This week, Jennifer Dunlap, horticulturist at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, tells us about two books she likes.

856946_mixed.jpg“The Well-Designed Mixed Garden: Building Beds and Borders with Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs,” by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

This is a fantastic, comprehensive reference book that is worth repeatedly checking out from the library or purchasing for your bookshelves. I love DiSabato-Aust’s attention to the fundamentals of art, evident in her design style and plant combinations. Her clear and extensive notes throughout the book detail both her experiments and her experience in the garden.

I first became aware of DiSabato-Aust after a mentor suggested her book, “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.” Every well-designed garden begins with a thoughtful plan, a conviction DiSabato-Aust reiterates throughout the “The Well-Designed Mixed Garden” by including samples of her designs. During my formative gardening years I did not know to place importance on the light requirements or the watering needs of plants. Not only did I not fully understand the effect this negligence had on the ecology of an area, but my determination to grow plants where I wanted them to grow, not where they chose to flourish, led many plants to an early grave. I’ve since embraced the gravity of the matter!

The resounding concept of “Right Plant, Right Place,” the cornerstone of this book, is what makes a garden sustainable and great. And as climate change unfolds and water resources diminish, it is ever more imperative that we understand this idea. DiSabato-Aust offers a robust foundation to help us get there.

“The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer,” by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter of Zach Woods Herb Farm in Vermont.

856946_herbbook.jpgAs a gift to myself for my birthday last year I pre-ordered a copy of Jeff and Melanie Carpenter’s new book, “The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer,” and then promptly forgot I’d done so. It arrived just in time for my birthday a few months later and I thought, “Oh yeah! That was so smart of me to get this book for myself!” I couldn’t wait to dig in.

Not only have the Carpenters given readers/gardeners a solid plan for starting a small sustainable herb farm, they are promoting a “DIY” health lifestyle by growing medicinal herbs endemic to their area: “May the spirit of the plants inspire you; plant local medicine!” says Melanie Carpenter. This book is a solid reference, whether you’re into business or not. Great importance is placed upon developing healthy soils high in biodiversity; growing high-quality organic herbs; and using innovative and sustainable methods of harvesting, processing and marketing your product.

The Carpenters give readers a beautifully captured workbook of their hard work and trial and error, complete with a plant growing reference. It is as useful for the novice as for the expert gardener/farmer who is just starting out, trying to find his way into the world of business, or equally for a farmer looking to modify her current business model.

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