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As summer enters its most punishing phase, South Louisiana gardens become pretty inhospitable places. People tend to minimize their time in the garden—even the plants sometimes look like they wish they were somewhere else. August is no time to launch an ambitious installation, but it is a good time to plan one for fall—and to throw a gardening book or two into your summer reading mix.

I polled a handful of local gardening enthusiasts to find out what they’re reading when not planting, and got a range of responses: practical guides, pictorials, even a foray into agricultural politics.

Plants for American Landscapes

Native Species

Geographic specificity was a recurring thread in almost all of their recommendations; it’s one thing to fill a bed with pretty plants, but books by experts who know our climate can help steer you to plants and practices that really work here. Two familiar names came up repeatedly: Charlotte Seidenberg, author of The New Orleans Garden: Gardening in the Gulf South (1990) and a 1995 follow-up, The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats, and horticulturalist Dan Gill, whose Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana (2001) and Louisiana Gardener’s Guide (revised ed., 2002) were described as “bibles” by more than one of my respondents.

Gill’s Louisiana Gardener’s Guide “has a lot of traditional plants, along with photographs,” says Roberta Sklar of Green Parrot Nursery & Garden Center. “It’s very good for a beginner who may not know what all these plants look like. But my favorite gardening book, one I read over and over, is The New Orleans Garden. No pictures, but [Seidenberg] writes with a lot of passion. I find that very appealing.”
Parkway Partners executive director Jean Fahr recommends Gill’s Month-by-Month as “a good guide for the average gardener. It’s simple and easy to follow, a down-to-earth guide, if you’ll excuse the pun.” Fahr also likes a pair of books from Neil Odenwald, 2004’s Plants for American Landscapes and Identification, Selection and Use of Southern Plants (2006). “He’s really good at showing how to attract birds to Southern gardens, and that’s what I like about his books,” Fahr says. “To have a holistic design to your garden, it ought to include wildlife.”

Louisiana Gardener’s Guide by Dan Gill and Joe White.

Seidenberg, who devoted an entire volume to attracting wildlife, has a couple of unusual summer reading recommendation, including an illustrated brochure from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program that gives tips on how Southeast Louisiana residents can make their yards attractive to birds, butterflies and other animals (available in pdf format at http://invasive.btnep.org/default.asp? id=128). She’s also reading Charles Allen’s Edible Plants of the Gulf South (2005), a self-published volume available at the retired Louisiana botany professor’s Web site, www.nativeventures.net. “You’d be surprised what’s growing in your neighborhood vacant lot that’s edible,” Seidenberg says.

History in the Making
There are specialty books for specialty gardeners like Maureen Detweiler, who founded the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society and was one of the antique rose movement’s earliest advocates. “I have two books that are written for our climate by people from the Houston area,” Detweiler says: Roses for the Southern Garden by G. Michael Shoup (2000) and Antique Roses for the South by William Welch (2004). The latter “goes into facets other than landscaping and gardening,” Detweiler says. “There’s a chapter on making potpourri, and information on using roses for decorating. And the photography is beautiful.”

Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana by Dan Gill.

Not all recommendations were strictly how-to guides; Patio Planters president and French Quarter resident Stephen Swain suggests the lavishly illustrated Orléans Embrace with The Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carré (2007) by T.J. Fisher and Roy Guste, Jr., with photos by Louis Sahuc. “And lately,” Swain says, “I have been rereading New Louisiana Gardener by Jacques-Felix LeLievre,” originally published in 1838 and available in a 2001 translation with an introduction by New Orleanian Sally Kittredge Reeves. “It’s a fascinating account of early gardening in Louisiana, and made to order for those of us in the old parts of the city who, post-Katrina, would like to get back to some of the basics in historic-style plantings.”

Green Gardens
Community activist and organic gardener Cathy Pierson’s summer reading list includes Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill by Daniel Imhoff and Michael Pollan (2007). “People who are into local food should care about the farm bill,” which in its current form funnels a large amount of taxpayer dollars to huge agricultural interests, she says. “Ma and Pa don’t get much of this, and it doesn’t include fresh, local fruits and vegetables.”

It’s food for thought as we wait for the heat to lift and the fall planting season to begin.

Back to School:
Delgado’s horticulture program

The horticulture program at Delgado Community College is expanding this fall to the Northshore, says program director Bettie Abbate. The Slidell campus will host general horticulture courses and certification classes to help students prepare for state licensing exams.

Delgado’s full horticulture program includes courses in environmental landscape improvement, greenhouse management, urban forestry and landscape design, among others. Many use both online and face-to-face instruction, Abbate says, and incorporate what she calls “service-learning projects”: getting out into the community and putting that education to good use, such as creating butterfly gardens at local schools.

People who are interested in the horticulture program can call 504/671-5418.

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