent years. But the original species has an appealing shuttlecock look. It is thought that the petals (ray flowers) droop in order to make the plush array of central disk flowers all the more accessible to pollinators.

Ever-gorgeous peonies, Paeonia hybrids, traditionally in Ranunculaceae, have been shifted to the family Saxifrage, and even been granted a family of their own, depending on which botanical source you consult. The plush, petal-laden ones are favorites, but the single ones allow you to study flower form more easily. Here we find a row or more of at least five wide “guard petals” sheltering a boss of (usually) golden, pollen-laden stamens and a cluster of carpels in the very center. Note that double flowers tend to be sterile, as they have transformed their pollen- and seed-bearing structures into petals.

Native to southeast Europe, including Turkey and the island of Cyprus, the plucky Grecian windflower, Anemone blanda, grows from a small tuber or corm and has daisylike flowers. Like other members of the buttercup family, however, the petals are actually colorful sepals, and abundant stamens flank fused carpels.

A petite treasure, double snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, has been in cultivation since 1731. The petal-packed blossoms stand out better than those of the species, especially when plants form a colony.

The cup in the center of a daffodil is called a corona. Some are short, like a shallow bowl, while others are longer, more like a trumpet. Some have frilly edges, and some are rimmed with a contrasting color. Some coronas are split up to half their length to create a flatter, showier flower.

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____________________How to Eradicate Invasive Plants____________________

How to Eradicate Invasive Plants is your guide to identifying and eradicating plants that are in the wrong place. Even when a weed is native to the region, it can often be found in the wrong place, like your garden. In this excerpt, author Teri Chace helps you determine when a plant is a weed and what to do about it.

____________________The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers____________________

Gardens produce many things, including anxiety. The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers alleviates stress with advice on how to prevent or correct the 100 most common garden mistakes. In this excerpt, author Teri Chace explains the basics to fertilizing plants.


Click image for a look inside Teri’s latest book, Seeing Flowers:

Presents 343 blooms in such extraordinary detail that you feel you’re glimpsing the garden from an insect’s perspective.Sunset Magazine

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fran Soule December 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

This is the most beautiful “garden book” I’ve ever seen; it really is an art book, a coffee-table book, with beautiful prose (and poetry!) It will enchant photographers, nature lovers, in fact all lovers of beauty and great writing. Highly recommend this book for gifts any time of the year.

2 Brian Ridder December 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

Thanks so much for saying so, Fran. We could not agree more!

3 plant pots January 10, 2017 at 1:35 am

We could not agree more!

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