Helen Yoest shows the reader how to actually design your garden to suit your personal style and desires. Best of all, she gives you confidence.
When I first started gardening, I felt a bit intimidated by the books available about garden design. They all seemed to be written for garden designers rather than for readers who only want to figure out where to dig up their first flowerbeds. Helen, on the other hand, gently walks you through everything you could hope to do in the garden - from preparing a garden plan to eventually replacing your lawn.
Neatly arranged in four parts, the book starts out the basics and helps you determine what you'd like to accomplish with the assistance of sketches, design knowledge and common sense. Part two is where it really gets fun, because that's where Helen lays out a few of the different styles that you can use in your garden, as well as some interesting ways to garden. You're encouraged to be creative and fearless, yet mindful of the pitfalls of combining too many different garden styles and creating a 'free for all.'
The only problem is that out of all the different styles included in part two, many of them are in my opinion better described as ways to garden than actual styles. While 'cottage gardens' and 'formal gardens' are indeed different styles, 'Bulbs', 'Gardens Out Front' and 'Container Gardens' seem more like they would be better suited to 'Garden Elements', the next section of the book. It would have been nice to see a little more on modern, Mediterranean or Asian styles, but maybe I'm just getting picky because the book delivers on so many other levels.
My favorite section of the book is part three, since each chapter covers elements that can be added to the garden at any time, whether it's newly installed or well established. Abstract elements like color, sound and levels of light are covered here, as well as substantial hardscaping and structural elements like arbors, retaining walls and garden art. I really enjoy flipping through these sections in search of my next project, be it in the short term or long term. Part four appropriately deals with growing with the garden over time. It's here that she covers attracting wildlife to the garden and finding sustainable ways to handle pests water plants.
Gardening with Confidence delivers exactly what it promises and contains a wealth of practical over-the-fence advice, delivered with humor and humility. You really do feel more confident about gardening after even the shortest read. I do have a word of warning though: Just about every page will have you itching to jump out of your seat to add new mailbox gardens and seating. It's just as well, because this happens to be a book that you can easily pick up and read out of order.
Instead of talking down to the reader by telling them what they can and cannot do in their own gardens, Helen uses it as an opportunity to build readers up. After gently saying that foundation plantings often lack creativity and planning, she urges the reader to look to them as the start of a garden. "Make your foundation the beginning of your landscape plan, not the end of it."
You can learn to garden with a book or even through trial and error, but Helen's gardening philosophy, design aesthetic and (more importantly) encouragement are priceless. I can't tell you how many times I've bought a gardening book with the hopes of getting inspired and empowered only to be disappointed with generic gardening instructions and pretty pictures. Gardening with Confidence is filled with the insights and advice that garden writers share amongst themselves but wouldn't necessarily publish in a book. She speaks to you on your level, whether you're a seasoned gardener or are just getting your fingernails dirty for the first time.
I already (tearfully) gave away my first copy of Gardening with Confidence last year, which Helen has kindly replaced. Now she's giving away one of her own copies so that I can keep mine and breathe a sigh of relief.
How to Win
All you have to do to win is leave a comment telling me about how you could use a little more confidence in your gardening, be it growing a certain kind of plant, taking on a project or designing the garden in your front yard. You can enter once a day, but must provide a way for me to contact you. On Monday, June 17th, I will randomly pick a name, and announce the winner!
Disclaimer: I received the review copy of Gardening with Confidence at no charge to me. Helen is a good friend as well as another member of the #Saturday6, but my opinions are my own.