While your garden rests for the winter, use some extra indoor time to pick up insight about how to make this year's landscape even better than last season's. Here are a few books, three of them targeted at Kentucky and the region, and associated local activities to get you started.
Woody Plants of Kentucky and Tennessee: The Complete Winter Guide to Their Identification and Use by Ronald L. Jones and B. Eugene Wofford (University Press of Kentucky, $45). This locally published book is, in part, a key to identifying regional trees and shrubs in winter, when leaves are absent but other telling features such as buds and leaf scars are present. It also is an introduction to simply recognizing and expanding your vocabulary of woody plant parts. In all, it is a useful resource for enriching botanical expertise.
A gallery of more than 600 color photographs illustrates and confirms plant sorting decisions referenced in the key texts. Descriptions of the various plants are clear and balanced, with enough information for decision making but not so much that general readers will be overwhelmed. Botanical and common names are provided, along with likely habitat, size and use.
Jones, a professor of biological sciences and curator of the Eastern Kentucky University herbarium, and Wofford, a research professor and director of the herbarium at the University of Tennessee, have packed a ton of practical material into a book slender enough to be carried in a backpack on your next winter hike. Even better, the University Press is offering a free e-book to readers with proof of purchase of a print copy; go to Upkebooks.tumblr.com for details.
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■ Associated activity: Put your newly found tree identification skills to use, or find some extra help and support in mastering the key, by attending the Winter Tree Identification Walk at Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County. Led by preserve director Beverly James, it is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 15; sessions usually last two or three hours. The cost is $5 a person; $12 per family. Preregistration is required. For more information, email Floracliff@aol.com or call (859) 351-7770. Floracliff.org.
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (Timber Press, $19.95). Wallace's connections include the Organic Seed Alliance, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate. Here, she works basic organic gardening ideas and principles into a year-round calendar for gardeners in the Southeast.
Her broad gardening experience is the source of some fantastic advice, from trenching and using the Florida string weaving method of tying up of tomato plants, to vermiculture (raising worms), seed viability and saving, planning planting dates, and mitigating the effects of hot and cold growing conditions. There is much to learn here.
Because the Southeast is such a large chunk of land, encompassing six USDA planting zones and conditions from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, there is too much latitude in the generalized month-by-month format to be able to pinpoint planting times accurately.
Kentucky gardeners should keep in mind that our optimal times will differ from the book's calendar layout by about a month, as we are on the Southeast's cooler northern edge.
■ Associated activity: Get local gardening experience and advice from your Cooperative Extension Service's horticulture agent. In Fayette County, a series of 30 Gardener's Toolbox classes, each on a different topic, are being offered. Read about them and pre-register at Fayette.ca.uky.edu/horticulture.
Two that specifically deal with vegetable gardening are The Basics of Vegetable Gardening ($10) on April 22 and Perennial Vegetables ($20) on April 29. Both meet at 6:30 p.m. at the extension office, 1140 Red Mile Place.
America's Romance With the English Garden by Thomas J. Mickey (Ohio University Press, $26.95). How did our American garden style develop and evolve throughout the 19th century? Mickey ties our preference to models presented in mass-produced seed catalogues and horticultural advertising that had great appeal for a rising middle-class with access to diverse plant material through the mail. That continues today with even a broader reach by way of the Internet.
Mickey, who notes that the book had its beginning in his research into catalogues at the Smithsonian Institution, has included historic covers and pages from some of the catalogues. There is also a "Featured Plant" section at the end of most chapters, which ties into the topic of each.
■ Associated activity: Take an online tour of the Smithsonian Gardens and archive collection at Gardens.si.edu. The "Archives of American Gardens" collection alone contains more than 100,000 photos and records documenting historic and contemporary American gardens. To browse the Smithsonian's antique seed catalogue images, go to www.sil.si.edu/digitalcollections/seednurserycatalogs.
Tennessee & Kentucky Garden Guide by Judy Lowe (Cool Springs Press, $24.99). This solid reference, in its second edition, is a color-coded encyclopedia of plants that have proven themselves to thrive well in Kentucky and Tennessee. It includes annuals, bulbs and rhizomes, ground covers and vines, grasses, perennials, shrubs, trees and water gardens.
Each plant is listed on an individual page with a glossy color photograph and text that includes growing requirements and care, garden design and cultivar recommendations.
Lowe's conversational tone shines through with descriptions that reveal broad personal experience with various plants. Many of these selections, from ageratum to zinnia, can be found at local garden shops and nurseries. General tips, like one in which Lowe recommends choosing annual transplants that are not yet in bloom so that growth energy goes into getting established before supporting flowers, are well thought-out and useful anywhere.
■ Associated activity: Attend the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation's Antiques and Garden Show, featuring more than 80 exhibitors, March 7 to 9 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Garden expert P. Allen Smith will be one of the featured speakers. Go to Bgtantiquesandgardenshow.org.