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Homemade Pretzels

I haven't made homemade pretzels since we were in Alabama and I had forgotten how easy they are if not a little time consuming. I made these last week for Oscar night. They keep a long time in an airtight container. 1   (.25 ounce) package   active dry yeast 1 tablespoons   brown sugar 1  teaspoons   salt 1 ½   cups   warm water (110 degrees) 3   cups   all-purpose flour 1   cup   bread flour 2   cups   warm water (110 degrees) 2   tablespoons   baking soda 1-2   tablespoons   butter, melted 2   tablespoons  kosher salt Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Place the yeast, brown sugar and salt in the 1.5 cups of warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in the flour. Knead for about 7-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and cover. Let it rise for an hour (I place mine in the oven with the light on). Combine the two cups of warm water with the baking soda in a square shallow pan. After the dough has risen, cut it into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each section into a

Read any good gardening books lately?

I usually read gardening books in the winter time. They tend to recharge my enthusiasm during the "down time" from the gardening season and get me excited for the coming spring. This year has been an exception and I have been reading quite a few books lately. For one thing, gardening books seem to be coming back on the scene after a long dull period. Back in the 1990s, the publishing market was over-saturated with books on the subject and it has taken some time to reignite that interest. 

Since I am a librarian, I keep up with the trade publications (like "Publisher's Weekly" and "Library Journal") and I catch reviews of titles that might otherwise sneak by me. I also review books and often get offered copies of upcoming titles before they are published.

Here are some books that I really enjoyed and would recommend. Some were published this year and others have been out for a few years. This is not the entire list so I will do a "Part 2" soon.

Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935 by Sam Watters. Acanthus Press, 2012.

I was not familiar with Frances Benjamin Johnston. She was a photographer of architecture, presidents, celebrities and gardens in the early 1900s. Her garden photography established her as somewhat of a celebrity herself, notably in gardening circles. She was commissioned to photograph the gardens and estates of wealthy Americans and helped document the advances of beautification in this country.

This book features 250 of her hand colored glass-plate lantern slides that have been preserved by the Library of Congress. The gardens she photographed were on the East Coast, West Coast and a few Southern gardens as well. There is also a section of European gardens.

Here are a few samples of the incredible images from the book -

Thorndale, Oakleigh Thorne House, Millbrook, New York, 1919

Dudley Leavitt Pickman Jr. House, Beverly, Massachusetts, 1926

Cliveden, Viscount Waldorf Astor House, Taplow, England, 1925

Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Stories and Skills from Generations of Gardeners by Jenks Farmer. Timber Press, 2014.

I loved this book! The author discusses methods of gardening that time and technology have pretty much swept aside. He covers a wide range of topics, from soil building techniques and propagating to the wonderful tools that our grandparents used. Each section includes a gardening mentor who influenced the author and shows how their practices work in their own gardens. 

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Penguin Books, 2012.

This is not really a "gardening" book but I think anyone who loves plants and nature will find it fascinating. The author is a biology professor at Sewanee University. For this book, he conducted an experiment in which he selected a small section of Tennessee forest (he refers to it as a "mandala") and visited that spot periodically throughout the year to just sit and obverse nature in action. Each chapter focuses on a single activity, whether it is watching a chickadee foraging for food on a harsh winter's day or how a certain plant competes to survive. Interesting stuff!

Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales by Marta McDowell. Timber Press, 2014.

I did not know much about Beatrix Potter and I never read the Peter Rabbit books. It turns out she was an avid gardener. She purchased many properties during her lifetime but it was in England's Lake District, where she created her garden and home, called "Hill Top",  that is preserved today for tourists and fans. This book was not only a pleasure to read but I love the way it is designed, with beautiful illustrations and photographs.

Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden by Helen Yoest. St. Lynn's Press, 2014.

The author profiles 45 plants known for their aphrodisiac properties. This unique book has all kinds of fascinating tidbits about plants and their histories as well as recipes. This includes herbs, vegetables and fruits. Illustrated with great photos.

If you want to purchase any of these from Amazon, just click on the title link and it will take you there.

More to come!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. Hi Phillip, I've read two of the three, the Beatrix Potter one, and Jenks' new book. I loved them both. I haven't read the others. I'm reading The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy right now. It's very detailed and is taking me some time to get through it. However, wonderful book.~~Dee

  2. Dee, I have read that one too. I will have to include it on my next list!

  3. Thanks for reminding me about the Potter book. I've been meaning to read that for a while. I'm a librarian too and also try to keep up with the trade publications. The new Rosemary Verey biography is on my list to read as well. And like you, I usually read in the winter but this summer heat has driven me inside to enjoy my garden from the window! Lately I've read two quite enjoyable garden books: Virginia Woolf's Garden by Caroline Zoob and Gertrude Jekyll's Lost Garden by Rosamund Wallinger

  4. Felicia, I read the Verey bio last year and I also read the Wallinger book years ago and loved it. I am not familiar with the Virginia Woolf book, will have to look that up!

  5. I think you will enjoy it very much!

  6. I have read the Beatrix Potter one. I really liked it and the illustrations. I will have to get the one about the forest. I wish our library would get some of the others.

  7. Hi Phillip, thanks for reviewing these books on your blog! Some sound quite interesting to me and I will put them on my book wish-list, but my reading has to wait a bit. There is so much to do in the garden in the moment, I hardly even get to do my own blogging. Warm regards,

  8. Phillip, I've read The Forest Unseen~a really nice book of nature essays that can be read at your leisure; and The Living Landscape is winging its way to me!

  9. I'm also hoping to get The Living Landscape soon. I've heard lots of good things about the Jenks Farmer book, so on your recommendation, I'll put it on my reading list (which is way too long at the moment!).

  10. Thanks for these ideas. I'll be visiting my library soon to find them and/or requesting them if they're not already on the shelves!

  11. Some great reading there! Currently I am studying The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists by Lois Trigg Chaplin. It is a modest book with no inspirational photos, which I usually require in my garden books, but I have found it a terrific reference book.

  12. I'm so looking forward to reading all of these as well as the others suggested. As usual, you find the very best things!

  13. I have read several and Dee Nash's is one of them

  14. I usually read gardening books in the winter, too, and spend summer downtime reading mysteries. But I have about four new gardening books waiting on my shelf to read, including Dee Nash's book. Now I will have to add a couple of these! I loved Beatrix Potter as a child and so did my children, so this one is definitely one I'd like to read. Thanks for the great recommendations, Phillip!

  15. I've got to add Dee's book to my list!

  16. Thanks so much for the list! I got some great ideas from the comments too. :) I've got a few hand me down gardening books from family, and I'm ready to start building my own library.

    Happy Gardening!!


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