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I confess, I’ve always got a few gardening books on the table, waiting for me to read and review. During the warm weather months, I am too busy to do them justice. But now, with the holidays behind us and spring not quite here yet, it seems the perfect time for armchair gardening. I love the inspiration that garden books provide.

Perhaps you’re conceptualizing a new garden or revamping part of an existing one. Maybe you’re not quite confident enough to take on that project and could benefit from some motivation. Even if you’re not sure about your goals, a garden book is sure to provide much insight.

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“Gardentopia: Design Basics for Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces” has been a pleasure to read. With 40-plus years as a professional landscape designer, author Jan Johnsen is an expert at “transforming tough sites into appealing landscapes.” Her book focuses on both large concepts and the small details. She breaks down her design principles with photos and an emphasis on how our mind perceives these specific features. You will find chapters on garden design and accent tips; hardscapes, such as walls, patios, walks and steps; special interest or theme gardens; color in the garden and lastly, a chapter on plants and planting.

I was happy to read that I’ve already employed some of Johnsen’s design concepts, such as the Japanese miegakure: the “hide and reveal technique.” This simply means providing a half-hidden vista by partially screening a view or section of the garden with a strategically placed shrub or wall. This creates an illusion of distance that beckons us further into the garden.

You’ll find information on using plants that have attractive berries, moon gardens, fragrance gardens, placing rocks and decorative elements in the garden, and so much more. Learn more at janjohnsen.com.

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In our world of ever shrinking garden spaces, we are forced to come up with clever ways to squeeze more plants into our lives. So, I was intrigued to read “Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants: Edibles & Ornamentals for Small-Space Gardening” by award-winning author, garden columnist and speaker Jessica Walliser.

She defines compact (or “dwarf”) plants: “Compact plants are those prized for their ability to start small and stay small, even when they reach full maturity. They’re selected and bred by plant breeders for their petite form and well-behaved growth habit. With maintenance needs far less extensive than their full-sized counterparts, compact plants are the perfect fit for anyone looking to create a beautiful small-scale garden and reduce the amount of time needed to maintain their landscape. These plants are also an ideal choice for container gardens since most require less room for both their top growth and their root system.”

The author educates us on methods for selecting, planting and maintaining compact plants. You’ll be enchanted by her designs using compact plants such as a patio garden, a shady nook garden, even a compact kitchen garden.

You can incorporate all or part of her designs into your own garden. There is a section on using compact plants in specific applications such as providing winter interest, screening an unsightly view, incorporating color or texture into the garden, even providing enough flowering plants to feed our pollinators.

The color photos that go along with the author’s suggestions are delightful and inspiring. Finally, the book profiles hundreds of compact plants from trees to edibles that can be incorporated into the garden.

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