$18.95Practical Essays by Master Gardeners

Add to Cart Add to Cart

By Barbara J. Euser
June 2006
ISBN 1-932361-36-7 240 pages

Gardening Among Friends

Get the Real Dirt from Master Gardeners

Reading Gardening Among Friends is like participating in a friendly conversation with a group of Master Gardeners. Join us as we discuss:

  • What is a habitat garden? What changes can I make to my own garden to attract butterflies? Hummingbirds? Songbirds? Pollinators?
  • How can I have a beautiful garden with a minimum investment of time? Is it possible to have a luxuriance without facing an exorbitant water bill? What species of plants can thrive with low water and low maintenance?
  • Where did some of the most popular and beloved plants come from? What were they used for in earlier times? Is there such a thing as an easy-to-grow orchid? Can I incorporate any of these plants into my own garden?
  • What are the easiest vegetables to grow? Which ones thrive in spring and fall? How can I grow the tastiest tomatoes? The sweetest asparagus? What are edible flowers? How can I make preserves from home-grown vegetables and herbs?
  • What is the best mulch for my garden? What is sheet composting and vermicomposting all about? How can I identify and control weeds? How can I get rid of garden pests? When is the best time to prune?
  • What does the cycle of seasons mean to a gardener? When must certain chores be done?
  • How can I design a garden that will grow with my family? How can we accommodate our dog in the garden? What is the latest word on treehouses? How can I incorporate Japanese design elements in my garden?

Find the answers to these questions and many more in Gardening Among Friends

By Barbara J. Euser

Gardening Among Friends is a product of the Master Gardener program. Today Master Gardener programs work actively in all fifty of the United States and in Canada. Begun in 1973 in the state of Washington, these programs now involve thousands of volunteers who annually donate hundreds of thousands of hours of their time to improve gardening practices in their communities, spanning the continent.Master Gardeners receive intense training, sponsored by state universities through the cooperative extension system. After passing a qualifying examination, Master Gardeners volunteer time assisting school and community gardens, lecturing on garden topics, demonstrating gardening techniques, providing telephone diagnostic services, writing gardening columns, and working on other public gardening projects.

Columns written by Master Gardeners for local papers and other publications are an important element of the educational work Master Gardeners perform. Each essay in this collection was written by a Master Gardener and was first published in Northern California’s Marin Independent Journal as a contribution to the weekly Master Gardener column that has appeared in that paper since 1999.

The information in the essays chosen for this collection applies throughout the country. Each essay reflects the Master Gardener philosophy of relying on native plants and other locally appropriate species, coupled with integrated pest management using less toxic methods of control, to create a healthy garden environment.

In creating this book, I would especially like to thank Katie Martin, editor of the weekly Master Gardener column in the Marin Independent Journal, for her assistance in the preparation of the manuscript. I would also like to thank Maggie Agro for her artistic contributions of the cover art and chapter illustrations. Susan Brady of Solas House Press enthusiastically and tirelessly guided the production of this book to press.

Gardening Among Friends includes essays by twenty-one writers. Each writer uses his or her own voice to discuss a particular aspect of gardening. It is this interplay of ideas and personal experiences—in fact, a conversation—that I like most about this book.

Please join us in our conversation. We invite you to take us into your garden, where we will enjoy the flowers and foliage, birds and insects, water and soil, sky and sun, together.


Chapter 1: Habitat Gardening

Creating the Habitat Garden by Charlotte Torgovitsky
Invite Birds to Visit by William Bentley
Blooms to Attract Hummingbirds by Barbara J. Euser
A Bee or Not a Bee? by Elizabeth R. Patterson
Native Bees as Pollinators by William Bentley
Butterflies in the Habitat Garden by Charlotte Torgovitsky
Birds Welcome Habitat Gone to Seed by Charlotte Torgovitsky
Luring California Quail into Your Habitat by Elizabeth R. Patterson

Chapter 2: Low Water, Low Maintenance

Low-Maintenance Gardening by Elizabeth Navas Finley
LuAnn’s Garden by Barbara J. Euser
Low-Maintenance Love Affair with Roses by Annie Spiegelman
Plan Water-Wise Garden Before Drought by Lee Oliphant
Xeriscape Fundamentals by Darla Carroll
Ornamental Grasses Set Garden Mood by Virginia Havel

Chapter 3: Favorite Flowers and Foliage

Rosemary Means Remembrance by Barbara J. Euser
Ceanothus Blue by Barbara J. Euser
Forget-Me-Not by Annie Spiegelman
The Elfin Gardens of Mosses, Liverworts and Lichens by Virginia Havel
Superlative Salvias by Barbara J. Euser
Awesome Alstroemerias by William Bentley
Exotic Epiphyllums: “Orchids” of the Cactus World by Virginia Havel
Bamboo by Barbara J. Euser
Long-Lasting Lavender by Barbara J. Euser
Easy Orchids: One Inside, One Outside by Katie Martin
Japanese Maples in Your Garden by Julie Monson

Chapter 4: Garden Produce

The Less Strenuous Food Garden by Elizabeth Navas Finley
Tomatoes by Charlotte Torgovitsky
The Fast Food Garden by Annie Spiegelman
Pumpkins by Elizabeth R. Patterson
Cool Season Vegetables by Diane Lynch
Enjoying Herbs Year Round by Sally Lucas
Growing Garlic, aka The Stinking Rose by Diane Lynch
Savoring the Harvest by Maggie Agro
Good Enough to Eat: Safe and Tasty Flowers by Annie Spiegelman
Asparagus by Elizabeth R. Patterson
Olives by Charlotte Torgovitsky
You Too Can Grow Citrus by Virginia Havel
Persimmons: Fruit of the Gods by Marie Narlock
Jujube Dates by Barbara J. Euser

Chapter 5: Garden Maintenance

So What Is Organic Gardening? by Diane Lynch
What’s the Best Mulch for Your Garden? by Jane Scurich
Worm Composting in Small Spaces by Lee Oliphant
Sheet Composting by Charlotte Torgovitsky
Weed Identification and Control by Barbara J. Euser
Keep Pests at Bay, Don’t Poison Earth by Julie Ward Carter
Uninvited Guests by Jane Scurich
Foiling Deer Gracefully by Barbara J. Euser
Amazing Surviviors: Rats and Mice by Diane Lynch
Pruning Shrubs and Vines by William Bentley

Chapter 6: Cycle of Seasons

Putting the Garden to Bed by Maryrose Whelan
Fall Checklist for Christmas Blooms by Jane Scurich
Clean Your House in the Spring, Clean Your Garden in the Fall by Jeanne Price
The Leaves Are Falling! by Charlotte Torgovitsky
Winter Spraying with Dormant Oil by Jane Scurich
Embracing Winter as a Gardener by Darla Carroll
Care of Gift Plants by Jane Scurich
Spring Soil Strategy by Melissa Gebhardt
Tiptoe through More than Tulips Next Spring by Melissa Gebhardt

Chapter 7: Garden Design

The Evolution of a Family Garden by Anita Jones
Treehouses: Not Just for Kids Anymore! by Marie Narlock
Designing a Garden for Children by Sally Lucas
Gardening with a Japanese Touch by Julie Monson
Enhancing Wealth through Water Structures by Terumi Leinow
Dogs: Delightful or Devious in the Garden by Diane Lynch
Gardens Can Keep Memories Alive by Anita Jones

Appendix: Demystifying Botanical Names by Julia Flynn Siler

Author Biographies


Sample Chapter: Creating the Habitat Garden

by Charlotte Torgovitsky

My garden is designed as a habitat garden, densely planted in a naturalistic theme to attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. My garden is also an organic, edible garden, for we humans are not to be overlooked as an important part of the habitat garden! I have created a personal connection with this bit of the earth, from the seasonal rhythms and cycles to the constant activity of creatures finding some sustenance in my organic habitat garden.

With a blend of native plants, introduced habitat plants, and a selection of fruit trees, berries, herbs, vegetables, and ornamentals, the garden provides not only for the birds and butterflies that visit, but also for its human occupants. It is a truly edible garden, with beauty and bounty to share.

In spring, the level of activity in my garden crescendos: sparrows, finches, towhees, doves and pigeons empty the bird feeders at a rapid rate. A lot of energy is required to feed fast-growing nestlings. The importance of gardening organically is particularly evident during the breeding season, as all birds rely on insects as a source of protein to feed nestlings that are growing at an astounding rate.

Sheet composting, or a layer of mulch on garden beds, and leaf litter left under trees and shrubs provide ample opportunities for sparrows and towhees foraging for insects. Other species of birds will glean insects directly from plants, providing for their young, and at the same time helping to maintain a natural balance in an organic garden.

Trees and shrubbery, densely planted to create vertical layers, with flowering plants, grasses and vines included in the scheme, all provide cover, nesting sites and foraging opportunities for local bird populations.

Several fruit trees are included in my habitat garden, planted for the pleasure of my family, but in fact, also providing for foraging birds. An Asian pear tree produces many sweet and tasty fruits; those that the birds have sampled are cleaned and processed into a delicious jam. The olive tree, too, provides for scores of birds over a long fruiting season. I pick olives in the red-ripe, or black-ripe stage to cure, leaving some for the birds that eat them in an overripe stage. Larger birds, such as the crows, jays and starlings come to pick the fruit from the tree; many other birds forage from the fruit that has fallen to the ground.

I grow strawberries, too. A raised bed, three feet wide by about eight feet long, has provided my family with delicious fruits from May through September. But there are creatures in the garden that I do not wish to share the berries with: slugs and snails, including the minute black slug that curls itself up in a small hole in the strawberry. Careful spring maintenance eliminates almost all damage from these members of the mollusk family. In early March, I remove all the old leaves from each plant, and renew a third of the bed by removing old plants, and replacing them with vigorous young plants. Around the crown of each plant I sprinkle diatomaceous earth, an organic product that kills crawling insects. Crushed oyster shell is laid down thickly in a wider circle around each plant, to repel soft-bodied crawling pests like the snails and slugs. The bed is irrigated by a drip system and mulched with straw, and I take care never to water from overhead. The occasional raccoon that visits the garden will eat some berries, but there are still plenty of the luscious red-ripe berries for breakfasts, desserts and jam.

Vegetables, both summer and winter crops, are grown in raised beds, and planted among the ornamentals. Basil and Swiss chard are attractive foliage accents among flowering plants; some varieties of hot peppers are attractive ornamentals in their own right, as well as providing for the kitchen. To attract the beneficial insects, flowers such as sweet alyssum, calendula and marigolds are planted among the vegetables in the raised beds. Culinary herbs, too, are planted throughout the garden; they attract many beneficial and pollinating insects, and are good nectar plants for visiting butterflies.

When treated as an ecological system, with yard trimmings and kitchen waste recycled in the form of compost, a garden can provide for itself. Most plant material can be processed into compost, using either active systems, such as a compost tumbler, or passive systems, such as wire bins or sheet composting. A vermicomposting system (composting with worms, see article Chapter Five) can take care of most of the kitchen scraps, and also provides valuable nutrients that can be used to promote healthy, vigorous and productive plant growth, the most basic element in a thriving habitat garden.

Barbara J. Euser is a Master Gardener who savors mornings in her hillside garden. She balances gardening and writing with a deep interest in international matters. She is a former political officer with the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. As a director of the International Community Development Foundation, she has worked on projects in Bosnia, Somaliland, Zimbabwe, India, and Nepal. Her articles and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She is the author of Children of Dolpo, Somaliland, and Take ‘Em Along: Sharing the Wilderness with Your Children, co-author of A Climber’s Climber: On the Trail with Carl Blaurock, and Heading and Distance Charts for the Colorado Fourteeners. She is editor of Bay Area Gardening. In 2005, she directed writing workshops in the south of France and edited Floating Through France: Life Between Locks on the Canal du Midi. She lives near San Francisco with her husband. They have two grown daughters.