Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Low-Maintenance

One of the books that I am most looking forward to this year is The New Low-Maintenance Garden. I love working in my garden, but I also love cooking, movies, teasing the cats, knitting, bike rides, dancing... and on and on. So the idea of a low-maintenance garden is a "have your garden and eat it too" best case scenario to me. Plus the book is gorgeous! Here's an excerpt from Val's introduction, where she explains how she came around to the low-maintenance garden ideal.

The Simplified Garden: A New Low-Maintenance Manifesto

"Gardening, like everything else worthwhile in life except maybe love, comes down to time and resources. Our passion for plants and nature too often obscures this basic truth. But we ignore the time and resource part of the equation at our peril.
The idea for a fresh take on a simplified, low-maintenance garden came directly from my own years of intensely gardening an overplanted quarter-acre hillside. All the weeding, grooming, watering, mulching, and mowing finally wore me out. As a horticultural librarian and weekly garden columnist for the Seattle Times, I used my garden as my laboratory. For many years my enthusiasm for digging, planting, and caring for all I’d created was boundless. And then one day it wasn’t.
The spring I felt more jaded than enthused when I looked at flats of beguiling baby annuals waiting to be potted up, I realized with a sinking heart that while my passion for plants and gardens was perpetual, my inclination to spend most waking moments working outdoors was not.

And then my husband resigned as yard boy. After thirty years of marriage, he’d run out of patience helping me with something he was never much interested in. As middle-age crises go, it wasn’t too bad. He simply told me, again and again until I heard him, that he was going to spend his weekends bike riding and kayaking rather than hauling buckets of mulch up the stairs, mucking out the pond, and carting away excess biomass. Greg now claims it took four years before I heard him say he was through toiling in the garden. Out of kindness, he kept working during the time it took to sink into my consciousness that I no longer had a crew. When I finally did understand that I was on my own caring for these thousands of plants, I belatedly realized that while I loved my garden, I too craved a little downtime, more spaces in my life to read a novel, go to a movie, or browse a museum without feeling guilty about time away from endless garden chores. It was time for a new low-maintenance garden intervention.

I set a new goal, one that seemed nearly impossible at the outset of my gardening odyssey. I wanted to be able to look out my window and see more than just work waiting for me out there. I wanted to enjoy my garden, not just labor in it. Was it possible to grow the flowers that I love—I came to gardening originally because of a passion for flower arranging—plus berries, vegetables, herbs, and lettuces without again creating a garden that ceaselessly called for more care than I had time or energy to give it?"

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Demise and Rebirth

I’ve heard rumors that even the best gardeners kill plants. I’ve also heard that the truly enlightened don’t waste time on regret – move on, get another plant, put it in another place, see what happens.

I admire this. I picture experienced gardeners as being kind of like spies or tough detectives in novels or on television. Confident, ready for anything, letting bygones be bygones. (At least, that's how I like my detectives. None of this pesky humanity business for me. There's no room for doubt in a detective!)

I have not yet reached that enlightened state. I still go through lots of guilt when one of my plants dies because of me. I have a list in my head. Recently, there is my viburnum. Or my echinacea that I forgot to water one weekend, and that turned into a crispy array of tiny leaves. It looked like what herbs are supposed to look like when you hang them upside down in a cool dry place for three months.

As a sort of penance, I tend to water things that I'm convinced are dead. I think of it as buying my way into the good graces of the departed spirit of my plant. (Too much anthropomorphizing can do that to a girl.)

But sometimes I've called the death too soon, and the watering pays off. My viburnum? Sprouting new leaves.

And the echinacea? Tiny new growth as well!

My garden is a better place.

-Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Friday, July 24, 2009

Read to Me

I’m going to spill a dirty secret—not everyone at Timber Press is a gardener. Or rather, not everyone is an avid gardener. Take me for example. I have a few houseplants (mostly succulents that thrive on neglect) in my apartment, but no actual plot of land to grow anything on. I like to think that someday I’ll own a home with a yard full of vegetables and ornamental grasses. So, I guess I am an imaginary gardener.

The one thing everyone at Timber Press does have in common (as do most people who work in publishing) is a life-long love of books. Book chatter in our office is common, as is sharing books. We actually had a short-lived book club that flamed out after a few months (agreeing on what to read was a real struggle).

Neal and I had one of these fun book chats Wednesday. I just saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and remarked on how as a child I didn’t like fantasy. The conversation got me thinking about what kind of reader you become based on what you chose when you were younger. So I sent an email around asking for everyone’s favorite book from their childhood. The reaction was amazing—everyone quickly started buzzing about books. I can still hear people now talking about Maurice Sendak! The wide-ranging list includes:

The entire Laura Ingalls Wilder library
Pierre by Maurice Sendak
Nancy Drew’s Scarlet Slipper Mystery by Carolyn Keene
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Old Hat, New Hat by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Henry Huggins by Beverley Cleary
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey and Gustaf Tenggren
Audubon’s Birds of America by John James Audubon
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett
The Twits by Roald Dahl
Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer
Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty White

I’m glad it’s Friday, because all of this reminiscing has made me want to reread what used to be my favorite book, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. It's a good thing I pass Powell's Books on my walk home.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do You Have Something for Memory in There?

When I was younger, one of my favorite books was Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel. It’s a looong book, tracing the life of a young Cro-Magnon girl being raised by a clan of Neanderthals over 30,000 years ago.

I was most fascinated by the herbal lore in the book. The medicine woman of the Clan was very knowledgeable about thousands of plants and their medicinal properties, and since they had no written language she knew it all by heart. Reading about her knowledge was the first time that I had really thought about plants having different properties and uses--other than building forts, of course. The thought of one plant being good for headaches AND for setting bones opened up a whole new world. (Plus, I really wanted to be the know-it-all who always knew what kind of herb to administer. Yes, I was a self-important child--why do you ask?)

Sadly, I don’t think that I’ll be able to memorize all the plants in existence, even if I eat copious quantities of Ginko biloba . I’m going to have to count on written language. Specifically, I can look at our new book, Native American Medicinal Plants.

I have tons of mint growing in my backyard. I drink it in tea as a digestive aid, and I looked it up in the book to see how else it was used. Now I know that wild mint was used by the Navajo to "counteract effects of being struck by a whirlwind," and that the Cheyenne used it to improve one's love life. Other tribes used it to lower fevers, cure toothaches, prevent influenza, treat colic, soothe coughs, and, interestingly, to make a person vomit in the case of poisoning. And here I always thought it had a calming effect on the stomach.

The range of uses for each plant led me to check the introduction to the book, to see if the cures “work.” Here’s what Daniel E. Moerman, the author, has to say:

The first thing people usually ask about American Indian medicinal plants is, Do they work? This, it turns out, is tricky question. The short answer is, Yes. The longer answer is more interesting. What does it mean to say that a medicine “works”? Essentially it means that the medicine has the effect that we want it to have, that it meets our expectations. This means that a drug that meets one person’s expectations may not meet another’s, and people may therefore disagree over whether the drug works. Such disagreements usually hinge on different conceptions of health or healing. This is to say that definitions of health and well-being are often cultural matters; they are rarely simple matters of fact.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My First Garden

I am currently researching magazines as I prepare for a trip to New York to pitch Timber Press story and segment ideas to editors and television producers. The three that I have been reading this week--Every Day With Rachael Ray, Real Simple, and Metropolitan Home--have very different editorial styles and don’t have a strong focus on gardening, though they all dabble a little bit.

You can probably imagine my surprise then when reading the July/August Metropolitan Home’s “Letter from the Editor” about the joys and trials of her gardening experiences over the past few years. Having just started my first garden this year, it is a relief to know that some of the problems I’m facing aren’t just because I’m inexperienced--insects are nondiscriminatory when it comes to gardens, beginner or experienced, and I’m just happy I don’t have horses anywhere nearby that can lean over the fence and snack on my heirloom green tomatoes!

The latter half of the letter describes how she has been too busy this year to get started on her garden. By mid May she hadn’t even turned the soil over, or ordered seeds. After a recent dinner at a farm/restaurant she comes away with one conclusion: Slow down and plant your garden.

This struck me as my summer schedule starts to heat up (pardon the pun!). With weekend barbecues with friends, trips to the beach, and general summer activities, I need to remind myself that it is okay to just slow down and work in my garden--the joys of watching my tomatoes grow and eating parsley with my nephew somehow bring all the busyness of summer into focus.

Olivia Dunn, senior publicist

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Threatened Tomato Crops

If you grow tomatoes in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region, you need to read Friday's New York Times article on late blight. It's scary to think that a fungus can spread so quickly from garden center to home garden. Even scarier? A strain of the same disease is what caused the Irish potato famine.

The article includes tips on what to look for and how to remove affected plants. It also recommends using the fungicide chlorothalonil (a synthetic protectant that prevents disease by blocking its entry into the surface of the plant) to protect tomatoes not yet affected. Which brings is to the question of chemicals...

I looked up chlorothalonil in Jeff Gillman's The Truth About Organic Gardening. After an explanation of the difference between the three types of synthetic chemicals used for disease control (plant activators, systemics, and protectants), he lists what he sees as the benefits and drawbacks of using synthetic protecants. I'll let you decide what is the right choice for you and your garden.

BENEFITS: Few diseases have developed a great deal of resistance to protectants. Synthetic protectants tend to be quite effective at controlling disease if used properly and can generally be expected to work as well as or better than most of the organic fungicides, with less chance of damaging your crops. Also, less of these products usually needs to be applied.

DRAWBACKS: Protectants have a wide range of degrees of safety for both humans and the environment. Some are considered relatively safe and some aren't. Because they don't get into the plant's vascular system, they don't provide complete control over the disease.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate
Information taken from The Truth About Organic Gardening

Monday, July 20, 2009

In the Tank for Grasses

One of the joys of summer is that I very rarely have to mow my lawn. (I never water it, so I don’t have to worry about that either--hooray for grasses going dormant, I say.) This year I may have called a moratorium on mowing my grass a little bit early--instead of being short and dead all summer, the grass is sending up gorgeous, misty spikes of seeds. I am enchanted.

I have grasses sending seed sprays through my authentically weatherbeaten fence:

I don’t have the skills to capture the gorgeousness, but rest assured, it is a lovely effect. I expect a lifestyle magazine to call at any moment--the weathered-ness of my fence, especially, is hard to beat.

I have grasses being nice and feathery against the tree line.

I feel I could be a small yet carefree creature (perhaps a Borrower), and lie for hours looking up at the sky through an attractive screen of grass. Or if I got bored lying around, I could check out the fluffy seedheads of other plants.

After taking pictures of grasses up close, I looked around at the larger picture, and realized that my lawn is overgrown, with lots of little flowers and interesting seedheads--and I like it that way. It reminds me of a meadow--much more interesting to me than regular expanses of cut grass. When our meadows book comes out in the fall, I’ll be sure to adopt some ideas from it. Maybe I’ll even convince the neighbors to get on board.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

Friday, July 17, 2009


I was reading through Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest today while working on a review copy mailing. I don’t really know a lot about mushrooms—I have never been foraging and I don’t like them in my food—but I do know that it is an immensely popular activity in the Pacific Northwest. After reading through the introduction, I had a general sense of what mushrooms are, where you can find them, general guidelines for collecting, and how to avoid getting poisoned. I actually feel like I could do this (with some guidance)!

So, with safety in mind, a few tips on how not to get poisoned while out foraging for mushrooms.

1. Identify all mushrooms before picking.
2. Don’t pick mushrooms from a place that may have been contaminated with chemicals.
3. Make sure all picked mushrooms are fresh and in good condition.
4. Never eat a mushroom unless it is positively identified as edible by you or by someone whose judgment you trust.
5. Never eat raw mushrooms.
6. When trying a new species, only eat a small amount.
7. Eat wild mushrooms in moderation.
8. Use extra caution when foraging in a new location.
9. When in doubt, throw it out.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate
Taken from Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Adventures of a Plant Explorer

Plant explorer Dan Hinkley came through Portland recently, and told stories of seed collecting and traveling the world. His most recent book, The Explorer's Garden: Shrubs and Vines from the Four Corners of the World, includes excerpts from his garden journals. I imagine that it's the best possible way to keep track of all the many plants that he has encountered during his travels, in addition to the usual stories and situations that accompany traveling. Here is an excerpt from his chapter on the Azara species.

"This morning it was proven again that there is nothing that elongates a mile more efficiently, or that more lays to ruin the enjoyment of the moment, than an empty gas tank, a cognizance that has arisen in human consciousness swiftly and that will hopefully depart in same fashion. We left our lodging in Temuco in the dark this morning at 5:30, and I had not filled the tank as planned when we had arrived in town the night before. Heading toward Conguillio for a long day’s outing, lost and fogged by caffeine withdrawal, and hobbled by our pathetic command of the language, I watched the gauge drop from really low to really screwed. It was my fault. Coasting a Chilean secondary road on a prayer of fume, we finally found gas and NescafĂ© in an unlikely village. I celebrated by procuring a day-old potato and beef empanada for breakfast.

Our approach to the trailhead in our vehicle was by way of a dusty single-track road woven through the devastatingly beautiful landscape of a relatively recent lava flow, just as the sun rose above the ridge to the east, which blinded further still my driving abilities. I was ebullient, three hours after our departure, to be on the trail with the ordeal behind us.

We all drove the trail independent of one another, at different speeds, which was perfectly fine with me; I did not see my mates for most of the following eight hours. I was entranced by the immensity of the Nothofagus along the lower reaches of the trail: the largest I had ever seen, with impressive Araucaria as well. A particularly full and pyramidal specimen of Austrocedrus chilensis had me looking for seed on the ground for a considerable time.

At higher elevations, the low understory became a uniform blend of two plants: one I had met before and one I had not. The former was Maytenus magellanicus, looking so uncannily similar to our native Paxistima myrsinites that I caught myself transported mentally to a hike in Olympia. Kevin, Jennifer, and I collected this further northward in 1997. The other, however, was familiar but curious. In foliage and fruit, there was no question that this was in the genus Azara; as I was approaching the alpine zone, I could only believe this was actually A. alpina that I was seeing for the first time, an assertion I confirmed minutes ago with my reference books back at our hostel." -Temuco, Chile, March 3, 2005

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Blue, Black, Silver, and Green

Timber Press has been in interested in books on dramatic plant colors since we published (in North America) Deni Bown’s Alba in 1989. (That book was inspired by the fad for white gardens in the 1980’s based on Vita Sackville-West’s famous white-flower garden. Alas, it may be some time before white gardens return to general popularity. We hope to commission a new edition if they do.) Our next was Book of Blue Flowers, which we published in 2000, making much of the fact that blue is the rarest hue in nature. This book is still in print in paperback.

Our newest “monochrome” book is Black Plants, written by Paul Bonine, a local nurseryman and student of “shock and awe” in the garden. Copies are now shipping, following on the great success of our Green Flowers in spring of this year, which was written by a delightful London photographer and designer team. Also notable is Elegant Silvers, written by Joann Gardener and photographed beautifully by Karen Bussolini. Karen did a remarkable job of traveling the world finding silver plants in their garden and native habitats. We published it in 2004.

Next spring, look for a wonderful book entitled Color Companions--I don’t want to give everything away, but our estimable Tom Fischer is the author. Keeyla Meadows's Fearless Color Gardens releases this fall--be prepared for completely wild and daring color ideas! In short, Timber digs color.

Neal Maillet, Publisher

Friday, July 10, 2009


About this time of year, there is a lull in my garden activities. It's summer! There are dozens of places and events to dash off to at any given moment! Who has time to garden, anyway?

So it was nice to spend a quiet evening watering and noticing all the small beauties that I'm missing out on as a result of all the dashing.

Poppies poking through nasturtium leaves.

Dried chive blossoms with little black seeds.

Sun shining through the last two sugar snap peas (which were eaten immediately after this picture was taken.)

A ladybug on my dill. (Thank goodness, too - this dill was infested with aphids.)

Bean shoots climbing up garlic scapes.

And the lovely red flowers of said ambitious bean.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Get Outside!

Though most of our titles sit on the gardening shelf, we also publish books about the Pacific Northwest. How could we not? We’re surrounded by such natural beauty and history it would be a waste not to celebrate it. Most of our regional titles are based around outdoor activities: hiking, city walks, mushroom foraging, and month-by-month adventures. In a city where the weather is fantastically sunny for only four months, every extra bit of summer needs to be taken advantage of. Off early on Friday? Take a walk around the waterfront. Up early Saturday morning? Pick a new hike in Forest Park.

Unfortunately, the weather today is grey and overcast. But the weekend forecast shows lots of sun. Here’s one way to enjoy it.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge via the Springwater Corridor

The Springwater Corridor is a wonderful bike and pedestrian path that runs along the Willamette River from the Sellwood Bridge to OMSI, just north of the Ross Island Bridge. The wide paved trail is designed to accommodate walkers, joggers, hikers, bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers. The path follows parts of the Springwater Railroad Line, which ran between downtown Portland and Estacada from 1903 to 1958. North of Sellwood Park, the trail winds past the 163-acre Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a wetland habitat and a great place for birding.

Kathryn Juergens, sales and marketing associate
Trip pulled from The Willamette River Field Guide, by Travis Williams

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finding Inspiration

This “remodeling the front yard” exercise that I am embarking upon can be a bit daunting at times. Occasionally, I feel confident about my abilities to dig up my front yard and plant it with things that look OK together. (Note that my goal is modest. I aspire to “OK”, and I hope to have some patches of “Pretty Good,” but I accept that “Wow – where did my socks go after they got knocked off?” is probably far in the future.) But mostly, I worry that I’ll mess the whole thing up and it will just look like a scramble. And scrambles are lovely for breakfast on Saturday mornings, but not so great when they are in your front yard.

A couple of work-related things have helped me get excited about this front yard project and gain some confidence. First, our executive editor Tom Fischer has written a book called Perennial Companions. It’s a lovely book, with some great ideas – but the most helpful part came from going to a talk that he gave about the book. During the talk, he said things like “It’s not the end of the world if some of your plants die”, and, “Go to a nursery, walk around with a plant in your arms, and hold it up to other plants to see how it looks.” (He didn’t mention that people will think you are nuts, which leads me to believe that people do this in nurseries all the time.) He has a very relaxed approach to garden design, and it helps me to relax and not expect everything to be perfect right away. Tom admits to killing some plants, and doesn’t seem too fussed about it. It must not be so bad.

One of Tom's recommended combinations, using Achillea Walter Funke. (How could you not love a plant with a name like that?)

Second, part of my job involves flipping through the books that we publish and counting pictures and pages. During this process I have seen all kinds of great ideas. Christopher Lloyd put together a combination of fennel and Oriental poppies that looks absolutely amazing. It’s nice to see what other people have done, and adopt ideas from them. It takes some of the pressure off. And once I've tried other people's ideas (and gotten used to killing some plants), maybe I'll have the confidence to try some of my own.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Deer Fence

Friends asked me the other day why I looked so happy. I spun around, leapt up in the air and did a double cartwheel-backflip, shouting DEER FENCE!!! These guys know me pretty well and are prone to forgive and even encourage my embarrassing public excesses, so they jubilantly sang deer fence, deer fence with me as we linked arms and skipped down the street.

Okay, I’m exaggerating.

But not much. Any gardener who’s had her sacred plot ravaged by deer knows what a ten-foot tall fence means. Peace, sanity, preservation of a way of life. Not to mention tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, okra, and green beans--all homegrown like they’re s’posed to be. Are you surprised I fenced the veggies first? A gardener’s got to eat well to do her best work, right?

I did slip a few flowers into our 16x16 space: zinnias, nasturtiums (hey, they’re edible), mammoth sunflowers, climbing hyacinth beans and moon vine. I deliberately did not start adding plants like coleus and elephant ears from my collection of deer-tasty tropicals. That way madness lay, or at least serious overcrowding, which would earn me evil looks and loud complaints from my fence-building partner. Those plants will just have to enjoy one more summer in containers. Luckily, deer leave lots of tropicals untouched, so I can still grow cannas, bananas, lantanas, ginger lilies, salvias, and funky-smelling plectranthus unprotected.

Now that we have fresh pesto and tomato sandwiches covered, my partner and I can concentrate on fencing the rest of the garden. Next time my friends see me, I may just be somersaulting over a star!

Pam Baggett, author of Tropicalismo

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hopefully My Viburnum Will Forgive Me

Dear Viburnum,

I’m sorry that I pruned you almost down to the ground last weekend.

I really enjoyed having you in my backyard. You had lovely flowers and foliage, and you gave the sparrows somewhere to sit while they chattered away about whatever sparrows chatter about. You were grand. Except – you were a little too big. You loomed over my kale, making it lean waaaay over to the side in an attempt to get at the sun. So I thought I would prune you down, and have the best of both worlds – a lovely Viburnum, and a lovely patch of straight-up-and-down kale.

I may have put too much trust in the phrase “Viburnums are forgiving of pruning.”

You are now very, very short, and bereft of leaves. I feel like a murderer – or at least an overconfident and foolish gardener. I really, really hope that you come back. I am even prepared to break my “no watering the ornamentals” rule and provide you with some water over the summer, so you have some sustenance during your long convalescence. Or at least, I hope it is convalescence, and not a death rattle.

After I was done pruning, I got an excellent view of the sparrows sunning themselves on the neighbor’s garage, which was previously blocked by your foliage. The looked like little pats of butter, softening down onto the roof in the sun. But I’m sure they are plotting vengeance.

I hope you make it. I’ll deliver your first bonus serving of water tonight.

Chani West-Foyle, Marketing Associate and Guilty Shrub Killer