HOT READS Home and Garden Tips From the Bookshelf

read3Don’t you just love those moments when life delivers an unexpected gift? It happened to me recently, via my inbox. My editor sent me an email asking: “So, Erin, how would you like to review a few books for the summer issue of Central Virginia HOME? You know, share a few of your favorites from the home and garden section?” I stifled a shout of joy as I accepted my editor’s invitation to do a book-lover’s favorite thing.

Several happy dances later, I joyfully perused the aisles of the bookstore for a few pleasant hours. The product of my…ahem… “labor” is a short-list of good reads about our favorite topics here at Central Virginia HOME: your home and garden.

I hope you’ll grab the list, heed the summer’s call to pour a glass of something cool, and treat yourself to a leisurely afternoon with a good book dreaming of ways to enhance your home and garden. Enjoy!

You Grow Girl (Simon & Schuster) by Gayla Trail
Self-proclaimed “renegade gardener” Gayla Trail first came on the gardening scene in 2000 with the launch of her website, YouGrowGirl.com, which takes a “punk rock approach to growing plants that takes the good stuff from tradition and tosses the rest into the composter.”

The book, a companion to the website, distills Trail’s formidable knowledge of all-things gardening and packages it in a fun, funky, girl-next-door sort of guide for even the blackest of thumbs. She bucks traditional garden-speak for easy-to-follow information on everything from garden basics like assessing soil conditions and planting seeds, to common plant diseases and organic disease remedies. She also offers instructions for projects like making Chive Blossom-Infused Vinegar, growing a succulent container and making your own healing hand salve. My favorite chapter? “Eat Less Dirt: Washing Herbs and Produce.” Practical and creative, this book will make a quirky companion during your gardening travails.

read1Block Parties & Poker Nights (Clarkson Potter) by Peggy Allen
I found this gem of a book in the cookbook section of the bookstore, though what I discovered as I perused its upbeat pages is that the recipes are really an accompaniment to a guide for creating good cheer among one’s friends and neighbors. Friends and food are what this book is about, in equal measure.

Bright, cheerful, and definitely not formal, Allen’s book offers thoughtful, do-able ideas and recipes for everything from welcoming new neighbors to hosting block parties and poker nights, game rules included. A section called “Good Times and Bad” contains recipes for comfort food and tips on how to reach out to help friends experiencing rough times. Instructions for hosting a “Too Busy for Lunch Ladies’ Lunch” party cleverly and creatively help you plan a get-together for working and non-working friends alike. Recipes range from the simple, like Beer-Can Chicken, to the more sophisticated, like Prosciutto and Gruyere Pinwheels.

This book is so much fun that it has me peeking out my window and plotting a block party of my own.

Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House (Scribner) by Cheryl Mendelson
Think wedding gift here. The kind that you know will be used for years and end up a ratty, dog-eared treasure. Written by lawyer-turned-professor-but-always-avid-homekeeper Cheryl Mendelson, this is the go-to homekeeping book everyone should have.

Mendelson covers topics like food preparation and kitchen culture, fabric know-how and care, laundry sanitizing, and techniques for keeping your house clean and tidy from basement to attic. She even includes sections on caring for books and electronics, and tips for home safety.

There are no flights of fancy here. Entries are compact and efficient, and topics are easy to navigate through a detailed table of contents and an impressively extensive index. Don’t know how often to air mattresses or how to clean pillows? Simply flip to the index and you’ll find what you need.

What differentiates this book from other homekeeping tomes is that Mendelson offers not just the how-to, but also the why-for. She explains the difference between reactionary housekeeping and systematic housekeeping, and why this paradigm shift will help you live comfortably all the time.

read2Pure Style Home & Garden (Ryland, Peters & Small) by Jane Cumberbatch
The images in Jane Cumberbatch’s beautiful hardcover book reach out from the shelf and draw readers into a serene world of home and garden design. The cover alone will have you enthralled by its simple stylishness, and may send you rushing about your house tossing tchotchkes to achieve the pared-down, timeless look created by this former editor of House and Garden and contributor to Elle Decoration. Cumberbatch offers elegant but no-fuss ideas for all of your rooms and outdoor spaces. She covers everything from fabric and furniture to lighting, and emphasizes using natural materials and streamlined furnishings. Practical but lovely, her aesthetic is rooted in a belief that beauty and functionality can not only coexist, but complement one another.

As much a visual journal as it is a guidebook, I suggest keeping it open on a coffee table to enjoy the lovely photography.

Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden (Simon & Schuster) by Emily Whaley
Mrs. Whaley’s book is a meandering tour through a garden and a life. A collection of brief essays on varying topics, it reads like a conversation over tea with a much-cherished great-aunt. Mrs. Whaley’s garden, a diminutive 30 by 110 feet, is one of the most visited private gardens in America and lies tucked behind her home on Church Street in one of the oldest and most gracious corners of Charleston. She has cultivated plants, raised a family, and lived life well in and around the garden’s boundaries since 1938. 

Mrs. Whaley writes about topics as varied as her rural South Carolina childhood and her family, her dog, her favorite recipes, self-esteem, and, of course, gardening. This sassy maven lets you know right off that she’ll be dispensing opinions and advice over the course of her book, for as she quips, “what’s the good of having an opinion if you don’t share it with your friends and your wonderful daughters?” These, dear readers, are opinions worth hearing. Hop in a hammock, pour a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, and plan to wile away a few hours in her company.

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