Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? review & giveaway

Why Grow That…

You can’t help but feel curious about a gardening book titled as provocatively as this one. Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants is the work of Andrew Keys, a blogger at Garden Smackdown, the creator of Garden Confidential, and, like me, a member of Garden Designers Roundtable. Andrew’s an experienced hort-head who knows his plants, so when I received a review copy of his book I was curious to see which plants he’d call out as problems and what he’d recommend instead. Even so, however, I doubted how useful his plant lists would be to gardeners like me in central Texas. Plant books geared to the whole country are rarely relevant, I’ve found, to those of us in Southwest regions with long, hot summers, frequent drought, and alkaline soils.

When I read the intro, however, I realized that the book is more than just a list of problem plants and proposed alternatives. Andrew’s main idea is to think about why we grow certain plants, specifically why we keep trying to grow a plant that doesn’t perform. He suggests that often it’s because we have a sentimental attachment or an emotional connection to that plant. Perhaps your mother grew it, or it proliferated in your former garden 1,000 miles away. Maybe you’ve admired it in a magazine, or it simply looks so darn tempting at the big-box store in the spring. Thinking about why you covet certain plants—for shape, for fragrance, for flower color—will, says Andrew, help you find better-suited substitutes that can fill that void. His book is meant to be a kick-starter of ideas, an invitation to think through why we try to grow a plant ill-suited to our conditions and to look for an alternative that can give us the emotional connection or physical characteristics we crave.

As I expected, many plants listed in the book are unknown in my region; the back cover, for instance, rattles off lilac, daphne, and pachysandra as typical problem plants—plants that aren’t even on the radar in Austin gardens. But a surprising number of Andrew’s “extraordinary alternatives” are suited to our climate. Here are a few of his suggestions:

Instead of blue spruce, which needs cooler mountain temps, try Arizona cypress, a conifer I happen to love for our region (pgs. 46-48).

Instead of jacaranda, which freezes here, try Texas redbud, rose of Sharon, or Texas mountain laurel—all three good choices for Austin (pgs. 68-71).

Instead of lavender, which often resents our summer humidity, try ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint and bluebeard, both dependable blue-flowered, ground-covering perennials (pgs. 254-256).

Instead of creeping juniper (does it ever look good in central Texas?), try prostrate Japanese plum yew (a plant I’ve admired at Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead, Texas) and creeping rosemary.

Also, as it happens, three of my photographs appear in Andrew’s book, and I can attest that they illustrate three plants that grow very well here too!

I think this book is best suited to experienced gardeners who need a nudge to try a less common plant, or who are tired of the typical garden standbys and crave something different. Newly transplanted gardeners—a Midwesterner recently relocated to the desert Southwest, for example—will also find it useful as they wrestle with the desire to plant beloved species from a far distant region and begin looking for regionally appropriate substitutes.

And now for the fun part! Just in time for Christmas, I’m giving away a copy of Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? to one lucky reader. All you have to do to be entered in the giveaway is leave a comment on this post by Sunday at 11:59 p.m. central time. I’ll randomly select the winner on Sunday night and announce his or her name on Monday the 17th. One entry per person, please, and you must have a shipping address in the continental U.S. Good luck!

Update 12/17/12: The randomly chosen winner is Ken Dreger. Congratulations, Ken!

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a free review copy of this book. I read and reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

58 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Sounds like a great read. I would love to win it. I know I am an emotional planter. ha.. I can name several plants I tried to grow knowing they probably wouldn’t just because they were in someone else’s garden and it reminded me of them.

  2. Laura McG. says:

    Wish I’d had this book years ago when I planted all my east coast faves in my SoCal garden! But there’s one thing I’ve learned over the decades regarding gardening: there’s ALWAYS more to learn. And how thankful am I for all the bloggers out there who share their knowledge AND their trials and tribulations?! Austin, in particular, has a great pack of garden bloggers!

  3. Kathy Vale says:

    Oh boy, do I have a GARDENER or JARDINERA in my life who would LOVE LOVE LOVE this book! Thank you for sharing your mind, your passion for the garden and your love of gardening and gardeners!

  4. Cat says:

    Ah, yes … the emotional planter … I can relate! I’d love to read this and even better if it’s a copy gifted by a friend! Thanks for the opportunity.

  5. Shirley says:

    A new way of thinking about what to grow with the guidance of this book might work. Just this week I’m asking myself why I grow so many plants which need to be brought in during a freeze.

  6. Don in Waco says:

    Alternative is always of interest, especially where a native replaces an ornamental.

  7. Glenda Wagner says:

    Oh this book sounds amazing and best of all it would make me look like an amazing gardener!

  8. Liz says:

    This book would be a good read…only problem is lots of times a great replacement is nowhere to be found in the nursery trade and the traditional plants are all over.

  9. I have my copy already (*grin*) but just want to say that this review is absolutely terrific and SPOT ON. Yes, the book is indeed terrific and surprisingly–and refreshingly–suitable to Central Texas.

  10. Jason says:

    I often get into arguments with my spouse over her desire to plant stuff that just won’t do well. Maybe this book will help.

  11. Andrew says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. My wife is the same way, Jason. She picks what looks pretty, not what grows well, and she will never do the research. I do my best to take her to local nurseries so that she won’t be tempted by the showy, big-box store stuff that never seems to survive. Then it’s just a matter of convincing her where the right place is for what she picked.

  12. Kathy says:

    My chronic fatigue tells me I should be looking for low-maintenance plants instead of what my designer’s heart ooohs and aahhhs over. Maybe this book will help.

  13. jenny says:

    OK! You know I need to make some changes around here. Please count me in for the drawing.

  14. Bonnie VanBerg says:

    I’m slowly switching to more appropriate plants for our area. However, I haven’t given up on lavender yet!! I’m trying one more variety that’s wintering over. If it isn’t showy, then I will give up on it.

  15. Daisy says:

    I’ve heard a lot about the book and would love to read it. I too have problem plants that need replacement! I’m in Desoto, TX and follow your great tips for gardening in Texas!

  16. Sarah says:

    Looks great…and I need all the help I can get!!

  17. Pami says:

    Hey! I’m a Midwest transplant starting to plan out my new garden plot in southwest Austin. :) This sounds like a great book to add to my library!

  18. Abbey says:

    I’m temporarily in an apartment so I’ve been getting my gardening fix by drooling on garden books, magazines and catalogs. Count me in for the drawing.

  19. Caleb says:

    Ah sounds like an interesting read! I would love you to send me a copy!

  20. Carole says:

    Love your site and could sure use new ideas. Thanks, Keep blogging.

  21. Cheris says:

    Ahh yes… even after 10 years I still gravitate towards plants I loved when I lived in the north.

  22. Sue Day says:

    I would love a copy of this book.

  23. Sounds like a good introspective read! Might keep me out of trouble at the nursery. Out of the same old trouble, anyway. I pine over fuchsias from my San Francisco Bay Area formative gardening years. ;-)

  24. Gale says:

    Sounds like a really interesting book!

  25. mads78 says:

    Oh that book might keep me from making mistakes in plant selections

  26. Heather says:

    I love gardening and fall prey to the big box stores in spring every year! I would love to garden smarter :)

  27. Derek says:

    This looks like a great book! I always wondering why gardeners and landscapers use plants over and over again even when you can see them failing everywhere. It drives me crazy!

  28. Laura says:

    I hope to win this! I have done my fair share of mistakes.

  29. Della says:

    The book is new to me……would love to have it! Have enjoyed your website for several months…..look forward to the postings.

  30. Paul says:

    Sounds fantastic! I’d love a copy.

  31. Carol says:

    Thanks for the chance and a great site.

  32. ChrisG says:

    Hi Pam – sounds like a great read. Maybe this one will end up on my christmas list!

  33. cheryl says:

    I would enjoy this book. Perhaps I would quit trying to grow things that thrive in the Bay Area but which wither and die in the Sacramento Valley if I could find nice alternatives. :>)

  34. Alison says:

    I would love to win this book.

  35. Nicole says:

    Hi Pam, what I need is a version that substitutes tropical plants for temperate ones, so that I can better use all the design books and ideas that are not written for those living in the tropics LOL.

  36. Gaynell Pilcher says:

    Thanks for entering my name. And btw, your new front yard redo looks great!

  37. DANNY JONES says:

    It sounds like this book would be really helpful before I proceed any further on my backyard. And it would be helpful for me in giving evidence for avoiding emotional selection of plants. By the way, I love your blog.

  38. Ally says:

    I’m always interested in growing something different particularly if I’m likely to have success, but I do recognize the fact that I am also an emotional planter. The second they invent a lilac bush that grows in Central Texas, I’m totally on it.

  39. Stephanie Baber says:

    Hi, just stumbled across your site while doing a search on trough water gardens…love it. Very useful info. I am in Virginia (zone 7)..but it seems to get drier and hotter here each summer so a lot of your postings have been helpful!

  40. I would love love this book!!! Pamie G.


  41. I’ve read other good reviews of this book. I’d love to have a copy. A book that offers alternatives, suggestions, and ideas is likely a very good resource. Thanks for the suggestion.

  42. Chris says:

    Sounds like a great book!

    If I don’t win I’ll still probably pick up a copy somewhere!

  43. Sounds like a great book! I would love to be in the draw Pam, please.

  44. Mary Withrow says:

    Congrads on you book! I love keeping my hands in the dirt, theres something therapeutic about it. Fantastic you give a choice for the common plantings we all assume should go in that place! lol – Break a leg, on your new book! Thank you for the chance to win!

  45. Ken Dreger says:

    We moved here from So Cal back in July 2011 during the heat wave and live Bertram near the Preserve. My wife has been in the Green Thumb business for 15+ years and loves playing in the dirt. She just completed her Master Garderners Cert with the Central Texas group. We live on a small hil that is 99.99999% ROCKS and is about 1.75 AC. She has been working every day to create a natural landscape here up on the “Rock”. This book would really help her and others here in our community as they all share experiences they have trying to grow things. We madea 40′ x 60′ fenced in garden for her and it was pretty sucessfull, but still needs some work to refine what we are able to grow. I installed 2-2500 gallon water tanks for her garden watering from the rain roof water so we hope that also helps. Having a book about what grows locally would be great for her as she really loves reading all these garden books and sharing them with our neighbors. I hope you sell a ton of these, maybe show them to the local Master gardeners groups to push sales…

  46. Annette says:

    I need an eye for plotting out my cactus and succulent on my no lawn garden. I so live your blog and the ideals I’m copying to my garden!! Thank you!

  47. Patricia R says:

    This sounds like a book I could really use! I’d love to be the winner.

  48. Frankie says:

    I would love to read this book! Thanks, Pam!

  49. Pam Geurink says:

    To Pam From Pam, ha-ha! This book sounds like it’s right up my alley. Hope to be a winner!

  50. Ginnie says:

    That sounds like a wonderful read. Count me in! Thanks!

  51. Juliet says:

    Gimmieeee I need some plant inspiration :)

  52. Looks like a great book. We’re redoing our landscaping this coming spring and this would be a great tool! (We also have your book on order!)

  53. Janie says:

    Sounds like this might be a very useful book for these hard climate years we’ve been having.

  54. Robyn Roberts says:

    Love the idea of this book and ant wait to see it:)

  55. michael travis says:

    I love your blog Pam, and I have your book on order when it comes out. I would love a copy of the other book as well. Thanks for your knowledge!

  56. McLerran says:

    Alt gardening. Just what I’m looking for.

  57. Jeanette says:

    Looks like a great book. Inspirational winter reading.

  58. Karen Tandy says:

    I think the book sounds great.
    I really enjoy your blog and have been following it for a long time. Thanks for all your great ideas and pictures.