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April Book Review – Foliage by Nancy Ondra

Once again I’m joining Holley of Roses and Other Gardening Joys in doing a monthly book review on a favourite gardening book from my personal library. I was originally introduced to this particular book by Cathy & Steve of Our Garden Journal when they reviewed this book last year. After reading their glowing report I promptly ordered the book and was not disappointed when it arrived. Foliage, by Nancy Ondra ticks all the boxes when it comes to great gardening books. Written by Nancy Ondra with photography by Rob Cardillo, the cover will entice you to delve deeper into the art of combining plants based on their foliage to create wonderful “pictures” in your garden.

Foliage by Nancy Ondra

As a new gardener it didn’t take me too long to realise that experienced gardeners obviously knew things I did not. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t emulate the stunning garden beds I was seeing and realised I was missing something … and then slowly the penny dropped. Creating a stunning garden is not just about flowers and plants. It’s about how you combine the plants to create something that not only works well in nature but creates a garden scene that is pleasing to the eye.

In fact, what really appealed to me about this book is that I already had a lot of the plants featured in it. Putting them together in the right combinations to create a fabulous garden was what I was about to learn from the book. Flowers come and go – insects or the weather can destroy seasonal blooms seemingly overnight – but predictable foliage in great combinations will set the scene or background for a wonderful landscape that is not dependent on pretty flowers.

You don’t even have to read a single word in the book – just paging through it and seeing the effects created by combining plants based on colour, size, shape and texture will have new gardeners itching to get outside to change things around.

[one_half]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Foliage by Nancy Ondra[/one_half_last]

The book is organized by colour and texture with each chapter explaining the characteristics of plants chosen for the singular appeal of their varying foliage. Colours range from, my favourite, brilliant Chartreuse to blues, silvers and the darker colours like the reds, maroon and blacks. Size of foliage and shapes of leaves (e.g. spiky, bold, medium and fine) with surface textures varying from rough to smooth or satiny, and outlines that are smooth, ruffled, irregular or uniformly even – all this is covered in this wonderful book.

Rob Cardillo’s amazing photography has to be mentioned here. With the range of colours and textures as captured by his camera, it doesn’t take a novice long to realise that season-long interest in the garden depends on the foliage of the plants you choose and how you combine them that creates the base of a stunning garden. Get the foliage plants right and then the plants you choose for flowering in combination will create magic!

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about gardening with foliage and how to create a year round garden that is beautiful.

About Garden Bloggers Book Review meme

Garden Bloggers Book Review is a monthly meme hosted by Roses and Other Gardening Joys (20th day of the month). Whether its vegetable gardening, flower gardening, specialized gardening, design, landscape, or even fiction (that includes a garden, such as ‘The Secret Garden’), Holley invites you to share your take on the garden books you have read.  “Each of our gardens are different, and each of our tastes in garden books will probably be different – but I think if we tell what we like (or not) about each book, we can get a good sense of the books we might want to add to our collection”.  Join Holley on the 20th of the month and share one of your books with us all.

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features Reviews

March book review

I’m quite pre-occupied with my pond make-over project at the moment so I’ve been perusing “pond” books at the book store and have even bought a few. Most have been fairly useful, in one way or another, but none has actually motivated me to make the changes to the pond I know are necessary. Until I walked past a second-hand book shop and decided to look in and see what gardening books they have.

I stumbled on and old book by Peter Robinson entitled Pond Basics, paged through it and was sold. It’s a real little treasure for anyone who is completely new to pond maintenance or has decided to build a pond feature and has no experience. It’s really basic which is exactly what I need at this stage.

Pond Basics by Peter Robinson

I’ve found the book very useful. Having read this book and used it as a starting point, I have now managed to plan what I want to do with the pond and have broken in down into a step by step list that I’m tackling one task at a time. So we now have actual “Project Pond” Progress! The book is divided into 9 sections and covers Planning; Excavation and Installation; Moving Water Features; Decorative Features; Wildlife; Planting; Plants; Troubleshooting and lastly, The Pond Year.

I have to admit that the reason this book helped me so much is that it had plenty of examples of water features that have similarity with mine, in terms of size, position and shape. I was able to start visualising what my Pond or Water Feature really could look like using the examples and combining ideas (coupled with suggestions I’ve been given by gardening friends – Amongst others, Alocasias and Cannas are on my shopping list!).

The section on plants and ‘how tos’ (where, when and how) has also helped me to create a plan for my ponds planting and how I am going to tackle it all. Well written in a get to-the-point, simple way I appreciated the troubleshooting section and the pond year which gives guidelines on how to manage the pond and what to expect in all the seasons. All this information made me realise that I can do all this by myself (mostly, might need help erecting the trellises), but it’s now a project I am capable of doing myself and I think may look quite nice once I’ve finished.

[one_half]Pond Basics ContentsPond Basics Contents[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Introduction to Pond BasicsIntroduction to Pond Basics[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Nicely illustrated with photographsNicely illustrated with photographs[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Planning tips & requirementsPlanning tips & requirements[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Many different types of pondsMany different types of ponds[/one_half]

[one_half_last]And examples of ponds I likedAnd examples of ponds I liked[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Different plants typesDifferent plants types[/one_half]

[one_half_last]And a trouble shooting sectionAnd a trouble shooting section[/one_half_last]

My copy of the book is a hard cover version, published in 2004 by Bounty Books. I’ve checked Amazon and it’s available at Pond Basics by Peter Robinson on as a paperback.

I recommend this book to new gardeners who have little or no experience with a pond or water feature and are interested in adding one to their garden.

What gardening books have you read lately? Join Holley and friends the March Garden Book Review meme and share one of your gardening books with us!

Happy gardening!

PS: In my next post I’ll be showing a short video of the Starlings enjoying my pond!

About the Garden Bloggers Book Review Meme

Garden Bloggers Book Review is a monthly meme hosted by Roses and Other Gardening Joys (20th day of the month). Whether its vegetable gardening, flower gardening, specialized gardening, design, landscape, or even fiction (that includes a garden, such as ‘The Secret Garden’), Holley invites you to share your take on the garden books you have read.  “Each of our gardens are different, and each of our tastes in garden books will probably be different – but I think if we tell what we like (or not) about each book, we can get a good sense of the books we might want to add to our collection”.  Join Holley on the 20th of the month and share one of your books with us all.

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features Perenniels Reviews

Ferns of Southern Africa – a Book Review

Ferns of Southern Africa – A Comprehensive Guide, is a newly published book I was invited to review. With some trepidation I started to read the 776 page guide even though I removed every single fern from my garden just a year ago. I wondered whether the book could convince to try ferns again – after all, I’ve heard ferns thrive in shade and I’m always looking for good shade plants …

Ferns of Southern Africa starts off with a foreword that hooked me – Did you know that there are over 300 species of ferns that are native to southern Africa? I had no idea. Considering that half of the subcontinent is semidesert or desert this is a really high number as I’ve always though of ferns as requiring shade and thriving in forest type areas. Turns out that there are quite a number of local species that have evolved to tolerate extreme drought and heat, as well as full sunlight and bush fires. And did you know that ferns were flourishing about two hundred million years before flowering plants made their first appearance? The introductory chapter will introduce you to these and many other interesting facts about ferns you probably knew nothing about if you are not a fern fanatic.

Ferns of Southern Africa features a full double-page spread per species with multiple photographs including close-ups (the photography is superb), informative line drawings where necessary and very detailed and comprehensive descriptions. Other features of the book include tables that highlight differences between similar-looking fern species, distribution maps and identification keys to families, genera and species.

It’s a beautiful book, no doubt about that. If you are seriously interested in ferns then this book is an essential for your library. I haven’t seen another book quite like it in our local bookstores, so consider adding it to your collection if you are a “Fern-atic”. But its not a quick, Saturday afternoon read – It is a beautiful guide and reference book I am proud to own, and I’m sure I will page through and refer to it often in the years to come.

[one_half]A favourite reading spotA favourite reading spot[/one_half]

[one_half_last]A beautiful bookA beautiful book[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Its about plants! My favourite book type!Its about plants! My favourite book type![/one_half]

[one_half_last]Well written, beautifully illustratedWell written, beautifully illustrated[/one_half_last]

Has this book convinced me to dash off to the nursery to buy a bunch of ferns to plant in my garden? I’d have to say no, but … I am considering a few carefully selected and purposely placed ferns. And I will be using this book to research exactly which type to plant and where.

From the publisher – Random House Struik:

This comprehensive, colourful and lavish guide to the ferns of southern Africa (covering South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia) throws new light on a category of plants that’s little-described or featured. Its careful and accessible design enables quick, sure identification of all 321 ferns known to occur in the region. In compiling this unique and beautiful volume, the authors travelled extensively, even finding several new species of ferns along the way. They are all treated in this guide – some described here for the first time. Ferns of Southern Africa will become the standard reference book on local ferns, and will be a treasured resource for many years to come.

About the Authors

Neil Crouch is an ethnobotanist with SANBI. He recently co-authored Guide to Succulents of Southern Africa.
Ronell Klopper is curator of the fern collection at the National Herbarium, SANBI.
John Burrows is a nature conservationist. He authored Ferns and Fern Allies of South and South-central Africa.
Sandra Burrows is an acclaimed botanical illustrator and natural history author who has collaborated on several works, including Southern African Ferns and Fern Allies.

Where to purchase the book:

Ferns of Southern Africa – a Comprehensive Guide is available at:

Christine's garden Gardening Miscellaneous

How much I’ve learnt in ten short months

It is no secret that less than a year ago I knew pretty much nothing about gardening and plants. OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little … I knew the names of a few plants, bougainvillea, roses and lilies spring to mind. I think I also knew about Marigolds, daisies and ferns. Oh and of course I knew all about Ivy, because Ivy was the most prolific plant in my overgrown jungle of a garden. Ivy and a few ferns.

Fast forward ten short months and during a visit to a nursery today I amazed myself by how much I have learnt. Stopping at plants and knowing the proper names, recognising textures and shapes, knowing what would work where … and of course stumbling on a few new-to-me plants, looking at the names and recognising having seen them before on a blog or in a book. It was a most pleasurable (and again educational) two hours spent amongst the plants.

The gardening course I have been busy with promised me in the opening notes that I would no longer go to nurseries and come back with “impulse buy” plants. The course entitled “Planting Design” promised that I would make plans before buying and that I would more often than not leave a nursery without buying anything, if what I had gone there for was not available. Well that was put to the test today … for the first time I discovered Hellebores at a nursery here in Cape Town. Eleven little Hellebores all lined up in a row and I so badly wanted to buy them. But my new ‘plant philosophy’ is that if I don’t have a plan, I can’t buy, so I left without them. A first for me! That’s not to say I won’t go back for them … as soon as I have a plan for them.

But then a detour to Exclusive Books and I succumbed to impulse buying and left with two new books. Pocket books actually, both by the Royal Hortucultural Society (RHS). The first book is RHS Plants for PlacesWith full colour photographs and information for over 1,000 tried and tested plants, this is the pocket-sized guide for trips to the garden centre and nursery.

The second is RHS Good Plant GuideWhether you want to cultivate the classic English rose or grow a crop of climbing French beans, choose plants with confidence with the RHS Good Plant Guide. Recommends over 3,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, bedding plants, fruits and vegetables for every garden situation and with more than 1,500 colourful photos and illustrations.

These are two lovely little books to assist in my continued gardening education 🙂

[one_half]RHS Plants for PlacesPlants for places[/one_half]

[one_half_last]RHS Good Plant GuideRHS Good Plant Guide[/one_half_last]

I love these little books as they are great reference books as well as being useful to pick up and page through for a few minutes every now again, just to familiarise myself with new plants or to look up known plants for more info. Small and compact they are also easy to pop into a bag in case I do want to take one on a nursery visit – easily hidden in a bag so I don’t go there looking too much like a gardening-nerd!

Off to read about plants
Happy Gardening

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features Reviews

Earth Day Reading Project

I admit it – I don’t read enough! (books that is). It’s not that I don’t like reading – I love it, but the fact of the matter is that I very rarely find the time to read a whole book from cover to cover. I’m one of those people that once a book grabs hold of me I can’t put it down until I’ve finished it, so I reserve reading page turners for holidays and long weekends. But it is why I enjoy gardening books so much – I can read bits and pieces that interest me, put the book to one side and then grab hold of it again when I want to learn more about a particular subject.

So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to take part in the Earth Day Reading Project initiated by The Sage Butterfly. When I received my invitation to participate from Donna of Gardens Eye View, my initial enthusiasm was followed by thoughts of “how am I going to read 3 books from cover to cover by the 23rd April AND write something interesting and meaningful about each of these books?”. And “what if I buy three books and none of them actually inspire me?”. I finally settled on two books I already have in my “library” of gardening books and, a slight deviation from the rules, a magazine I read every month.

I chose three South African books / publications. Here they are:

Beginner's Guide to Earthworm FarmingBeginner’s Guide to Earthworm Farming – Simple ideas for a Sustainable World – by Mary Murphy (published by Penguin Press – Non Fiction): I had ideas about starting my own “Earthworm Farm”. So I bought the book. I still haven’t started my Earthworm Farm (my soil is laden with earthworms) but this book inspired many changes in the way I think about the health of our planet. From an attitude of “Its not my problem”, my thinking was radically altered and  I have become environmentally concerned.

I incorporate much of what I’ve learned in this book into my life and the way we run our household (it’s not just about earthworms …) and am still considering the earthworm farm. I have to get over my squeamishness before I can tackle this as a viable project (its not the earthworms that bother me, its the maggots that I believe find their way into earthworm farms). The “hook” that got me to read the book (yes I read it from cover to cover) was this statement: If you are concerned about the health of our planet then turn your attention to what lies under your feet. In the soil below are creatures that are responsible for producing the food we eat. Earthworms have been described by Darwin as the most important species on our planet and by Aristotle as “the intestines of the earth”…

Garden GaurdiansGarden Guardian’s – Guide to environmentally responsible garden care – by Johan Gerber (published by Aardvark Press – Non Fiction): What impresses me the most about this book is the author! A registered professional natural scientist, Johan Gerber worked in the actual harmful pesticide industry before he switched tack and started working with various leading agricultural companies in the development and registration of many of the environmentally-responsible pest solutions now available on the South African market. His philosophy is that pest control need not be at the expense of the health of the environment, or of people and animals.

In a nut-shell, the book is an exploration of the dangers and health implications of using conventional pesticides in the home environment and provides solutions for handling conventional poisons and methods of disposal. This book incorporates the best illustrated guide to pests and diseases that I have seen to date. Even an idiot-newbie gardener like myself can actually identify most pests and diseases using this guide and of course the best part of the book is that Johan gives us solutions and methods for controlling pests and diseases that will not harm our planet! This book has become my “Gardening Bible” and I won’t bring any pesticides into my home or garden that he does not mention and approve of in this book.

The Gardener MagazineThe Gardener – The South African Magazine for everyone who loves gardening – Editor: Tanya Visser: I started buying this magazine occasionally when I bought my house four years ago and when I got serious about my gardening hobby about a year ago I started to buy it regularly. I recently became a subscriber so that I can get it before it hits the news stand because I love this magazine. I have learnt more than you can imagine by absorbing their articles every month.

From becoming water-wise to planting more indigenous plants to companion planting and organic gardening … a lot of what I practise in my home and garden these days, that can be considered environmentally friendly, comes from this magazine. Most of all the magazine inspired me to try my hand a growing my own vegetables which I have been doing now for close on two months with great results. If that helps to reduce my “carbon footprint”, then I believe it has been a very worthwhile exercise. And we’re loving eating our own produce in my home!

In Conclusion: I’m still not entirely where I need to be as far as “caring for the environment” goes. I have plans to start an Earthworm Farm (one day!), we are getting solar panels in the not too distant future and a rain collection tank is on the cards for later in the year. For now we are growing some of our own vegetables, not watering as often as we used to, recycling, composting and most importantly … NO harmful pesticides are used in my garden. Ever.

As per the rules of the Earth Day Reading Project I invited three Garden Blogging friends to participate. Two responded favourably, one of them did not respond at all which made me rather sad. So to fulfill my obligation in taking part in the Earth Day Reading Project Meme, I am still looking for one more Garden Blogger to take part. If you would like to take part, all posts should be completed by midnight EDT on April 23, 2011 – please click here for all the details and let me know so that I can link to your post from here. My special thanks to Donna from Gardens Eye View for inviting me to participate and thanks to Holley from Roses and Other Gardening Joys and to Alan from It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening for accepting my invitation to participate.

You can read their posts here:
Donna’s post is at Earth Day Reading Project by Donna
Holley’s post is at Earth Day Reading Project by Holley
Alan’s post is at Earth Day Reading Project by Alan

Happy “Earth Day” everybody!

Christine's garden Do it yourself Gardening Miscellaneous

Time out with The Gardener on DVD

The Gardener DVDToday my eagerly awaited purchase of the DVD Series of the popular show, ‘The Gardener’, arrived in the mail! ‘The Gardener’ is South Africa’s favourite’s gardening magazine whose live-wire editor is inimitable Tanya Visser (see photo below). Tanya presents a weekly Television Series on the South African Home Channel called (you guessed it!), ‘The Gardener’.

Each week Tanya presents a topical gardening subject ranging from laying your own lawn, pruning roses to complete garden make-overs. She presents some beautiful gardens around South Africa with a brilliant variety of design styles and plant selections to inspire anyone to get stuck into their own garden. Each show offers practical gardening tips (essential viewing for a gardening-newbie like myself) as well as DIY projects, practical demonstrations from experts and a whole lot more.

So far I’ve watched the first disc on ‘Maintenance’ (see below). I’ve learnt how to maintain edging around beds and paving, how to care for and prune roses correctly from South Africa’s best known rose expert, Ludwig Tascher and I’ve learnt the ins and outs of looking after my lawn.  I picked up some valuable tips on correct usage of my automated irrigation system and finally, I’ve seen how to lay instant lawn.

Once I’ve watched the next disc I will hopefully know how to control weeds in lawn, fertilizing and feeding lawn and dealing with shady areas as well as preparing soil, planting filler plants in dead or thin areas and feeding plants and then, once again they cover roses. This time its looking after roses – preventing pests and controlling weeds.

There are three discs that cover Garden Makeovers, two discs dedicated to Watter Features, two discs on Container Gardening and three discs that cover Growing. The three maintenance discs cover various aspects of maintaining and improving your garden and finally, the last two discs are all about Going Green.

I’m enjoying watching the DVDs and I HIGHLY recommend these DVDs for South Africans that missed the show on television and are passionate about their gardens and need help learning how to do things correctly. All in all there are 19 discs available – I did not order the “Cement” DVDs because I don’t think I’m quite ready for messing around with cement at this stage. So I have 16 discs to watch and learn from.

For anyone interested in the Magazine or the DVDs of the series, visit the website at:

If I’m a bit scarce on the blog for the next few days … its because I’m watching the DVDs!

NOTE: We are in no way affiliated with this magazine, I paid the standard price for the DVDs and they have no idea that I planned to mention this on my blog (I doubt they even know our blog exists!).

Happy gardening

Christine's garden Gardening Home page features

Christine’s Garden – as it was

Baby Dexter, December 2007Where do I start … well, when I bought my house 3 years ago, the existing garden was nice enough – except that it was basically full of overgrown trees that blocked out all the sun and all that would grow (and grow they did!!) was Ivy and ferns and some nasty ground cover. You couldn’t see anything for Ivy, it was everywhere … in fact it was trying to get into the house through the windows. No joke!

Then, one amateur “gardener” (not me) and a puppy later … and the garden was destroyed.

I then had the very dumb idea of allowing someone who claimed to be a horticulturist talk me into redoing our garden. Well … lesson learned – ALWAYS ask for references! And then ask to see their work. And then make 100% sure you like their style and the plants they are proposing to plant. Because … he planted all the wrong things in a garden that got no sun because he never had any trees pruned or topped and he planted shade loving plants in full sun and sun loving plants in shade – one year later and much money down the drain … still no garden. I was really fed up at that stage as I’d spent a lot on the plants.

I then spent about 2 months researching landscape companies and finally found a wonderful girl who not only came highly recommended but I had seen her boards up in some of the most gorgeous gardens in the Southern Suburbs. I got hold of her … and … yes, many many more dollars and 4 months later, I finally have a garden! It is still in its infancy but the plants are HAPPY! (this is Kathrine’s website:

The first thing Katherine did was insist on getting a tree feller in. She refused to plant a thing unless we got some light into the garden. I’ll admit, I cried the day they “felled” my trees. I love trees and hate disturbing even a single leaf on a tree but the result is that we now see the sun and we have our view of the mountain back! And the plants are growing and thriving. I am loving this new experience of watching the plants grow. And I am itching to buy more plants and grow different things. Katherine insisted on leaving some spaces for me to “get creative” in my garden and to put my own stamp on it so to speak. So now I’ve been reading up about plants, (lots of research) and as I had exhausted the one gardening book I’ve had lying around for years I’ve bought myself a few new ones.

Overgrown gardenThe book I enjoy the most is “Gardening with Keith Kirsten”, the second edition. First of all there is lots of practical advice (which of course one expects from this type of book) and then there is a Plant Directory with details of plants suited to South African gardens. Easy to understand (for a novice like me) it features simple icons showing at a glance what requirements the plants have (sun / shade / water etc. etc). I would have appreciated more plant photographs – there are lots and lots of photos, but my eye is drawn to the photographs and not every plant in the directory has an accommpanying photo. But it is a great book and the one I refer to the most.

So armed with all my newly learnt knowledge about plants I’ve been running back and forth to the nursery getting annuals to fill in some spaces with instant colour and the odd shrub to plant in other spaces.

I’ll be asking Katherine to send me some of the “before” photos she took which I’ll post together with recent photos. Should be fun to “watch the garden grow” in photographs over time.

Photographs – (click to view the enlargements):
Top – Dexter as a puppy in a mass of overgrown plants, three years ago (i.e. November 2007).
Bottom – Dexter again, same day, December 2007. You can see just how overgrown everything was.