Ta-da! Here’s the cover of my new book, The Water-Saving Garden


I’ve missed you guys! You might have noticed a quiet week here at Digging, and the reason is because I was out of the country. In Toronto, in fact, for the 8th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, which as always was jam-packed with garden visits, socializing with other bloggers from all over the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and basking in 65- to 75-degree weather. Oh yes, it was pretty nice!

I’ll be sharing my favorite Toronto gardens with you soon, but that’ll have to wait until next week because my last big book deadline (photo placement and copy-edit review) is looming, and, well, that’s pretty important to me. I’m excited about how The Water-Saving Garden is coming together, including — ta-da! — the book cover. Do you recognize any of those photos?

I hope you like it. I sure do! Kara, my designer at Ten Speed Press, did a great job with it and is now hard at work on the page design. I can’t wait to show you more soon.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: The New Southern Living Garden Book

The New Southern Living Garden Book

South by Southwest (SXSW) is not only the name of Austin’s famous music/film/interactive festival, but it also happens to be descriptive of our gardening culture. Here, the South meets the Southwest, with the Balcones Fault roughly delineating the division. Deep clay soil tends to be found east of the fault line, thin soil atop chalky caliche to the west. Both types run alkaline, making it challenging to grow acidic-soil Southern staples like azalea, dogwood, and camellia.

Although I’ve gardened on both sides of the fault line, and despite my South Carolina upbringing, I prefer Austin’s rugged, dry-adapted Hill Country style to Deep South verdant greenery. My own garden is definitely SxSW, but in gardening books I gravitate toward those with a Southwestern sensibility, not Southern. So it was with a little hesitation that I cracked open The New Southern Living Garden Book (Oxmoor House, 2015), edited by Southern Living magazine’s garden editor Steve Bender, aka the Grumpy Gardener.

I needn’t have hesitated. While the introduction plays up the history and gardening culture of the Deep South, the meat of the book is its plant reference section, which covers the South from Maryland to Florida and from North Carolina to central Texas. The South is, of course, geographically large and climatically diverse, ranging from mountains to low country, subtropical to temperate. With that in mind, not every featured plant is suitable for all parts of the South. But you’ll find plenty of plants listed for each growing zone and soil type, including the limestone soils of central Texas. With coverage of 8,000 plants (including many edibles) and 2,000 color photos, this textbook-sized paperback is jam-packed with information. Just thinking about all the research, writing, and editing it required makes me want to collapse on a porch rocker, under a haint-blue ceiling, with a glass of sweet tea in my hand.

I see this book as being most useful for researching plants you’ve encountered in a nursery or online and wondered how they might perform in your garden, rather than as a book to read straight through. Your intrepid garden blogger did, however, read through it page by page, quickly scanning some plants and reading others in detail. I found the descriptions of familiar plants to be not only accurate but detailed, well written, and occasionally witty. This is dense but not dry reading!

Experienced gardeners will enjoy reading up on less-familiar or zone-pushing plants they’re thinking of trying, while newbie gardeners will find solid information about plants commonly found in local nurseries or passed along from gardener to gardener. Also, new gardeners will especially appreciate the final section, which contains practical gardening how-tos, from preparing soil and proper pruning techniques to growing edibles and gardening for wildlife. All in all, this is an excellent reference for Southern gardeners (including us central Texans) and anyone on the fringe of Southern states.

I have two minor complaints. There’s a briefly confusing copy-editing error on page 64, with text that clearly belongs in a different section. Also, the font size in the plant reference section is so small I had trouble reading it. This section spans pages 124 to 651, so that’s a lot of squinting.

Even so, a few new crow’s feet are a small price to pay for the wealth of information and generous plant photos that make this book such a good resource for those of us gardening in hot and humid, long-summer climates. Add The New Southern Living Garden Book to your reading list this summer, as you lounge on the porch (or inside with the A/C), sip your iced tea, and await the fall gardening season.

Disclosure: I know editor Steve Bender personally. Oxmoor House sent me a copy of The New Southern Living Garden Book for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

For an area so small, at least by Texas standards — only 790 square miles — the Cotswolds region of southern England is home to an astonishing number of enormous manors and elaborate gardens, each worthy of an episode of Downton Abbey.

In Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens by Cotswolds resident Victoria Summerley, with photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, you get an insider’s view of 20 estate gardens, at least one still owned by descendants of the first owners (from the year 1600!), others rehabbed by new owners interested in bringing history back to life.

And what a lot of history there is. Many of these gardens — or at least the houses — are a couple hundred years old or more.


The disruptions of World War II caused many of these properties to fall into disrepair, and as new owners have focused their attention and wealth to restore them, the expenses and concerns of the modern era mean that the gardens are maintained differently than in years past. As the author points out, where a dozen gardeners might once have been employed, now two or three must suffice. (And oh my, they must be kept busy.) Sustainability and green-gardening practices are also more valued by today’s owners, notes Summerley.


While I’ve never been to the Cotswolds, I’ve had the pleasure of touring American gardens with the author, who’s a regular at the annual Garden Bloggers Fling. A retired newspaper editor and a charming tour companion, Victoria is a keen gardener herself and blogs about her own garden at Tales from Awkward Hill.


Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds is an enjoyable read for anyone fantasizing about a garden tour of England (me!) or who loves the romance of gardens cascading with roses and edged in box or yew. Rittson-Thomas’s gorgeous, evocative photos capture many of the scenes described so well by the author. And even though these gardens are stratospherically out of reach of the ordinary person, there are many design lessons to be learned by perusing the photos, such as the power of creating sight lines, focal points, and garden “rooms” and making the most of borrowed views.


The “secret gardens” aspect of the title may have you conjuring Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. However, these aren’t walled, hidden gardens like Mary Lennox unlocked but rather private gardens open to the public seasonally, or perhaps just once or twice a year. Six of the 20 gardens are not open to the public at all, and so in that sense they are certainly secret.

However secret or open they may be, it’s a treat to be walked through these magnificent gardens by an engaging local writer with a sharp eye for design, and to learn about the passions that fuel the gardens’ current caretakers.

Photographs copyright © Hugo Rittson-Thomas 2015

Disclosure: Quarto Publishing Group USA sent me a copy of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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