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A pair of books to ring in spring


What more can we ask from a gardening book than to be inspirational and education? Two new books with more than a little in common manage to strike the right balance of both, complimenting each other, much as the personalities of these enthusiastic and generally delightful gardeners do.

Claus Dalby, the Danish gardener known for his stunning pot displays, and Linda Vater, a popular Oklahoma City gardener with a knack for garden style, dish up a pair of books from Cool Springs Press that are perfect for the start of the gardening season.

Dalby has several  books to his credit but Containers in the Garden is his first published in English, much to the delight of his English-speaking fans around the world. It gets to the heart of his signature abundant container design style, one oft repeated but rarely as successfully as he does.

All of the tips and tricks Dalby employs for his growing method are shared, including how to successfully overwinter bulbs in pots, something many gardeners struggle with. The trick, he says, is to put them in a protected spot where they won’t receive water during the winter (after they are watered in during planting). Once they start popping out of the soil they can come out into the light and watering can resume.

Dalby’s method is to plant most pots—his collection of beautiful terra cotta pots is impressive—with a single type of plant, then create mixed arrangements by mixing and matching pots. This allows him to swap out plants where the display is waning for something fresh or make new arrangements many times throughout the growing season. 

He’s an equal opportunity planter, filling pots with bulbs, annuals, perennials, vines and even trees or shrubs, and then blending them all together for a stunning show.

Dalby is particularly adept at focusing on monochromatic color schemes rich in texture, employing, for example, chartreuse Japanese maples with yellow daffodils and white tulips for a fresh spring display.

Dalby’s signature style is always creative and engaging.

Mimicking Dalby’s methods throughout the season would be difficult for most gardeners to pull off. Amassing what must be thousands of terra cotta pots surely was accomplished over decades, and he has the benefit of greenhouses and a couple gardeners to help with the time-intensive job of planting all those pots, sowing seeds and moving them all around.

But there is plenty of information that will have gardeners reaching for the book often. Dalby is a master of using interesting plants in simple ways, and his color palettes spread throughout the book in glorious large photos are themselves a treasure trove of inspiration. Since Dalby’s method of clustering pots is akin to a deconstructed mixed container planting, the same plants can be mixed and matched in large containers to great effect.

In one such display, for instance, Dalby combines Amaranthus ‘Hopi Red Dye’, chocolate Cosmos, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, purple wild carrot and Japanese painted fern for a rich and dark color palette. 

It’s those creative combinations that truly make the difference in Dalby’s displays, and you don’t need a pair of gardeners to pull them off. 

While Dalby’s book is excellent for providing inspiration on a specific style, Vater’s book The Elegant and Edible Garden paints with a broader brush, focusing more on helping gardeners find and refine their garden style.

Vater, whose structured potager garden is instantly recognizable by her legion of followers on social media, helps readers pull a garden concept, particularly one that incorporates edible plants in with flowers and shrubs, into a cohesive space.

Although she gardens in a relatively small yard in a historic neighborhood, Vater manages to pack vegetables and herbs alongside all other types of plants in her garden a way that any gardener can take inspiration from. She relies heavily on symmetry and yearlong structure, such as the boxwood hedge that forms the backbone of her potager. 

Inspiration can found throughout the pages of Linda Vater’s book.

Vater’s lessons in the book are valuable for any type of garden, and the quest to find the right garden style is examined thoroughly. She also shares her best practices for everything from organic growing to topiary creation, another of her plant passions.

Like Containers in the Garden, Vater’s book has gorgeous photos and plenty to read. It also incorporates plenty of sidebars and bullet point lists to help gardeners focus on takeaway lessons.

The books share similar cover designs, with a gorgeous photo to draw you in and an elegant linen cover, and in a way they compliment each other on the bookshelf both in look and content, which is a flood of inspiration perfect for the season.


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8 Responses

  1. Fantastic, Erin! I am ordering 4 of Claus’ books as Christmas gifts for my sisters-in-law! Perfect timing on the blog and perfect gifts for them since they are all 1/2 DANISH! My mother-in-law has passed, but her 100% Danish self would have loved this book! I can’t wait to get both books for myself as well. Thanks again, Erin!

  2. Great post! I actually had ordered both books and saved them for this past weekend when I had more time. I curled up and had a wonderful time with each book over the weekend. Lots of inspiration! I’m not as ambitious as Claus (who is?) but I like your point about replicating the concepts in a larger pot.

  3. What a as great post !! I have Linda’s book and just called my library to get Claud Dalbys new book. Can’t have too many gardening books.
    I am I love with Clematis!!! Have been for years. Hard to pick just one so here are a few favorites.
    Betty Corning, Multi Blue,Elsa Spath,, Rooguchi, and Arabella! Plus many more❤️

    Just have to tell you how much I loved your “HUMMER” ice cream drink. I tried it out in my willing neighbors and they loved it too. We all just said “mmmmm”. Guess that’s an interpretation of Hummer.
    I love your blog and have followed you for a long time, as love the dogs so much too. I always get a smile on my face when I see a new post from you.
    Have a great summer……that is IF Spring ever comes here to stay for a while! I’m in 5b too. Rain, cold, tornadoes, sleet, hail. I’ve had a talk with Mother Nature but it doesn’t seem too be helping.
    Enjoy everyday🌸

  4. I have Linda’s book & just love it. The pictures are beautiful & it’s written so well. I actually tried to order Claus’s book today but it’s out of stock until May. He has inspired me to do more container gardening. Now I’m waiting for a book from you Erin 😊 I’ve learned so much from you & since I too live in Wisconsin your advice is priceless to me!

  5. What perfect timing …it is still very dreary and cold here in Minneapolis… so I have embarked on “reshaping” the grass area in my small, postage-stamp size inner city yard. I have gone through multiple, albeit unsatisfying, “outlines” (with a garden hose, on tracing paper, etc.) … and then came the pic from Linda Vater’s Inspiration page … that’s it, that’s the insipration I needed.
    Thanks Erin! (Also, thanks Linda …I really love your YouTube channel as well).

  6. I like the idea of overwintering plants in pots. For the past several years, voles have destroyed 90% of the tulip bulbs I planted, so this past fall I crammed tulip bulbs into 10 quite large pots and kept them in my unheated garage (I am in zone 5b, in New Hampshire). Lo and behold, more than a month ago I was seeing them pop up by 6 or more inches. I slowed them down (so they’d bloom alongside the daffodils) by putting them in our pool shed which is open at the top to the air, and fashioned chicken wire up and around them to keep away the rabbits. I moved them out to the garden about a week or so ago, and they are starting to bloom. It’s not as natural looking as having them in the ground, but at least I have them. I also have several endless summer hydrangeas in pots that I dug out of the garden because even with protection, they weren’t blooming, and those are covered in leaves with buds right now. I just have to try to shade them at first when they go outside to get them used to the sun. I love the book reviews! Thanks so much, Erin!

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