Summer Reading

So, you love to garden but don’t particularly like that little trickle of sweat running down your back when the summer’s heat rises to full swelter, eh? But retreating to the cool confines of the house doesn’t mean you have to leave the joy of gardening outside. Pour an iced tea, find a cozy chair and enjoy a good garden book!

Listed below are garden books that, in my humble opinion, if you haven’t read, you should. None of them are the latest in garden literature, but as I have often found with such works, the most recent publications don’t always qualify as “new and improved.” These are books I consider less dusty classics and more time-tested references. Enjoy.

Gardening With Heirloom Seeds by Lynn Coulter (UNC Press). The phrase “back to the future” makes plenty of sense with this book, which shows the advantages and enjoyment of gardening with not only the currently popular heirloom vegetables but also many old-time ornamentals. Growing fundamentals, choice plant selections and propagation tips fill this fun book that brings the best of Grandma’s garden into the 21st century.

Container Gardening by Jim Wilson (Taylor Trade Publishing). The late Jim Wilson was as friendly, and knowledgeable, in person as he was in the pages of his books. Container Gardening is part of the proof, with Wilson patiently, thoroughly unraveling the mysteries of planting in pots like a wise next-door neighbor leaning over the fence on a Saturday morning. Potting soils, plant care advice, a large section on plant suggestions and even how to make “hypertufa” containers — which is quite fun — highlight this work that was typical of Gentleman Jim.

Gardening with Native Plants of the South by Sally and Andy Wasowski (Taylor Trade Publishing). Looking for dependable plants? Consider natives — many of which easily survive in the wild and thrive in the garden. Looking for advice on how to use them in a cultured landscape? Let the Wasowski duo take you down the enlightened path of indigenous plants. This book opens with a generous helping of design ideas and then overflows with their favorite native plant picks that can add beautiful, dependable mojo to any southern garden.

Tough Plants for Southern Gardens by Felder Rushing (Cool Springs Press). Felder Rushing is a funny guy. And this Mississippi wildman knows gardening. He combines both attributes in this enjoyable book that equally entertains and informs on the topic of hard-as-nails plants for gardeners cursed with brown thumbs. The plant suggestions are numerous — only outnumbered by the chuckles served up in this giggly garden guide.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Want to ask L.A. a question about your garden? Contact him by email at:


Timely Tip

Container cannas? Sure. Whether from specimens such as ‘Tropicanna’ and ‘Bengal Tiger’ that flash brilliant foliage, or fancy flowering selections like ‘Orange Punch’ and ‘Minerva’, cannas in large pots can make for bold, bodacious summer and early fall shows on porches, decks and patios.

To maintain a healthy display of leaves and blooms, apply a liquid fertilizer solution once a month through the growing season to these heavy feeders. Also, be sure to water an outdoor canna container as frequently as once a day during extended hot, dry times. Finally, a canna that becomes root-bound in a pot is a prime candidate to poop out both in foliage and flowers, so, at the end of the growing season, examine the roots for excessive wrap, and divide the rhizomes or move the plant to a bigger pot, if necessary.

To Do in the Garden


  • Don’t think the ornamental garden is fading into the summer sunset — there can be a fall flower show if you now plant such glorious, late-blooming perennials as helianthus, helenium, heliopsis and rudbeckia.
  • Plant Now: Fall-blooming bulbs such as autumn crocus, colchicum and sternbergia, and add even more late-season color to the autumn landscape.
  • ’Tis the time of the tiny terrors. Minute menaces such as aphids, flea beetles, spider mites, thrips and white flies will be at their worst during hot weather.
  • Continue harvesting mature cucumbers, squash, green beans, indeterminate tomatoes and okra plants at least once or twice a week to maximize production.
  • Gardeners, start your fall vegetable garden! Begin planting cool-season favorites such as lettuce, kale, turnips, radishes and spinach.
  • Herbs will be at their peaks of flavor just before their flowers begin to bloom, so plan and pick accordingly.
  • Outdoor ornamentals such as coleus, geraniums, impatiens, wax begonias and fuchsias can be easily rooted in pots and brought indoors in a few months to brighten up the home’s interior during the winter months.
  • Looking for more horticultural snap-crackle-pop in your midsummer garden? Check out local botanical gardens, arboretums and even garden centers to see what kinds of plants are showing off the best for them during these hazy, lazy days of August. 

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