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The Urban Gardener    by Sonia Day order for
Urban Gardener
by Sonia Day
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Given that this is my first full summer in a downtown home with a small courtyard garden that needs attention, I dived right into The Urban Gardener, and was rewarded by a bounty of helpful tips and decorative ideas. The author begins by telling us that 'Gardens are getting smaller' and then launches into everything needed to grow plants above the ground. Helpful lists of Do's, Don'ts and Hot Tips are interspersed through the text. There's a glossary, a list of gardening websites, and photos that inspire the imagination.

Day tells us to try to plan ahead for well lit, workable spaces, accessible faucets and storage areas. She advises us to get informed on building codes and bylaws. Different kinds of balcony flooring are discussed, as well as how to handle the problem of privacy. The author recommends types of gardening tools, and how to avoid gardening pains and accidents. There's advice on growing mixes (including use of a bungee cord to haul bags up to a balcony!), on fertilizing, composting, watering, bug and animal control, and winter survival of plants.

I especially like the notion of creating a 'potscape' of several containers (including some that are 'offbeat') at different heights, suggestions on color themes, on the creation of a feeling of distance through color choices, and on growing 'climbers' to maximize use of space. Details on shopping for pots will help me to avoid future problems, and 'Hanging basket hell' reinforces my own experience. Plant selection advice covers hardiness zones, foolproof flowers for sun and shade, and 'Twenty-five great annuals'.

I've always liked to mix perennials with annuals, but am warned that some of the former 'sulk' in containers and may have trouble surviving northern winters. Glad to see that catnip thrives in sunny pots as I must plant some for our feline companions, and I like the look of ornamental grasses. There are sections on geraniums, 'icons of summer', on how to make 'finicky' roses flourish, on exotic summer bulbs, on 'shrubs to try' (including those that make effective privacy screens), and on trees for small spaces, including my favorite Japanese maple.

I love to cook with herbs from the garden, and their scents are a bonus. The author covers those I know well, like chives, parsley and thyme, but also introduces some new to me such as bergamot and hyssop. There's a section suggesting 'Eight veggies to try', like garlic and cherry tomatoes, and three to avoid. Ideas for 'instant gardens' will be helpful to some, as will suggestions for difficult sites like a 'fried egg balcony'. And there are seasonal tips for lengthening the lives of a potted Christmas tree and poinsettias.

This is indeed an excellent resource for The Urban Gardener, and I plan to make good use of it this summer.

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