BOOK REVIEW: Grow A Little Fruit Tree

 Book Grow A Little Fruit Tree

Ann Ralph has written a fabulous book on fruit trees. With 168 pages and eleven chapters, Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques (Storey Publishing, 2014), covers everything you need to know to easily grow backyard fruit. Ralph claims the backyard and its fruit tree is in our American DNA. We dream of self-reliance and harvesting fruit we’ve grown ourselves.

Ralph advocates that we should not grow a fruit tree like a farmer because our tree will need costly pruning and more fruit than we can use. For instance, a 12-foot apple tree can produce 1500-2000 apples if not thinned. Instead, we should grow a smaller tree we can prune twice a year, taking 15 minutes each time.

Over several pages, Ralph makes her case that proper pruning does more than “keep trees small; it limits crop size to fruit you will actually use.” Rather than choosing a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, choose an apricot, apple, cherry, fig, quince, persimmon, plum or pluot for fruit flavor and then control the size of the tree with regular pruning. Put away your ladder and keep it small – no taller than you can reach while standing on the ground.

The best time to prune for achieving a short fruit tree? In June, near the time of the solstice because pruning at this particular time decreases vigor.

Other subjects Ralph addresses:

  • Bare root trees
  • Alternative to grafted multiples
  • Drought and over-watering
  • Espalier
  • How to prune and aesthetic pruning (four basic pruning rules)
  • Thinning
  • Choosing varieties
  • How to plant a fruit tree

The information she gives over four pages on the subject of signs of drought and what occurs when you over-water is worth the price of the book for experienced gardeners and those who claim they don’t have a green thumb.

I was quite smitten with this book because it makes growing fruit trees manageable.

BOOK REVIEW:  Foodscaping


Foodscaping: Practical and Innovative Ways to Create An Edible Landscape by Charlie Nardozzi (Cool Springs Press 2015) is, for the most part, a “picture book.” It has page after page of colorful photographs and only four chapters:

  1. Ways and Places to Grow Food
  2. Foodscaping 101
  3. My Favorite Foodscape Plants (the largest section, with about 40 featured plants)
  4. Plant, Grow, and Harvest

Nardozzi suggests that you start small but have a plan – plant the right plant in the right place and grow what you like to eat.

He suggests substituting foodscape plants for ornamentals. His small list of substitutions for ornamentals included only a few edible perennials. Nardozzi also provided substitution lists for plants with seasonal color, interesting leaf color, and dwarf varieties suitable for containers.

In the acknowledgments, he gave a nod to Rosalind Creasy as the edible landscape trailblazer. Her 1982 book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, still resides on my garden bookshelves. Her book is probably more complete than Nardozzi’s but has mostly drawings and only a handful of photographs. All those photographs in Nardozzi’s book show how it’s done.



The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden by William Alexander dates back to 2006 but I just recently got around to reading it.

I found it both amusing and laugh out loud funny. Sobering, too, when he got around to telling us the math he did to arrive at the $64 tomato. However, both he and his wife were professionals with enough money to pay for garden design, construction, tools and an occasional hired hand. Still, I suspect some of my tomatoes might be worth $10 each when I have back-to-back bad years.

If I had his income, I would be tempted by the “Velcro tomato ties” he mentioned in his list of garden expenses. I found them on Amazon as “Velcro Brand Plant Hook & Loop Ties.”  Thirty feet of one-half inch wide ties will make it “easy to adjust and re-position as the plant grows.” I never found a need to re-position my very inexpensive strips of muslin but I will admit the muslin is hard to cut off at the end of the season.

After it becomes too unbearably hot to work in the garden, may I suggest you crawl in your hammock with something light and fun like The $64 Tomato?


BOOK REVIEW: Plantiful


You will find that Plantiful: Start small, grow big with 150 plants that spread, self-sow, and overwinter by Kristin Green (2014 Timber Press) is a fabulous picture book of possibilities for the winter months when you can’t garden outside. With this book, you will be able to garden in your imagination.

With my focus on perennials, I was already headed in the direction suggested – start small with plants that spread, self-sow, and overwinter. I want my plants to spread so that they starve Florida Betony and Dollar Weed of light to grow. I want them to self-sow to save me the work of planting new seeds every season. I also want them to overwinter so that I don’t have the expense of starting over every year.

For the 150 recommended plants, the author provides the common and botanical name, whether the plant is an annual or perennial, warns if it tends to be invasive rather than just “opportunistic,” and gives the growing zones for perennials. The breakdown for the 150 plants went like this:

  • 50 faithful volunteers
  • 50 thrilling fillers
  • 50 come-back keepers

Ms. Green works at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum, a 33-acre nonprofit public garden in Bristol, Rhode Island,

Author’s Suggestions

When starting small, “reuse, replant, repeat.” In other words, make the most of what you do have by propagating more of it, begging cuttings from other gardeners and seed saving.

Plant your keepers in containers for ease in moving to a greenhouse or sun room as weather dictates, remove early bloomers and replace with perennials or tropical.

Ms. Green cautions the reader to give new plants the room they’ll need as they grow to maturity. So many novice gardeners fail to do this because they don’t pay attention to the spacing advice on the plant tag and end up with some giant of a tree, like bottle brush, too close to the house. If the plant tag does not provide adequate information, she suggested allowing two to three times the diameter of the crown.

I really liked her idea regarding seeds that must be sown directly in the soil — mark with a wooden Popsicle stick (write on it with pencil) and a little sand tossed over the spot.

I love garden books with lots of pictures and this one fits the bill. The kalanchoe, which she called a perennial, and I consider it a succulent, surprised me with the number of varieties that look nothing like the kalanchoe I allowed to die because I didn’t like it. I must look for a K. tomentosa that has fuzzy, thick grayish leaves with brown spots on the leaf tips.


BOOK REVIEW – Armitage’s Garden Perennials

Armitage book cover-

Armitage’s Garden Perennials, Second Edition by Allan M. Armitage (Timber Press, 2011) is a great A to Z perennial reference and picture book (1300 photos) of 136 genera from Acanthus to Zephyranthes. It has a page or two of descriptive text for each perennial (including growing zone information) as well as the botanical and common names of perennials.

What I found most helpful were the photos of the cultivars and hybrids within genera. Take Coreopsis, or Tickweed, for example. The author provides photos for 20 different hybrid versions of Coreopsis with names such as ‘Route 66’ and ‘Rum Punch’.

This is a book I would use before going seed shopping. By studying the photos, you can quickly make a selection of the flower and plant that appeals to you most. For instance, I have too many yellow plants and I would choose to replace my yellow Coreopsis with ‘Snowberry’ (a white flower with burgundy center) or ‘Heavens Gate’ (a solid pink flower with yellow center).

At the very back of the book, in Part Two, Armitage includes four pages of plant lists for various conditions: aggressive (such as helianthus and monarda which both tried to take over my flower beds), cut flowers, drought tolerant, foliage, fragrant, ground covers, moisture lovers, vines and winter interest.  An index is provided for both botanical and common names.

The hardback is “coffee table” worthy.