I love this book. Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure it is written by a dear gardening friend and I’m quoted in the book but I still LOVE this book. And you will too. I promise.
The author C. L. Fornari is a garden radio host and self-confessed out of control plant lady. In her book Coffee for Roses, she debunks 70 myths about gardens, gardening, and the plants we grow in them. It’s really hard to tell which ones are my favorite so I thought I’d just give you a taste of which garden myths C. L. tackles.
“You can leave the burlap around the roots of a shrub or tree.” Once upon a time, burlap was an all-natural material that decomposed quickly so leaving it wrapped around tree roots was not a problem. That is no longer true. Today’s burlap and the other materials used to wrap rooted trees and shrubs will interfere with the growth of healthy roots and may strangle and kill the plant. Remove any outer covering around the roots of any plant you purchase. Just because the wrapping or pot is labeled bio-degradable doesn’t mean it will quickly (in a matter of weeks or months) decompose and allow roots to grow through.
“Always put a layer of rocks or clay shards in the bottom of a pot for drainage.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! Yes you need drainage but the rocks or clay shards don’t make it happen. It only reduces the amount of life-giving soil available for the roots. The hole in the bottom of the pot will handle drainage just fine without them.
“Trees need deep root feeding.” Now think for a minute about the trees in a forest. Do you see little elves or gnomes flitting through the trees drilling holes so the roots deep below can be fed? No you don’t. That is because the bulk of the tree’s feeder roots are in the topsoil, the first foot or so of material around the tree. Deep roots are indeed necessary but their main purpose is to hold the tree in place. So if in the natural world trees don’t need deep root feeding, your trees don’t either.
“Watering plants when it’s sunny causes burn spots on the leaves.” Oh really? And do you see the same phenomenon after a natural rain storm? No you do not. This myth probably surfaced when magnifying glasses became more common and people began noticing that water droplets have a similar convex shape. The logic was that convex water droplets are natural magnifying glasses that can concentrate sunlight on leaves. But if you remember the last time you played around with a magnifying glass, you had to hold the glass a distance away from the spot where you wanted to concentrate the sun’s rays. Placing the magnifier right next to a piece of paper (or a leaf) will not cause a burn spot. Ditto on watering on a sunny day.
Finally, the one that had me open-mouthed in disbelief – “Biennials bloom every other year.” On the surface this may sound right but C.L. is referring to the notion that some plants bloom in odd-numbered years and others in even-numbered years. She was once asked, “Do you have odd-year foxgloves?” Yes, individual foxglove plants have a two-year flowering cycle but that doesn’t mean that all (or even half) of them are synchronized to bloom together. Perhaps this was inspired by the insect world where certain insects coordinate their mating years to coincide. If you’ve ever lived where cicadas thrive, you know about their 13-year or 17-year mating cycle. Biennial plants do not have a similar cycle.
These are just a few of the bits of garden lore C.L. Fornari examines in Coffee For Roses. You will also learn why adding sugar to the soil won’t make vegetables sweeter, misting houseplants in the winter is mostly a waste of time, and amending the soil in a hole when you plant perennials or shrubs might not be such a good idea. This colorful and very enjoyable book is available everywhere. Buy a copy for yourself and one for a friend. You’ll both get a laugh out of it – and learn a thing or two about good gardening in the bargain.
P.S. Where did C.L. quote me? In the chapter about lemongrass repelling mosquitos. Enjoy lemongrass in Asian cooking but don’t expect it to keep mosquitoes away. For why this doesn’t work (and what does work) you’ll just have to read the book. :>