By Brenda Bolton, Mobile County Master Gardener
My fifth grade teacher began each new class topic by asking her charges to make a list. She seemed able to make any topic more personal and more engaging with those lists. “Today, kids, we’re going to talk about a big new country, one with mountains and green valleys, all the way on the other side of the world. If you were going to take a big trip to an exotic place, make a list of things you would want to pack for your trip.” The resulting lists inevitably led to discussions about climate differences, economic differences and lifestyle differences. We were hooked.
I’ve been a list-maker since fifth grade.
There is no endeavor that cannot be improved by a good list. So imagine my delight when I discovered my favorite gardening book: “The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists.” Not only is this a book of over 200 lists and 1,000 plant recommendations, it is specific to Southern gardening! And just in case you don’t know what a book of gardening lists is for exactly, the subtitle nails that for you, too: “The best plants for all your needs, wants and whims.” When the subject of favorite gardening books comes up among Master Gardeners, “The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists” is sure to be mentioned.
Author Lois Trigg Chaplin, armed with her background as gardening writer for Southern Living, offers us the wisdom of dozens of gardening writers and scientists, and organizes those into one of the best resources I’ve ever used.
The table of contents reveals the overall organization for the book; it is, of course, a list. I’ve seen reviews critical of the book’s simplistic table of contents, but I think the point of this little gem is keeping it simple. There is nothing intimidating here. The contents list uses the common language of plants so you don’t have to be a certified horticulturist to understand it: trees, perennials, ferns, annuals, vines, shrubs, azaleas, roses, ground covers.
Within each table of contents chapter you will find the chapter topic detailed in a series of practical lists. For example, the roses chapter offers lists of:
Roses most often found in old Southern gardens
Roses for cut flowers
Ground cover or trailing roses
Roses with great hips
Roses that climb and ramble
Roses that do well in pots
Roses that tolerate shade
Every topic in the table of contents is likewise presented in a series of lists that speak to your landscaping thoughts: “What in the world can I plant in that wet corner of the yard where all the water drains?” or “I would love to have something that will survive in that hot, dry part of my yard.”
You get the idea. There is hardly a list Lois Trigg Chaplin has not thought of, from the practical (“Low shrubs that won’t hide windows”) to the whimsical (“Perennials for cracks and crevices”).
My copy of the book looks like a well-worn and well-loved children’s book, filled with scribbles and mutilated by dog-eared corners and folded pages. Some pages even come with free soil samples, collected while walking around the yard, book in hand. The inside covers are scrawled with my own cross-referenced lists made from finding plants on different lists to make a new list. The lists are also occasionally cross-referenced within the book for you. So, the list of “Best hostas for mass plantings” cautions you to refer to the (very) short list of “Hostas that thrive in the Lower South.”
Be aware that, as with any book about plants, trends come and go and new science impacts what is recommended. The book was published in 1994. The Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana “Bradford”) is shown on six lists, but is also included in another section, “Substitutes for Bradford pear,” where the plant’s poor characteristics are discussed and seven alternatives are listed. Some user reviews criticize the book for listing plants considered exotic or invasive. Invasives are often related to the area they are planted in, and garden writers occasionally fail to treat them with proper caution. The subtropical lushness of our Lower South turns many a mannerly vine into a problem vine, whereas the cold winters of the Upper South may control it successfully. Good lists of invasive and aggressive plants for our area are available online.
Christmas is just weeks away, and you know what that means — making a list and checking it twice. If you have a gardener or would-be gardener on your list, the “Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists” will let you cross that gift right off your list.
Gardening Events for Your Calendar
What: Annual Greenery Sale, Holiday Market and Art Bazaar
When: Dec. 6 – 7 (9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive
Greenery Pre-orders due by Nov. 15
For pre-order form: Call Diane at 251-574-8445
Mail pre-orders to: Greenery, 5763 Vaughn Drive W., Satsuma, 36572
What: Making Holiday Memories
When: Friday, Nov. 8 (9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.)
Where: Mobile County Extension Office, 1070 Schillinger Road N.
Cost: $12; must pre-register
For more information: Call 251-574-8445
What: MG Tent at Farmers Market at Cathedral Square
When: Saturdays Nov 9, 16 and 23 (7:30 a.m. – noon)
Where: 301 Conti Street
What: Alabama Master Gardener State Conference
When: March 30 – April 1, 2020
Current activity: Inviting sponsors and donors to participate
Contact: AMGA2020Mobile@gmail.com for information about sponsorships and donations for the conference.
Master Gardener Helpline: 877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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