Read any good books lately?

I have, and if you follow me on GoodReads.com, you might have already read my mini-reviews of these two books, but, in case you missed them . . . .

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of Sharon Lovejoy’s work.  For the past twenty years, I’ve read everything she’s written, smiled at her drawings, and implemented much of what she teaches.  I’ve built sunflower houses, played with my children during Hollyhock Days, and we’ve shared many other adventures in the garden.

Cute cover, eh?

I’m also proud to be working with her and seven other wonderful writers on the Lowe’s Garden Grow Along blog this spring.

When she asked me to review her new book, Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars: Grandma’s Bag of Tricks, I nearly clapped my hands in delight.  Its arrival in the mail made me stop what I was doing to plop down in a chair and give it a once over.  This time, Sharon directed her efforts toward grandparents, especially grandmothers.  She encourages them to pass on their love for gardening, nature, cooking and all things home to their grandchildren.  There are suggestions for making a cozy room with a quilt on the bed and a basket full of books for visiting little ones.  (I had a grandmother like this, and I can tell you, next to my mother, I love her more than anyone.)

One grandmother met her darlings with a cup of hot cocoa on the first morning of their stay and then took them for a walk to the beach to see the sunrise.  Pure inspiration.

However, before you think this book is only for grandparents, think again. These same games can be played with our nieces and nephews and our own children if we only take the time.  Toad Cottages is similar in format to her earlier work Sunflower Houses.  You really can build a sunflower house with a morning glory roof.  It isn’t difficult, and I assure you the children in your life will always remember it.

As a writer, I receive too many books describing how we should involve our children in the garden, but which base their advice only on practical matters.  I think, instead, we should read and implement a book like Toad Cottages which encourages us to instill the love of gardening lore and whimsy.

We only get this one life, and childhood is very short.  I would encourage you to take your child’s hand and go on an explore today.

While you’re outside, bring along a sketchbook or notebook with you.  Then, if you seen a fantastic bird, or interesting flower or plant, you can quickly capture its essence on paper. Better yet, encourage your child to bring along one too.  A love of a gardening starts with a love for nature in all of its beauty, violence and just plain ickiness (think of parasitic wasps eating a caterpillar inside out for example).  Kids adore the ick factor as much as beauty, by the way.

Susan Leigh Tomlinson, paleontologist, artist and professor in the Natural History and Humanities program at Texas Tech University, also writes and draws at The Bike Garden.  Further, as someone who can build almost anything and often does, she is a woman I truly admire.  A few weeks ago, she asked if I’d like to review her new book, How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook.  While reading it, I was reminded of those amazing, nineteenth-century, women naturalists who carried their field kits with them everywhere and kept detailed records of what they heard and saw on their walks.

Susan drew these images on the cover.

You might ask, in this age of Nikon D90 DX cameras, voice recorders and Flip camcorders, why anyone would want to make their own notebook?  A notebook of one’s own contains so much more.  Samples of flowers or ferns can be pressed, and one’s own artwork can grace the pages.  If you feel intimidated by the idea of creating your own notebook, this book is for you.  By the time you finish, you will know the essential information and skills to record and comment upon your own environment.  Tomlinson gives both basic and detailed art instruction.  Anyone can draw with a bit of help.  Even me.

Each chapter addresses a different topic from required equipment for your field kit to tips for wildflower and bird identification.  After reading it, I felt inspired to get out my colored pencils and draw, something which I haven’t done since I was pregnant with Bear.  I’ll let you know if I draw anything worth scanning.

Meanwhile, you can’t go wrong with these two artists and authors.  I’m glad to call them my friends.

You choose the winner!

A beautiful book of grasses to enjoy.

First let me say, “WOW!!!”  One hundred twenty-one comments! Thanks, too, for the tweets.  Y’all outdid yourselves.  NGBF (Non-gardening Best Friend), Aimee, and I found it hard-scrabble plowing to narrow the playing field to three potential winners.  Therefore, we also chose three Honorable Mentions.  You are all so brilliant, and you inspired me with your stories of saving the planet bit by bit.  After much cussing (not really) and discussing, we came up with the following:

First, for the Honorable Mentions:

  • #31 Deborah R.  Backyard habitats are always near and dear to my heart, and I was impressed by your use of native grasses to stabilize a hillside.  Good job!
  • #23 Jodi.  Paying it forward by teaching school children and their teachers how to grow gardens.  Your “Writers in the Schools” program made me think about going to my own school and giving a talk about sustainability, and what better way to beautify the planet than with a garden?
  • #65 Mosaic Mom.  Taking the Fiskars mower to schools to teach them about sustainable lawn care is a wonderful idea.  Dressing in green while doing so made us smile.
Edible Schoolyards by Alice Waters

Although I didn’t plan it in the first post, the three listed above will each receive a book of my choice.  For Jodi, I’m going to send a copy of Sharon Lovejoy’s newest book, Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars: Grandma’s Bag of Tricks, a book near and dear to my heart because it promotes teaching the love of gardening with children.  Oh, and Jodi, I’m not saying you’re a grandmother, BTW.

For Mosaic Mom, I’m sending a copy of Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea, by Alice Waters, which I think you will be able to use in your school program.

For Deborah, I chose Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design, by Nancy J. Ondra and Saxon Holt. I hope it will help you choose the best grasses for your “cliff.”

Now, my dear readers, it’s your turn.  Because I can’t get the poll to show up in this post, I’ve placed it prominently on the sidebar.  You can only vote once, and voting will end on February 8, 2010 at Midnight CST.

Before you make your choice, here are your contestants:

  • #64 JP. “I am organizing for my farmers market to get a wireless EBT (food stamp) machine for our vendors, through the USDA. We are a rural county (Grand Isle, VT) without a full service grocery store. Now people won’t have to drive 45 minutes or more to buy good food.”  Aimee and I were touched by J.P.’s sincere desire to be more sustainable while helping others.  As Aimee said, “The poor want good food too.”  She should know.  She assists the working poor everyday.
  • #92 Mary T. “One of my brothers cleans up crime scenes. Ergo, he has vast knowledge on how to super clean just about anything. Joe and I collectively decided to do something about the tires, which are dumped along a lake near his home. Joe got us some earth-friendly cleaning solution. We scrubbed the tires inside and out. Both of us put out the word that we would put up a tire swing for anyone who wanted one in their yard. I am happy to say that for a while we had more interest in the swings than we had tires!”  Aimee and I titled this entry “Of crime scenes and tire swings.”  I think it speaks for itself.

    Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars by Sharon Lovejoy
  • #53 Irma. “We have planted our garden for the past year and have cut down buying some vegetables at the store.  We have made our own rain barrels to collect rain water so that we may water our garden in lieu of using city water.”  Although many of you use rain barrels, this entry struck our fancy because Irma actually built her own rain barrels. Aimee felt like making your own was the best reason for picking Irma’s.

One more thing, I want to thank the Plurkettes (you know who you are) and Robin at Getting Grounded for tweeting the contest several times.  Also, thanks to both Shady Gardener and Jan at Thanks for Today for blogging about the contest and even expanding on the theme.  Jan is giving away several things on her blog in honor of every day being Earth Day.  Now, if I missed anyone who promoted the contest on their blog, please let me know, and I’ll add you to the list.

Thanks so much, everyone, for playing.  This was such fun.  Also, thanks to Fiskars for providing such a nice prize.

I can’t wait to see who wins.