Friday, May 29, 2009

A lupin the size of our car

Yesterday when my husband and I got to our son’s elementary school to pick him up, we found him sitting on the playground cradling a tiny plant in a big nursery tub. He was thrilled to inform us that it was a lupin given to him by Julia, the school’s AmeriCorp volunteer and keeper of the school garden. Apparently the students that helped in the garden were allowed to dig up one each to take home. He really could not wait to get it planted in our back yard for two reasons- 1) Julia told him that he should be careful where he plants it because it will grow “as big as our car” (fortunately we have a small hatchback) and 2) Remus Lupin, of course! The werewolf from Harry Potter! What could be more exciting to a 10 year old boy than the idea of growing a werewolf plant the size of a four door import? Because parents are killjoys we pointed out that there’s hardly room in our yard for something that big, but Harold shot back with the suggestion that we tear down the garden shed and plant it in that spot. It is a good suggestion since Portland’s record snowfall last winter nearly caved in the roof. It’s supposed to be nice this weekend, I think we’ll be in the yard finding a nice spot where the lupin can get some sunshine, and unobstructed views of a full moon.

Sue Korpela, Operations Manager

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Everything I Know About My Viburnum, I Learned At Work

I have a lovely viburnum in my backyard.

I know that it is a viburnum because we published a book about them, and it looks an awful lot like the viburnums in the book. Before the publication of the book? My viburnum was just “that big reddish, greenish, shrub thing in the backyard.” Now it has a name, and I can look intelligent when guests ask me what it is.

My viburnum is right next to my vegetable beds.

As it got taller, it started to shade out the vegetables. That would never do. I referred our book on viburnums, and was told that viburnums are “forgiving” of pruning.

Thank goodness, because I immediately employed the “hack, maim, and destroy” method, and took a monstrous chomp out of the bottom of the shrub. It looks a bit like a tree on the savannah – top heavy and totally bereft of foliage for as high up as the antelope can eat it. I’m low on antelope in Portland, but you get the idea.

After a year of looking at my poor misshapen viburnum, I think that I will take a kinder, gentler approach the next time around. This time, I think I’ll refer to our book on pruning (in which the “hack, maim, and destroy” method does not appear) for advice.

Learning about pruning on one’s lunch break? Priceless.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Life of an Author

Last night I attended an author event at Powell's Books. Scott Calhoun is the owner of Zona Gardens and the author of Designer Plant Combinations, a book from Storey Publishing. We met him before the event for dinner at the deli counter of New Seasons (the best grocery store in Portland). In between bites of our sandwiches and salads, he told us bits about his trip, his family, and his garden design business.

One of the unique aspects of publishing is the speed of the schedule and the rigor of producing new books every season, which can be both good and bad. On the plus side, the chance to work with new material all the time keeps me on my feet and doesn't really allow time for boredom. But, the schedule can make it difficult to sit down and really get to know the author behind each great idea. When I do get a chance to spend time with an author and hear stories about his dog, and his daughter, and the trials of a book tour, I get a better sense of the book they've written. It's an opportunity that I wish happened more often.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing assoctiate

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stoner Bees

I have some California poppies in my backyard, and I like to watch the bees discover them. They lounge about in the middle of the flower, rolling over and losing their balance and falling off, only to fly back on a second later. They seem to get impatient with the flowers if they haven’t opened early enough--jamming their heads and bodies into the still closed flower and forming a little orange, vibrating package of petal, sometimes with a stray leg poking out.

It’s hard not to anthropomorphize them--they look so funny as they stumble from the California poppies, to the clover, to the rosemary, and back to the poppies again, covered with pollen and flying crooked. I know that they are supposed to be busy critters, but since I can’t tell them apart, it seems like there are just a few bees who hang out on the flowers all day, getting drunk on pollen. Teenagers these days!

I always like seeing them, though. It’s like finding earthworms in your dirt--you must be doing something right. This year I planted some crimson clover, and it finally flowered and lived up to its name.

The bees haven’t hit the crimson clover vintage as much as the rosemary and California poppy vintage, but maybe they’ll ease into it. I’ll continue to host punch-drunk honeybees and wallowing bumblebees in the Backyard Flower Bar, and maybe they’ll pollinate some of my vegetables if I promise not to call their parents.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Monday, May 18, 2009

Old Files

Timber’s bestselling title is Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy Disabato-Aust. It’s had 28 printings in two editions and is just shy of 200,000 copies in print. Of course, we could not have predicted what was about to happen when we signed up Tracy’s book in 1993. We originally printed just 5000 copies--but even that was a pretty big print run for us at the time.

While I was preparing to present Tracy at our Fall sales conference, I spent a little time going through her book’s original folder. I had to chuckle as I read some of my original pre-contract notes:

“Can author’s PPA paper support a book?”
“Author has presented to professionals.”
“Even author found topic dull at one time?”
“No useless generalizations.”
“Need to have a broader range of maintenance? Watering?”
“Discuss containers?”
“Author quite an evangelist--she’s sold me.”

I’m delighted to report that Tracy neglected to take me up on many of my inexpert editorial suggestions--including my advice that she cut out the bit about soil amendment. Let’s get straight to the pruning, right?! If Tracy had followed my advice, I think we would still be working on the first printing of 5000 copies.

Neal Maillet, publisher

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Dangers of Urban Gardens

There was an article in The New York Times on Wednesday that warned of the dangerous levels of lead found in the soil of many urban gardens. Between this and Michael Tortorello's hilarious blog about the challenges and pitfalls of starting a vegetable garden, it's beginning to seem like the Home & Garden section is beginning a revolt against the edible gardening trend!

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate

Self Deception

One of the pieces of advice given to vegetable growers is to track the amount of sun that your property receives at different times of the day and at different points in the year. This is because vegetables require 8 full hours of sun, period, full-stop, do-not-pass-go. Woe betide the vegetable grown in a mere 6 hours of sun! Have you not SEEN what 6 hours of sun can do to a rutabaga??

Such advice can be intimidating---who has time to wait a year to track your sun patterns?? I wanna put plants in the ground NOW! So I’ve ignored the advice, mostly out of fear that that I don’t actually have 8 hours of sun. But this year I decided to do it---maybe I can reach my full gardening potential.

The temptation to cheat is overwhelming, and my capacity for self-deception is astonishing. “Sure, the sun doesn’t shine full on the front bed until 9 am, but it gets filtered light through the trees at 8 am, so I’ll count that too! And I didn’t actually see that the sun stops shining on the beds at 2 pm, so I’ll just guess and say 2:30! That’s almost seven hours, which is really close to 8 hours – plenty of time! And as for the backyard, the sun reflects off the house, making up for the extra two hours of sun that it doesn’t have!”

I expect a vegetable uprising any day now.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Slugs

In Forest Park, here in Portland, there are a number of banana slugs. They are fascinating critters, yellow with brown spots, you can see where the “banana” came from. Plus, according to Wikipedia , banana slugs can reach up to 9.8 inches in length!

I can appreciate the banana slug. Especially because they know their place---Forest Park. The small brown garden slugs that don’t know their place (far away!), and have eaten all my carrot seedlings for the third time? I can’t muster any enthusiasm for them. I can muster some beer traps, though.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Monday, May 11, 2009

What to Plant, Harvest, and Cook in May

Historically, Timber Press has published books almost exclusively devoted to ornamental plants--annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, bulbs, and more. Unfortunately, plants enjoyed for their aesthetic traits aren't the coolest kids at the table now that everyone is growing a vegetable garden.

So, for those of you that have been growing vegetables for years and already have a productive garden, now is about the time you should be able to harvest your peas. Once you do, enjoy eating them in this delicious recipe.

Risotto with Fresh Peas
*Serves four

1 medium-sized onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ¾ cups Arborio rice
juice of ½ lemon
4 cups chicken stock
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Finely dice the onion and garlic. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and sweat the onion and garlic over a medium heat until soft. Add the rice and stir until coated with oil. Add the lemon juice and stir until liquid has evaporated. Add one ladle of chicken stock and lower the heat. As you stir, add the stock ladle by ladle as it is absorbed by the rice. After about twelve minutes, add the peas and continue cooking rice. The rice will take about 18 minutes to cook. Before serving, add the Parmesan and butter. Season to taste.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate
Recipe pulled from The Family Kitchen Garden, available now

Moss Carpet

Over the weekend, I spent some time halfheartedly pulling up dandelions in my front yard. I am quite fond of dandelions--I love that they smell like honey, I love that you can eat them, I love how cheerful they look all over my front lawn. I buy the statement “they loosen impacted soil.” And (I should really look both ways before admitting this), I love blowing dandelion seeds all over the place. (It’s a thrill when you pick one that you can denude of seeds all in one breath.) But my very kind neighbors on each side of me have immaculate green lawns, and I hate to think of them looking at my yellow-studded lawn and having chest palpitations. Dandelions are nothing if not democratic in choosing where to grow. So in the interest of neighborly harmony, I try to keep the dandelions from getting too out of control.

This year, my front lawn will be subject to my first foray into ornamental gardening. I’ve always been an enthusiastic vegetable gardener, but only recently have I had the urge to put in some ornamentals. (Mostly to avoid mowing, I must admit.) As I weeded, I thought about my current lack of plans, and how I should really get going on that, and also about how wonderful the moss growing in my front yard is. It is so soft and plush and green. I realize that it means that I have horrible drainage and soil quality (impacted soil! Bring on the dandelions!), but it was impossible to care. It felt like I was wearing knee pads--if it hadn’t been raining (plus very public), it would have been the perfect soft spot for an outdoor nap. Perhaps I should try to keep a mossy area in my front yard after all--good thing I work in an office that has a whole book on moss gardening!

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate