Monday, January 11, 2010

Sharp Gardening

Since I can’t be outside cleaning up the garden I’ve been rediscovering some of my favorite garden books, like this one, Sharp Gardening, written by Christopher Holliday and published by Timber Press our local Portland, Oregon, gardening book resource.
I purchased Sharp Gardening when we first moved into our house back in 2005 and I was planning the front garden. With chapter titles like “Swords and lances”, “Spiky rosettes”, and “Spiky flowers, spires and straps”, I felt like it was written just for me!
In the introduction the author starts by defining The Sharp Palette: “Sharp Gardening is based on the use of spiky, sword-leaved plants, many of them evergreen, including large specimen exotics with an architectural profile. These are complimented by low-maintenance perennials with flowers or foliage that echo or contrast with the forms of the larger structural plants; and ornamental grasses complete the look with their contrasting forms and bristle-sharp pointed tips.” And then paints the Sharp Picture: “Well-designed gardens owe their success to contrasting shapes and sizes and this is no less true in the case of the sharp garden.”
And finally on to Creating the Sharp Look…where as a new Portland gardener this must have been the first place I read the words that experience has proven to be so true “Since plants from arid areas of the globe can withstand temperatures below freezing only if kept dry, where rainfall is high in the winter months – which in a temperate climate it normally is – a combination of wet and cold can be disastrous. Too much rainfall and frost reduces some barbed spears to mush” (so sad and so true!) “The odd night of frost in dry conditions may not do too much damage, unless the plant is half hardy or frost tender. But more often than not, it is prolonged wet weather followed by a burst of frost that deals the hardest blow.”
Yikes! He’s describing our Portland winters exactly. Yet for some crazy reason I keep forging on with my spiky obsession! In fact he even goes on to issue this warning…”If you are gardening in an undrained frost pocket, in deep shade or on leaden clay soil, be wary of pursuing sharp gardening! However, if you are without or can improve on these problems, the possibilities for enjoyment are endless!” Clay soil? Check.
I guess I paid more attention to the next bit of advice….”By choosing the right plants and giving them the appropriate growing conditions, the sharp garden look is yours for the asking. You won’t get it right the first time, but you should have a lot of fun exploring possibilities.” Yes the exploring (and buying) is very fun!
I learned so much about the plants I love from this book. And now upon my second reading I am discovering things I had forgotten, like my first introduction to Astelia, Fascicularia pitcairniifolia bicolor, and Puya would have been in reading Sharp Gardening.
The chapters that follow introduce the sharp plant palette along with detailing the plants needs along with plenty of design advice and fabulous pictures (all photographs by Jerry Harpur, scanned and used with permission of Timber Press). So many exciting sharp plants to fall in love with!


  1. What a clever post! Some of these I'm familiar with in my own garden, others, only in my zonal denial dreams.

  2. Thanks for the reminder...will have to dig out that book for vicarious garden bliss during these long, dark nights.

  3. What fabulous photos. I first read about this book in Pam's Digging but now i have put it on my to get list.

  4. Lovely spikey garden plants, and great garden design images, too. How nice of Timber Press to allow you to include the scanned photos. You need to apply for mini sales commissions: I bought the Irish's book on Agaves on your recommendation - now I think I need this one, too!

  5. What a wonderful review, mixed in with your own experiences in pursuing a sharp garden of your very own. You are tenacious and will make it work, even in rainy Portland! My thanks to Nicole for mentioning my post (not a review, but a mention that I'd bought the book); she has a good memory!

  6. Sharp gardening, not my cup of tea, but it would be a great garden to visit.

  7. Hi Loree~~ Ah ha, so this is your secret weapon! It's the perfect gardening bible for you. Now whenever I see sharp plants I think of you. I love the photo of the candelabra yuccas in a row backed by an illuminous sun-drench. And the color play on the third photo: the 'Color Guard' yucca [I think] and the 'Yellow Wave' Phormium. [I think again]. Fabulous. Amending our clay soil is a mandate, isn't it? I've also found that six inches of fallen leaves don't sit very well on my lavenders. They look horrid. Stupid me.

    Great post! Go Timber Press.

  8. Nice of Timber Press to let you use the photos, though it will likely serve them well. I love the picture just before the Golden Barrel Cactus, the one with the four glowing sentinels.

  9. jodi, I have those same dreams!

    ricki, long dark nights is right! But at least we've turned corner right? More light everyday?

    Nicole, you won't regret it!

    Jane, maybe you've invented a new career for me?!

    Pam, she does! I had to go back and look at your blog because I didn't remember reading about it there!

    K&V, you would just have to be careful not to poke out an eye!

    Grace, Good eye for the plants! I'm learning about the amending. I wish we would have done it big time when we tore out our front lawn. Live and learn...

    Les, yes it was! The pictures throughout this book are just fabulous!


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