Monday, June 29, 2009

Urban gardening and 4-legged pests

I’ve been gardening in the city for the past 3 years now, and have formed a strong opinion on squirrels, cats, dogs, and their, ahem, “relationship” with my garden. (I have opinions on bugs and slugs too, but those are easier to trap with beer.)

Let’s start with squirrels (who seem unaffected by beer – bummer.) Our esteemed next door neighbor has a squirrel feeder, which provides them with a constant supply of peanuts – and me with a constant supply of squirrels burying peanuts in my garden. It’s like a video game – squirrel gets peanut, squirrel comes over fence to bury said peanut, garden owner must chase squirrel off before it succeeds. Extra points for hitting squirrel with a jet of water! I wish I could designate a squirrel digging area – DIG HERE, AVOID SEEDLINGS. On the other hand, my husband enjoys laughing at my outrage, so there’s that.

Then there are cats. Honestly, I think cats are worse than squirrels. I prefer what squirrels bury to what cats bury. Coming across a peanut in the dirt? No biggy. Cat by-product? Yuck! We have two lazy indoor cats, who posture amusingly on windowsills when they see the outdoor interlopers. I encourage them to act as “guard cats”, but so far, chicken wire over my garden beds has proven to be more effective. It gives me a whole new appreciation for indoor cats – I think everyone should have them. Think of the gardens!

Lastly, though this is a rare problem, there is our neighbor’s dog. He’s usually very good, and doesn’t come dashing into my garden much. But he is large. And enthusiastic. And – well – there goes the lettuce, replaced by a filthy, squeaky toy. Sigh.

I can count my blessings, though. I have yet to see deer or rabbits. And I don’t live near a bar.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Location, location, location

One area of ornamental gardening that often stumps me is the question of placement. Yes, I know – most plants that I buy will have a handy tag telling me where to put it. But sometimes it is still baffling! Take, for instance, my three heucheras, which live under the clematis vine.

The middle one is hard to see – which is exactly my point. Its tag said it liked partial shade (check) and moderate water (check). That’s exactly what it gets here, and yet my other two heucheras are doing quite well, while the middle child struggles. It looks healthy enough – it is just small. Perhaps it is overcome by the lovely foliage to its left.

I am told that digging up and moving perennials is a lot less fraught than digging up and moving vegetables, so maybe I’ll just move it. But where? Ah, now we are back to my original problem – placement.

Incidentally, my clematis vine is gorgeous. Here it was in the spring:

I can’t take any credit for placement, though. It was there when I moved in.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate


Caring for a garden (particularly a vegetable garden) really makes you care about rain and sun. It’s easy to be obsessed: In the spring, when it is raining ALL the TIME, one wishes that it would quit raining because all your seedlings are drowning or rotting in the soil. They struggle, they swim, they wear yellow galoshes. (I would totally supply my vegetables with yellow galoshes, given the chance.) If only the sun would come out, one thinks, I would be perfectly happy and have a perfect garden.

Eventually the sun obliges, and after a little while (my personal limit is a week) of hot shiny days, one starts looking at the sky and being annoyed at all that blue. Does the planet not know that the LIVES OF MY VEGETABLES are at stake?

Fickle, fickle me. No wonder the weather doesn’t pay me any attention.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Monday, June 22, 2009

Succulent Serendipity

A number of gardens in Portland feature Semperviviums, or "Hens and Chicks". They do really well here, growing up rock walls and covering swaths of vertical landscaping. I've always really liked them, and wanted them in my own garden.

My neighbors down the street have some lovely examples.

The problem, for me, is that since there are so many of these things everywhere, I've always felt like I shouldn't bother to buy a Sempervivium - surely one will appear in my path one of these days! I admire my neighbor's plants whenever I walk by, but I've never screwed up the courage to knock on their door and ask them if they would mind if I took a "chick" home with me.

I was just mentioning this to a friend yesterday. Then, as I walked along the sidewalk towards home - there it was! A little Sempervivium, orphaned, right in my path!

I hope it makes lots and lots of babies.

Chani West-Foyle

Friday, June 19, 2009


Other than vegetables, I subscribe to the “if it needs extra water, it doesn’t deserve to live” theory, which means that a lot of the ornamental that were in my front yard when I bought my house didn’t make it through their first year with me. It’s like the Marines, I like to tell myself: “the few, the proud - the ones who can do without water for four months.” A co-worker of mine says “I don’t kill plants – I just watch them die,” and I find that distinction very comforting when I think about the fate of those dearly departed perennials. (I don’t even know their names. I’m a monster.)

In the empty spots that somehow keep popping up in my front yard, I plan to plant things that are tough ‘n hardy, purty, impervious to neglect, and will give the crab grass a run for its money. Native plants are excellent for this sort of application – many of them are adapted to where I live anyway, so won’t require much care once established. Plus, they have the added bonus of providing food for local wildlife. One of our books, 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants is also an excellent source of plants that require minimal care – every single plant in there is of the “plant it and forget it” variety. (Or, rather, “plant it and forget it, except when you are noticing how attractive it is.”) Thirdly, there is a book that we’ll publish at the end of the year that sounds right up my alley – The New Low-Maintenance Garden, by Valerie Easton. The parts of the book that I have seen are gorgeous and chock full of all kinds of beautiful, low-maintenance gardens, any one of which I would be happy to find serendipitously plopped down in front of my house. This book will go on my Christmas list.

I love a beautiful garden, but I have trouble keeping up with 4 raised beds of vegetables, and that’s only about 120 square feet. So I am always pleased to find books that recommend plants and techniques for fuss-free garden beauty. Maybe someday I'll have a full-fledged, 40-hour-a-week garden - but I'm not aiming to have one of those anytime soon.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lessons from The Plant Explorer

Last night I went to a talk given by Dan Hinkley, plant explorer extraordinaire. He has the enviable job of traveling around the world (I know) and hunting down new plants species and cultivars (I know!) to introduce to the gardeners of North America.

He described the process that he goes through to collect the seeds, clean them, and bring them to the US to be grown and tested before being introduced to the public at large. I learned, among other things, that seeds can take up to four years to sprout! (At the three year mark, one should begin warning the seeds that if they don't shape up and sprout soon, it's the compost pile for them.) This was a "duh" moment once it was explained to me - if all the seeds sprouted at once, and there was a drought, or, say, a very hungry caterpillar, that particular species of plant might not have survived for long. Staggering the germination rate gives the seeds multiple chances to take over the world. Seeds win!

I also wondered about the reasons for choosing a particular plant to bring back for testing. After all, when one is hiking in the wilds of (insert any country - he's probably been there), there are doubtless many trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, EVERYTHING, all vying for attention. Dan said that he is typically drawn to plants that have interesting foliage, since flowers are fleeting, and he is often traveling in the fall. Other plant explorers may go for textured bark, or flowers, or plants that only grow upside down, but he likes foliage.

And the last lesson - if you are buying a house, and it is named "Windcliff", don't assume that it is just a quaint, lovely name. Assume that it means that your house is perched on a cliff and that it will be constantly buffeted by huge gusts of wind, and plan accordingly.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Monday, June 15, 2009


I went to a public Montessori elementary school in Cincinnati where most of our learning happened while sprawling out on the floor, or on these carpeted platforms in the room or hallway. Yes, we had desks, but I hardly remember sitting at them. We stayed in the same classroom for three years, and luckily, my 4th/5th/6th grade teacher was particularly enamored of reading and writing. This served me well and encouraged me in many ways. (Though--as I found out the hard way--going to seventh grade without knowing long division is a bad idea!)

Anyways, my absolute favorite days were our classroom Read-A-Thons. This was pretty much an excuse to curl up in whatever cubby or corner we wanted, whisper a bit with friends, fulfill sugar cravings, and devour as many books as we could. It was like a big slumber party, except we read instead of slept. I remember the pure satisfaction and comfort of settling into a good book and losing track of time and place. There was a peace and elated exhaustion on the bus ride home at the end of those reading days. I loved it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I still love it. And I feel so lucky to have wiggled my way into the editorial assistant position that I have at Timber Press. In the few short months I've been here, I've been reading, reading, reading. The topics range from low-maintenance gardens and American meadows to chile peppers and black plants; maybe the gripping drama of a Judy Blume classic is missing, but the education and thrill is still there.

If I hosted a Read-A-Thon in my office would anyone join me? All we need are snacks, pillows, sleeping bags, and some manuscripts. And maybe some more snacks.

Mollie Firestone, editorial assistant

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Books and the Butcher

Tody in our staff meeting our publisher compared the editorial to production side of publishing to making sausage--"Sometimes you don't want to know how it was made."

It's a funny yet valid point. To the reader, a book is a delightfull collection of bound sheets between paper or board. They don't know that at one point it was a glimmer of an idea that an editor fought for, or a pile of (sometimes handwritten) papers that an editor has to turn into a compelling read that then must be sent to production to become an actual product.

It's probably better that way. If everyone knew the process, book buying could become really exhausting.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate

Why I Like Martha

One of my intern duties at Timber Press is magazine perusal. The office subscribes to a number of titles that relate to gardening and book publishing and the Pacific Northwest, and it’s my job to page through them and see if any Timber books have been reviewed or are mentioned in articles. (I know, it's pretty glamorous work.)Yesterday I was working through the pile and came to Martha Stewart Living. And I felt…excited.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong or weird in liking Martha’s mag. It’s just that I’m 26, male, and I really love eating $4 burritos. So I’m not exactly Martha’s target audience. But, I can’t stop myself from admitting that it is a really good magazine. Let's use the newest issue as a sample. There’s a story near the front detailing simple-to-make lobster recipes (lobster pot pie!) Later, a section outlines how to host a lobster bake. Then the back page is devoted to something called vanilla-raspberry sundaes with spoon-shaped cookies--so you make cookies that look like spoons, eat a sundae with the utensil you just baked, and then eat the “dishes.” Those three pieces work together to create this imagined celebration of summertime eating.

Some people might actually make the ideas a reality, but I am almost positive I never will (it all must cost way more than $4 and not a single burrito is involved). Still, it was fun to read about. I was “engaged,” as people in the marketing industry like to say.

Dan Leif, publicity intern

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Garden magazines recommend that you begin getting rid of your weeds early in the season, so they won’t balloon into backyard monsters, intimidating the timid and spreading seeds far and wide. It is excellent advice. I recommend it--two thumbs up!

However, in a classic example of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, my weeds get away from me every year. They have a quiet way of putting on spurts of growth beyond your wildest expectations, and the weed that yesterday was modest (“I’ll just pull it tomorrow”) is now Godzilla in the backyard. And I can’t remember how Godzilla was brought down, but I imagine that it took something drastic, and I don’t know where in Portland to get flamethrowers and bomber aircraft.

Once weeds reach Godzilla size, I start to regard them less as weeds and more as volunteer ornamentals. I am interested to see how they manage, what kind of flowers they will have, how they survive in the toughest environments in my garden. I’ve encountered some lovely weeds this way--and if I don’t have anything to plant it that particular spot, why not leave the weeds be?

Some of my weeds are attractive enough that I’m thinking about how I can naturalize them in other areas of the garden. After all, they have proved that they can survive on neglect and abuse--which I find very attractive in a perennial.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Monday, June 8, 2009


I have to allow myself a moment to brag on behalf of Timber Press and our publishing partners at Storey, Workman, and Algonquin.

Indiebound released the 25 bestselling titles in the gardening and nature category, and we took 11 of the 25 spots!

Wicked Plants debuted at number two.

Carrots Love Tomatoes is still a bestseller after ten years!

The new paperback edition of Bringing Nature Home is going strong.

And an extra congratulations to Tom Fischer, our editor-in-chief. His first book, Perennial Companions, came in at number ten.

The complete list can be found here.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Bouquet of Green

I’m getting married in fifteen days. Some of the planning has been tedious (who really cares that much about the color of table linens?) but it has been a mostly carefree and fun process. I really liked picking my flowers. They are all different shades of green--echeveria, ranunculus, hydrangeas, tulips, snap dragons, and garden roses. The unexpected color makes even the most common flowers look unique.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate
Pictures taken from Green Flowers: Unexpected Beauty for the Garden, Container, and Vase

Create Your Own Wildlife Refuge

Last night I finished watching the series Planet Earth.

Most of the series contained gorgeous footage of animals from all over the globe and in every ecosystem--jungles, seas, deserts, mountains, etc. There were serious contenders for The Absolute Cutest Baby Animal Ever (I nominate baby musk oxen), and footage of animals interacting with each other in their environments (i.e., eating and being eaten.) The whole thing was very well done; a fascinating and beautiful series.

The last disc explores the effects of global warming and the interactions between humans and animals/plants, who are all competing for the same land. These parts of a nature show are always overwhelming--the obstacles are so great, and the questions aren't easy, and the answers even less so. Often at the end of these sorts of shows, I want to burn all my worldly possessions and go live in a mud hut where I can have zero impact on the earth, but then I realize that burning everything would emit too much carbon dioxide, and maybe my mud hut would accidentally cover over the last surviving member of a particular variety of ant, and I would be back to square one. It’s so hard to realize that you can’t make it better, all at once, all by yourself. What to do?

This time, I thought about Doug Tallamy’s message in Bringing Nature Home. Plant native plants, he says, which will give native species a place to eat and reproduce. It’s such a small thing--it feels almost too small--but it is something that I can do. My plan to remodel the front yard suddenly includes a lot more native plants. I opened up my native plants encyclopedia and started looking this morning.

Doug was recently on NPR's Science Friday. To listen, click here.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

South African Disa

As an orchidist as well as a garden writer and photographer, whenever I cover either of the massive Royal Horticultural Society Flower Shows in England, I head straight for the orchid exhibits. Every year I go to at least one of the two biggest shows--in May, it’s always the Chelsea Flower Show in London (where I have just been), and in July it’s the world’s largest plant show, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. I am continually struck by how similar the orchid varieties popularly grown in Britain are to the ones we grow in the United States, particularly the hybrids. In my new orchid book, Bloom-Again Orchids, I used this universality to choose the most popular and easy-to-flower orchid types. I confess to sometimes getting a bit blasé about orchid exhibits, having seen literally thousands over the years, but last year at Hampton Court I was blown away by an exhibit that featured just one type of orchid: the glorious, often unknown, South African Disa.

The exhibit from Dave Parkinson Plants in Yorkshire, England, was truly spectacular, full of vivid orange, red, pink, and cream-colored uniquely hooded blooms. Disas actually are a big cut flower industry, but home orchid lovers don’t realize how relatively easy these gorgeous and brightly colored flowers are to grow. Parkinson is on a mission to change the difficult perception of Disas, and I heartily agree; I made sure they’re in my new book. The trick? Unlike most orchids, which rot when overwatered, these summer-blooming streamside natives should never dry out. Don’t let them get too hot and--the real key--only use rainwater for watering. I grew mine very successfully sitting the pot in an inch of water under four fluorescent tubes in my cool basement.

A source in the United States is Camp One Orchids in Oregon. Definitely try Disas, especially if you’ve gotten a tad blasé about your own orchids. They make great wedding flowers, especially since they often bloom in June.

The exhibit, by the way, earned a well-deserved and highly coveted Gold Medal.

Author & Photographer of the award-winning Taylor’s Guide to Orchids (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) and the upcoming Bloom-Again Orchids (Timber Press, Fall 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Eight days after I planted the seeds in a plastic flat on my windowsill, I noticed my tomato and basil plants had popped their little green heads out of the soil. This was the first time I had ever sown a seed and seen it sprout. I clapped my hands and shouted out something about how I hadn’t failed my first test as a gardener. My friend Jeff, watching TV in the next room, yelled back that I’d have plenty of time to fail as a gardener once the plants are moved outside.

Well, Jeff can take his pessimism and compost it. I’m excited about this whole planting thing. And in my rush of enthusiasm, I’ve decided to name my plants. Do people ever do this? We name our cars, our guitars, our iPods. And those things don’t even turn into food. So, anyway, my taller, kind-of-sideways-growing basil sprout shall henceforth be known as Fawlty. The (for now) shorter basil plant is Napoleon. The three tomato plants that have popped through the surface: Brandon, LaMarcus and Rudy (because those are my three favorite Portland Trailblazers and because calling a vegetable LaMarcus is hilarious). Then I have one more tomato plant that has yet to sprout. I’m calling that one Hope.

Dan Leif, intern