Sunday, April 30, 2006

Book Reviews

I was recently asked if I would review the book 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a Pest-Free Property in this space. I responded by saying sure, send it along and I'll take a look at it. So they did, and I am.

The book, written by Dr. Myles H. Bader (aka HGTV's "Wizard of Food"), was originally printed in September 2003 and falls under the As Seen On TV product line. Keep that in mind as you continue here.

First of all, let's examine Dr. Bader's credentials. In the book's About the Author preface, it states Bader "has studied extensively in the field of zoology (bugs and critters) before receiving his Doctoral Degree from Loma Linda University in Preventative Care."

That's a direct quote: "bugs and critters" as a definition for zoology. Gosh Gomer, he must be an expert!

So, in other words, the guy isn't an entomologist, a horticulturist, or anything moderately close to either. Of course, being unqualified hasn't stopped many hacks from writing books about something they know nothing about.

Let's move on and look at the book's title: 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a Pest-Free Property. Once you open the book and start reading, the problems with this become evident. Many of the "tips and tricks" shared inside aren't natural, most aren't "secret" (whatever that means) and the idea of creating a "pest-free property" is the kind of thing no organic gardener or naturalist would EVER recommend.

Moving on to the actual content of the book, I'll just throw out a few eyebrow-raising zingers that come directly from its pages:

Controlling Fire Ants pg. 23 "ONE OF THE BEST ORGANICS. The product is called "SevinTM" and contains a combination of pyrethrums and DE. It is safe to use in vegetable gardens, which most other pesticides are not."

Uh, no. SevinTM is simply another name for the chemical Carbaryl. While the jury is still out on how toxic Sevin/Carbaryl actually is to humans, it sure ain't organic.

On a related, strange note, absolutely no mention is made of controlling fire ants with Spinosad, one of the safest and most effective remedies to come on the market as a fire ant bait in recent years.

Controlling Termites pg. 31 "Diatomacious (sic) earth (DE) is one of the safest and most effective termite controlling natural substances."

Natural DE is an effective termite controller. However, Bader should emphasize repeatedly that he is referring to NATURAL DE and NOT swimming pool grade DE. This is a common and potentially deadly mistake people make in using DE. Also, Bader recommends spraying wood surfaces in the attic with a DE and boric acid mixture. I wouldn't do this. Long term exposure to any type of DE can be harmful to the lungs and skin...and just think if your home's air system is located (like mine is) in the attic. Bad idea. Natural DE should be used as a soil amendment pretty much exclusively, with the gardener wearing gloves and a mask during application.

Throughout the book, Bader also mentions the use of cigarette smoke to kill spiders and insects. Wow.

Well, you get the idea. In a nutshell, Bader is basically trying to cut in on Jerry Baker's folksy, irresponsible brand of garden remedies made with various foods, household products and other so-called "natural" items.

Format-wise, the layout of the book is a mess, and there are no photos, just goofy, low-quality drawings. Also, there is no page reference index at the end.

My main complaint is that I could find no mention of the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) method of handling insects. But then, of course, I guess that sounds a little too snooty and scientific for the average moron who sees an insect and just wants to kill it.

Rating: One Trowel Out of Four

A better book is one I recently bought myself: Jeff Gillman's The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't and Why. Gillman is a Ph.D. and an associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the U. of Minnesota, not some tacky circus carny just trying to make fast bucks.

The book is well laid-out, easy to follow and incredibly informative, with results from Gillman's own testing. Each supposed remedy is introduced with a brief paragraph about what it is, how it is used, what it's supposed to fix, whether or not it really works and what the test results mean to gardeners. Gillman gives both sides of the synthetic/organic story and actually mentions IPM on pg. 102.

Rating: Three Trowels Out of Four

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Many Happy Returns?

I've received nearly all of my plant orders for the year season. Most are in the ground and doing pretty well.

A few notes:

I have another Ebb Tide rose coming from Dutch Gardens. The one I received looked like it had been either run over or stomped on when I got it. Still, I soaked it in weak compost tea with the others before planting and went ahead and put it in the ground. While the others started sprouting enthusiastically, the poor Ebb Tide did nothing. I can't say I'm surprised.

When I called Dutch Gardens to tell them about it and request another, I kept going on about how damaged it was. It broke my heart to throw it in the compost bin, I said, but there was no hope. "Mmm-hmm," said the operator idly. "It'll be a couple of weeks before we can get another one to you." Sheesh, don't they care?

(At least they send replacements without 20 questions. I'm hearing that Parks and Wayside are only offering store credit for dead plants now. That sucks. I've stopped buying from them for the most part anyways because their prices are ridiculous, but that certainly solidifies my decision.)

ANYWAY. I also still have an ornamental grass collection on order with Spring Hill. And do you know what the projected ship date is, despite the fact that I ordered it in MARCH? June 13-July 4. A month ago, I looked at my order status and they had the dates as April 30-May something. Have they bothered to let me know of these continual delays? No. Am I going to cancel the order? Probably. After all, even ornamental grass has its limits. Planting in July is useless. I'm not ordering from these jokers again, and their affiliate banner is coming off this site as well.

Man, I am one cranky gardener today.

Ok, here's some good customer service news. I had ordered a passiflora 'Lady Margaret' - yeah, the brilliant red one - from Select Seeds (the picture at left is from their site). When the rest of my order arrived, the passionflower wasn't there and was marked as backordered. Then, the total amount of the plant was suddenly refunded to me a month or so ago.

I was looking on their website the other day and there it was, for sale. I called, and the lady said they were in the process of recharging my account and sending me one. "The plants we got in were unacceptable," she said, "but we managed to get some more since then." I received my plant yesterday and, while small, it looks healthy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More Iris Photos

Wow, what a show my irises are putting on this year! Here are some more photos:

'Earl of Essex'

'First Interstate'

I'm pretty sure this is the 'Pride of Ireland' cultivar - it's much greener in person than what the photo indicates...

Another look at that gorgeous 'Spiced Custard'

There are several more that I haven't seen yet: the near-black 'Swazi Princess,' the bold orange 'Copper Classic,' the wildly flecked 'Gnus Flash,' and my favorite from last year, 'Starship Enterprise.'

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Guerrilla Gardening

This sounds like fun...but here in the gun-happy, territorial U.S. (particularly Texas), it could get you shot. Or, at least, fined.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Plot Thickens

...or something like that. My community plot is looking pretty good, despite triple-digit temperatures yesterday. Here are a couple of pics:

Monday, April 17, 2006


It's going to be 95° here today. That's just sick.

The flowers and plants are putting up with it, so far. They're not used to it either.

My irises look lovely right now; every day another variety opens.

Columbine 'Black Barlow' - Truly the blackest plant I've ever seen/grown in person.

Iris 'Stellar Lights' - This plant is huge, especially compared to last year, the first year in the ground for any of my irises.

Iris 'Spiced Custard' - This one didn't bloom last year, so I'm very pleased to see it. The picture doesn't do it justice, believe me. Gorgeous!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Gardening 24-7

My body feels like I've been pulling weeds and digging for 48 hours straight. And that's really not too far from the truth.

Ah, I exaggerate. But I did have a big weekend.

Friday afternoon, I raced up to McKinney to work at the Heard Museum's Native Plant Sale. Friday is always Members-Only day, and there were several people waiting at the gate when I got there around 2:15 (and the sale didn't start until 4)!

The Heard holds this event each year and has the checkout process down to a science. I was assigned to be a ticket writer, which was a lot of fun and allowed me to chat with people as they prepared to pay for their stuff. Of course, I did a bit of shopping main catch of the day was a fabulous (and fairly large) Variegated Agave 'Marginata' (Agave americana) that is now majestically guarding a corner of my front yard. I got it for $25...a real steal.

As soon as I quit being a camera-forgetting dumbass and start taking pictures, I'll show y'all what mine looks like.

Saturday brought the Grand Opening of the Plano Community Garden. Mayor Pat Evens showed up to cut the ribbon at noon, and we proceeded to plant. I am already out of space, can you believe that? I shared some extra transplants with other gardeners and we'll see how they do. And see my above comment about the camera...I will have pictures of my plot to share shortly. Once I post pics, I'll list what all is in my plot.

In the meantime, here's a picture of the remarkable Jodi Rea finishing up the roof on one of our sheds. Don't tell Jodi she can't do something because, by gawd, she will prove you wrong. I really love the attitude and energy everybody has had with this project.

On Saturday afternoon, I went twelve rounds with the variegated vinca taking over the beds at the front of our house. The vinca eventually won, but I foresee some 20% vinegar giving me an advantage in our next battle.

Sunday morning, I couldn't resist dragging my husband out to my plot (and making him carry a trellis for me). He was pretty impressed with the whole setup, but called me a "show-off" because my plot is the only one full of transplants, each with a cage or a trellis.

"You always have to be different, don't you?" he teased with a wink.

Yup, I guess I do.