Whether you’re a wannabe gardener wondering where to start, a gardener with many years in the soil, a visitor wanting an informative, humorous, beautiful look at the northland from a gardener’s perspective or just someone in search of an entertaining read, “There’s a Moose in My Garden — Designing Gardens in Alaska and the Far North” will fit the bill.
This beautifully illustrated, 182-page book combines the gardening know-how — from thoughtfully planning on paper to sitting back and enjoying the results — and photography expertise of master gardener Brenda C. Adams of Homer. A book signing at the Homer Bookstore from 1-3 p.m. Saturday coincides with the Homer Garden Club’s seventh annual Gardeners’ Weekend 2013. (See related story.)
“There are a lot of books out there that are encyclopedias of plants, a lot that tell you about color and a few other things, but hardly anything, if any, that put it all together in something you can use,” Rita Jo Shoultz, founder of Fritz Creek Gardens and Alaska Perfect Peony, told the Homer News.
Adams began gardening at the age of 2. Her interest in photography came years later, when she was in college. Immediately after arriving in Homer in 1991, Adams began searching for a book to help her make the shift from gardening in the Lower 48 to meeting challenges unique to her new home.
It didn’t take long before “I figured out designing here was a whole different think than in a hot climate like Los Angeles or Philadelphia, where I grew up,” said Adams.
Adams loosely defines “garden” as “a space that has plants in it that is there to bring pleasure to the person who creates it.” Her definition allows for numerous factors. For instance, at a perennial plant symposium, Adams noted much of the conversation focused on what 20-somethings want in a garden.
“A lot are living in apartments with balconies, so the notion that a garden has to be in soil doesn’t work for them,” said Adams. “You have to not bind (the definition) too much or it becomes not applicable to many people.”
Then there are Alaska gardens, noted for color “because we’re white for eight months of the year,” said Adams. In addition, Alaska gardens don’t have as many trees and shrubs as their Lower 48 counterparts. The reason: hungry moose and snowshoe hares. Add to that considerations for weather and climate.
Challenges that confronted Adams in Alaska included horsetail, “the plain old ubiquitous weed we have everywhere,” she said, laughing. Chapter 7 of her book is devoted to horsetail and other weeds and techniques for minimizing garden maintenance, lessons Adams learned the hard way.
“Because I didn’t understand the nature of horsetail or a lot of other indigenous plants, I didn’t prepare my garden in the way I recommend preparing in the book,” she said. “I just killed it off and planted and that’s a recipe for a long battle.”
Timing is Alaska is another challenge.
“Gardens are sparse in the spring and the ground is so cold that nothing wakes up, but when it wakes up, it grows so fast and gets so bushy that you go from barren on Memorial Day to lush on Labor Day,” she said.
When Adams began work on her book seven years ago, she met still another challenge.
“How do I put it together so it works for other people was always a dilemma I found myself in,” said Adams. “It took me a year before I started writing for real.”
Not only is the finished product a one-stop-shop that helps build a garden, but it also is written to keep readers’ interest.
“I wanted people to read it and make it enough fun that they’d keep on reading until the end,” said Adams.
For that, Adams focused on her writing style.
“Most of my writing prior to this book has been of a business nature: get to the point, forget the adverbs and adjectives, make the case, ask for what you’re trying to achieve and be done with it,” said Adams. “Going from that crisp writing style to one that was descriptive and injected humor and fun was, well, it took me awhile.”
Jane Vandeventer and Roni Overway helped Adams bridge that gap.
“(Vandeventer) gardens in Tennessee, so her experience was completely different, but she writes extraordinarily well and helped with the flow of information and how to structure the book,” said Adams.
Homer friend Overway stepped in as copy editor.
“She was really helpful at the detail level of helping with me my voice,” said Adams.
The extra effort paid off.
“A lot of how-to-books, you go to sleep reading them. This has humor in it. It’s easy to read and understand. I think she did a fantastic job,” said Shoultz.
Owner of the award-winning Gardens by Design and six-year president of Homer Garden Club, Adams said, “I really want to help people like gardening and enjoy it and keep going. …. Gardens do wonderful things for people. It makes us better stewards of the earth. I hope the book will encourage people to garden.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.
There’s a Moose in My Garden
By Brenda C. Adams
Published by University of Alaska Press
182 pages $35
Available at the Homer Bookstore; can be ordered from University of Alaska Press and Amazon.
For more information, visit www.gardensbybrenda.com.
The book also has a Facebook page.