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“Damnation spring” book review

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My kind of novel

Ash Davidson’s book “Damnation spring” is my kind of novel. It’s set in the 1970s in Redwoods country, specifically in northern California’s Del Norte county. It’s a 15 hour listen in audio format and it works better than a physical book because the narration uses four different voices.

It’s my kind of novel because it’s set in the woods, we meet loggers making a living from the woods, and there are hippie protestors. Also mentioned are greedy forestry companies and herbicide sprays used to keep competing deciduous trees and shrubs from growing.

Of course, when the chemicals wash down into people’s drinking water, there are problems. Animals suffer, and women, too, through miscarriages and babies born with birth defects.

This creates tension between the protagonists, a married couple with one child. The husband is a tree-topper with a dream of owning his own tree operation; the wife wants more kids.

Alert!

Then, one day, a local resident returns to Del Norte county armed with a Ph.D. and lots of data on drinking water quality. Of course, this was the 1970s and not as much was known about chemicals. Today we know better.

Now it’s 2022, and Dr. Suzanne Simard argues that free-to-grow regulations are bad because they prioritize timber production over ecosystems. Companies are required to keep out non-coniferous species such as aspen and birch with herbicides. This mindset has to go, says Simard, in today’s Vancouver Sun newspaper (January 29, 2022, section A13).

What we need is a healthy mix of species because this is what gives the forests resilience.

Simard also argues that clear-cuts should be off the books going forward. No more than 25% of a watershed should be removed.

Resolution

In the book the tension between protestors and the forestry company gets resolved; and our married couple also make up. I can’t give you the ending, obviously. Go get the book and enjoy it like I did. I listened to it as I worked in the landscape.

Sweat the details like a pro

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Details

Yes, it’s OK to sweat the details in your garden. I’m writing this blog post in late January, 2022, and the snow is gone so we can do finesse work in the garden. And by finesse I mean clean-ups and pruning.

Since we don’t do lawn care in January, there is time to look for blemishes and eliminate them. Here’s how a professional sweats the details. Perhaps it will give you a little hint, if you’re not sure what to look for.

Cherry suckers

Cherry

We don’t really want these three shoots to get any bigger so eliminate them as soon as you can. This leaves the main cherry and whatever plants are growing around it. Grasses and hostas, I think.

Security signs

This is another quick job for your hand snips. Remove the rhododendron branches to expose the security sign. There are plenty of flowers up top so don’t worry about losing a few flowers; worry about burglars breaking in. It’s easy to miss details like this when you’re busy mowing.

Forgotten corners

Check every corner of your garden and look for neglected spaces. Here we removed the leafiness carefully, so as not to remove all of the bark mulch. In strata maintenance, it’s always good to cover the entire property, not just the high-profile “beauty strip”.

Easy clean-up

I sheared the side of this hedge; the tops were done by the neighbor who employs a retiree gardener. Do you see how nice and clean the stones are? That’s because I put down tarps before shearing. That made the clean-up a breeze.

If you let the cedar clippings rain down on the stones, you’re looking at horrific clean-up. Instead, put down tarps and save yourself the headache.

Slow down

Galanthus

Winter is a bit slower so enjoy the season. Look around, take care of details and take some pictures. Like I did last week when I saw my first bunch of snowdrops (Galanthus). To see them properly, I had to remove spent Hosta foliage first. And I must say, it was a nice hint of spring on a warm January Friday.

January is a slow month in the landscape. Every year I suffer from January blahs but you can still take care of some details in your gardens. Go take a look.

Proper herbaceous perennial cutback

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Rudbeckia stubs

Rudbeckia


Every fall I shake my head at landscapers rushing perennial cutback by using power shears. To avoid shredding all of the green foliage, they cut the flower stems high, leaving a nasty stub. And because they use power shears, they have to go in and clean up, which means they didn’t save any time at all. (Don’t even get me started on air and noise pollution.)

Instead, I wish they would slow down and enjoy the cutback with hand snips; this allows you to grab a hold of the stems, cut them back close to the ground, leave the green foliage unmolested, and there is no further clean up. Just dispose of the stems you’re holding in your hand.

I find this quite relaxing, even when I have to cutback a large mass of Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckias). Just make sure you can see your fingers at all times as you do the cutback.

Long stubs I detest.

Cutback low.

Enter Christopher Lloyd

There is more to add to my rant. Early into Christopher Lloyd‘s book “The well tempered garden“, he writes about herbaceous perennials and how gardeners cut them back by leaving nasty stubs. They do this so they can remember the plant locations later when not much of the plants remains.

And Lloyd, the late famous English gardener, abhors this practice. That was a nice surprise because I do, too. Too bad I will never meet Mr. Lloyd. I suspect he could be my friend.

Lloyd argues that herbaceous perennials should either be cut right down level with the ground or left standing. Even dead perennials can look awesome covered in frost. See my blog post from December 4.

The problem with stubs

What’s wrong with leaving stubs? Lloyd gives us a nice list. Stubs look awful, they become hard and hollow; and they become a refuge for earwigs and woodlice. They also obstruct new growth in spring. But by far the worst is when people collecting cut flowers hit the hard stubs and stab themselves. (p.16, The well tempered garden by Christopher Lloyd)

Now you know. Start cutting back your herbaceous perennials right down without leaving nasty stubs. Use hand snips and enjoy your time in the garden. Leave your power shears in the shed.

Don’t neglect preventive tool maintenance

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Worst offender

It’s extremely important to have properly maintained tools. And yet, I rarely remember to do preventive tool maintenance.

Take one example from last week. I was on site doing tree work with pole pruners and after lunch I noticed that the nut and bolt were completely gone. My pole pruner attachment was useless, until I found the missing parts and tightened them back into place.

Now, in my defense, it wasn’t my tool. I had just borrowed it. But still, I rarely check to make sure everything is tight and functioning properly. Don’t be like me. Do some preventive maintenance.

This nut and bolt fell out!

Felco

Swiss-made Felco snips are expensive because the handles are designed to last forever. You can get new springs and blades when they’re all worn out. But in my twenty seasons as a landscape professional, I’ve changed my Felco blade twice, I think.

Usually the bolts are so filthy I give up and buy a new pair of Felcos. I also fail to sharpen the blades which is a problem because we have to make clean, sharp cuts on our shrubs and trees.

Don’t be like me, clean your Felcos often and replace the blades and springs.

Trimmer heads

Now, I don’t recommend polishing trimmer heads often because they get dirty right away. But there is one funny twist here.

When your auto-feed trimmer head stops feeding when you tap it, it means the plastic is worn out. Every season I get one worker holding a new replacement trimmer head and he has no idea how to change it over. That’s because the one access point for his tool is obscured by dirt.

1: stop the head from spinning
2: remove the head
3: install a new trimmer head

Hand saws

When it comes to hand saws, I get very picky because it’s hard to make good cuts with rusty, dull hand saws. I never sharpen my hand saws. I simply check on their condition and get new ones.

I have one from Japan in a plastic sheath; and one folding Stihl hand saw for back up.

Don’t use dull hand saws when you work on your trees. You’ll make terrible cuts. Buy a new sharp hand saw and keep it dry.

I love sharp saws but they can go missing so I put my name on them.

Conclusion

Take care of your tools. Use your winter down time to tighten nuts and replace dull blades on your snips and hand saws. I’m terrible at maintaining tools. Don’t be like me.

Best books, one awful year

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Books I recommend

It’s been an awful pandemic year but I did read many books in 2020, most of them in audio format as I worked in the landscape. Here is a list of four books I especially enjoyed.

Mancuso

Stefano Mancuso’s latest book “The incredible journey of plants” is a fun read. It’s not as serious as his “The revolutionary genius of plants” so it will appeal to more people.

Mancuso covers plant migrations with incredible tales of plants, like the ones that survived the Hiroshima bombing and Chernobyl.

You will also learn a new specific epithet: callipyge, which means “women’s buttocks. There is a sea palm which produces massive seeds-the biggest in the world-and they look like a woman’s buttocks. Now why would a plant produce seeds this big?

Sea palm seed!

If you like plants, you will enjoy this tour of the world. You can easily finish this book over two evenings.

Dial

The adventurer’s son” is a memoir by a scientist about his life and his son. When his son disappears in 2014 in the wild Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, a search is organized. Of course, before you arrive at this point, you get the full father-son back story. And they do a lot of fun stuff together.

As a father myself, I ask the same question: do you introduce your son to new experiences or do you shelter him to protect him? I introduced my own son to mountain biking and now I worry about crashes.

Because there wasn’t a happy ending, we get to enjoy this memoir. All fathers will enjoy reading this memoir, even if the search part of the book was long and complicated.

Stuart-Smith

The well-gardened mind” is THE book on the connection between our brains, health and gardening. Period. I’ve read a lot of stuff on the connection between health and nature and this book covers a lot of ground, in detail.

The author’s husband is a well-known garden designer and together they have created their own garden.

Well-recommended.

Urbina

The outlaw ocean” is a stunning book, full of crime, over-fishing, slavery and craziness on the high seas. Ian Urbina is not a journalist putting together a story from foreign reports. He actually hits the high seas and gets dirty.

This is an eye-opening book on the last untamed frontier. It’s hard to believe what really happens on the oceans of the world.

Workers are recruited and then kept on ships for many months as slave labor. Captains demand sex; and the lucky ones get paid for their labor. Many perish.

This is a wild book. You won’t forget reading it. Stunning.

“Overstory” book review

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When I ran across the novel “Overstory” by Richard Powers, all I knew was that it was about trees and it won a Pulitzer Prize. I avoided reviews just so I could form my own opinion and thus write an honest book review for my own blog.

Obviously, most Pulitzer Prize winning books are great but it’s not guaranteed that you will like them. As soon as I heard that this novel was about trees, I was hooked.

Go audio

Considering the novel’s door stopper size, I opted for the audio version through my Audible account. I probably wouldn’t have finished the book if I had it by my bed. Audio is easy and I listened to it mostly at work while I worked. It runs at 23 hours and I usually listen at 1.25 speed.

When I’m not running landscape crews, it’s OK to put a book on while I landscape.

Tree hugger

You will like this book if you love trees. Trees take center stage in this novel. Just the way I like it. And while this is a work of fiction, you will learn lots about trees. I can tell that the author did his homework on trees. If you removed the fictional humans, this would be a great tree primer.

For example, we now know that trees aren’t stand alone plants. They’re interconnected, they communicate and help each other. Only trees have achieved what humans couldn’t: true communism.

Of course, there are deeper questions that go beyond trees. What are we doing to our Earth? Are we messing everything up? Can we do better?

Direct action

Some of the characters resort to direct action to protect ancient trees. Having read about Earth First! and Ed Abbey’s work, this was my easily my favourite part of the book. And like Earth First!, some end up in jail.

 

Edward_Abbey

Ed Abbey’s Monkeywrench gang is a classic.

 

Conclusion

Overstory deserves it’s Pulitzer Prize status! I thoroughly enjoyed it. The human stories are there in the background and you almost don’t notice that the author is teaching you about trees. The details about trees are hardly fiction. You will learn lots of new stuff about trees in this novel.

And you will be left to ponder some deeper questions about the way we live with nature. Read this novel if you like trees or wonder why humans are messing things up.

5 stars out of 5, easily, but get the audio version. It’s 23 hours well spent.

 

 

 

The Plant Messiah

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The Plant Messiah” book by Carlos Magdalena was a massive treat to listen to at work. It will appeal to all plant lovers, gardeners, landscapers and horticulturists. The audio version is eight hours long and it could have been longer.

 

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The beginning

The background story is fascinating. Magdalena was born in Spain and eventually made his way to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. There he was eventually accepted into Kew’s training program which only accepts something like twenty students a year. It was a dream come true for Magdalena. He was so good, he stayed on to work on endangered plant species. Thus the label “the plant messiah.”

The Kew training period is described in some detail and I felt a bit jealous when I listened to it. When I go to England next, I will visit Kew.

Water lilies

Magdalena is an expert on water lilies and he describes many overseas research trips. This is fun to listen to and reminds me of the old plant explorers who would travel the globe and then send specimens to Kew.

Magdalena’s love of plants is infectious. He’s a professional and it shows.

 

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Google image: I don’t own this picture.

 

Serious stuff

Because this book is about plants, Magdalena correctly reminds us that plants are extremely important for humans. I think it’s true that people often fail to appreciate plants. Without them we wouldn’t last long. This is Magdalena’s one serious message in an otherwise fun book.

Just consider that we eat plants, we burn them for fuel, we derive pleasure and medicines from them, and we also build with them things like shelter and boats. Many people also consume them as a hobby; and they’re also used in religious rituals. Many drug lords got rich thanks to plants.

Can you think of other uses?

Rating

I thoroughly enjoyed the eight hour audio version of this book from Kobo. I can’t find any faults with it. It inspired me to study more about plants and to appreciate them more. And Magdalena’s enthusiasm is infectious. Five stars. Easily.

Six stunning books for green professionals

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This past weekend I opened up the New York Times and saw a huge spread about the best books from 2018. But there was nothing for green professionals so let’s correct that omission here. I present to you six books well-worth reading with brief notes. I would say they’re all “must read” books. Who knows, they might inspire you to give someone a great gift this Christmas.

 

1. Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown

This is a very important book because Gabe Brown took his conventionally farmed land and regenerated its soils. He did it without tilling, with cover crops and eventually without all fertilizer and chemical use on his North Dakota ranch. He also diversified his operation.

So, YES, you can have great, healthy soil and make great money as a farmer in North America WITHOUT chemical inputs. Read the details in the book. It’s fascinating. The key is encouraging the life in your soil. You can search “regenerative agriculture” for more.

 

soil-300x225

Photo courtesy of http://brownsranch.us/

 

 

2. A soil owner’s manual by Jon Stika

Stika is a soil scientist but it took him years to realize that his training wasn’t the best. Eventually he comes to understand that soil biology is crucial for healthy soils. It’s not just the soil components that matter, the life in the soil is critical.

 

3. The One-Straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka was a “do-nothing” farming revolutionary in Japan. He showed that you CAN have great rice yields without tilling the soil and using costly fertilizers and chemicals. Do-nothing is a bit misleading because farming is a lot of work but the soil wasn’t tilled and cover crops were used. The details are amazing.

It’s possible that Fukuoka’s work inspired Gabe Brown above.

 

Japan2015 2045

A practice rice field at a Niigata-City, Japan public school.

 

4. Braiding sweet grass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This is THE book on native American plant use. I often hear about indigenous wisdom and this book spells it out in detail. Kimmerer did a fantastic job with this book; she opened my eyes. You will learn lots about plants. I also purchased her new book on Mosses.

 

5. The plant messiah by Carlos Magdalena

Two key points: One, Magdalena goes from Spain to study at the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (I’m jealous) and becomes a plant researcher there. Then he travels the world studying plants and clearly his native Spanish helped. His love of plants is infectious.

Two, at the beginning of the book he shows the reader why plants are important. Our very survival depends on plants. We derive food and medicines from plants plus much more. After reading this book you will appreciate plants much more.

 

6. Whitewash: the story of a weed killer, cancer and the corruption of science by Carey Gillam

My geography professor at the University of Saskatchewan openly discouraged me from using sources written by journalists. But in the case of Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate and other chemicals it can’t be done because many scientists have been bought by industry. I know that this debate is polarizing and the book isn’t full of good news. It’s the hardest book to read on this list.

Before you dismiss this book, recall that Health Canada is re-evaluating its recommendations; it now concedes that many of the studies the government agency relied on were sponsored by the chemical industry.

It’s much worse in the United States and the details will make your head spin. I think this book is very important.

 

Summary

Here are the key ideas.

Yes, you can make good money as a farmer without fertilizers and chemicals; stop tilling and use cover crops; and diversify your operation.

The life in your soil is the key to healthy soil.

We depend on plants for our survival. They’re also amazing.

Indigenous plant knowledge is fantastic and now we have a great book showing us the details.

Scientists can be bought so be careful when you read scientific studies. Carefully check who sponsored them.

 

Bad news for people who enjoyed Garden Making magazine

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All good things must come to an end. Sadly. One example is the Canadian garden magazine Garden Making. I received the bad news from Garden Making magazine last year. Because of declining advertising revenues, lack of subscribers, and the high cost of hiring good writers and photographers, the magazine didn’t make sense financially. So the beautifully produced print edition had to go. Great! Not what I wanted to hear.

 

The last No. 32

 

IMG_5007 (1)

The last print edition of Garden Making magazine.

 

 

So imagine my surprise in late March when I discovered Garden Making magazine issue no.32 in my mailbox. Yay! Did they find new money to continue? No. This was just one last issue called Garden Solutions. Which made me wonder if there was a solution to problems with publishing print copies of a garden magazine in the internet age.

The editors called their magazine a labour of love. And it really was. They hired good writers and photographers and every issue was a learning experience. Now all that remains is the online version. And I’m back to buying copies of Fine Gardening (USA) and Horticulture (USA). Sadly, there is nothing in printed form left in Canada.

Digital format

Maybe I’m overreacting because I subscribe to Horticulture magazine in digital format. Not because digital is better necessarily but because it is much, much cheaper. Viewed on my iPad, it’s totally acceptable and there is nothing to recycle. I just have to print any interesting articles for my files instead of cutting them out like I used to.

So now if you want to enjoy the Garden Making magazine you have to go online. I have to get used to it. It was just hard to let go of a beautifully designed garden magazine full of helpful information.

What publications do you read?

Garden Making magazine scaling back

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Garden Making magazine is the best garden magazine in Canada. It’s beautifully designed and full of interesting articles. So it was a bit distressing to read that the magazine’s publishing schedule is changing. Welcome to our digital age.

The magazine will not be published this fall. The next issue will come out in February 2018. You almost have to ask what the point is of publishing a magazine just twice a year. I will still buy it because I find consuming electronic garden magazines difficult. My Horticulture subscription is electronic by necessity, not by choice. I find the foreign print subscription charges way too high. So I get it delivered to my iPad.

Market realities

According to a letter from the publisher fewer people are subscribing to magazines and advertisers are diverting their spending to digital media. Those are the market realities. So I am encouraged to visit gardenmaking.com. And maybe I will.

But I also make frequent visits to my local Chapter’s and it’s obvious that magazines aren’t dead yet. Fine Gardening is my favourite US-based magazine and highly recommended.

I think Garden Making can do quite well in the digital landscape. They have a nice list of subscribers. And they also follow others in offering free e-books and tips in exchange for people’s e-mails. Then comes the digital format magazine and plenty of upsell. I know it. Get ready for it.

Electronic magazine publishing must be a breeze compared to print. The publisher and editor both admit in their editorial that publishing the print magazine is more about labour of love than profits. I believe them.

Clippings

I love to save clippings of interesting articles and plants. And as the files accumulate my wife tells me frequently what she thinks of this habit. Now it looks as though I will have to start making new folders on my laptop. Perhaps some change is good.

Still, the magazine’s new reduced publishing schedule is not what I wanted to hear. I really looked forward to receiving my quarterly issues. I would have loved to see bi-monthly issues.

What do YOU read? Leave comments, if you can.