Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding Free Gardening Books Online

If you are like me and you love perusing gardening books of all sorts, especially rare or unusual ones, then you, too, probably find yourself every once in a while looking for new reading material or lamenting the exorbitant price of that glossy monograph of fuchsias or that beautiful work on the gardens of Cornwall. Over the last months I have found that the internet offers some wonderful ways to assuage those horticultural-literary longings. First and foremost is Google Books at, which is a veritable treasure trove of no longer copyrighted gardening books from the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th century. A simple search for a term like "gardening" with the search settings set to "Full view only" returns hundreds of results ranging from Gardening in California and Gardening in the South to A Treatise Upon Planting, Gardening, and the Managment of the Hot-House, all of which you can either read on Google Books or download as a PDF file. Luckily plants by and large change little in their cultivation needs and so even though these books might be a hundred years old or even older, very little of the information they offer is obsolete. In fact, I am always astounded how ingenious and adventurous Victorian gardeners appear to have been in their work. I guess before USDA hardiness zones existed zone denial was a whole lot easier.

The languages most richly represented on Google Books in garden book form appear to be English, German, and French, though there are also a handful of works in Spanish. Dutch certainly has some horticultural books and other languages probably do as well, though my language skills were not sufficient to verify this. However, I did have to conclude that up until now no "full view" gardening books in Arabic, Urdu, or Hindi were to be found on Google Books. That being said, my favorite find in German has been a German translation of an Ottoman treatise on the cultivation of tulips and narcissi entitled Vom Tulpen- und Narcissen-Bau in der Turkey to be found here .

Apart from Google Books, I have found the websites of the agricultural ministries of some countries to be a good source for free downloads of contemporary books and pamphlets on horticultural and agricultural topics. This is particularly true for gardening literature in Arabic and the websites of the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture ( and the Kuwaiti Public Authority of Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources ( both offer quite a few interesting booklets for free dowload, ranging in subject matter from ornamental shrubs and garden design to mango cultivation. The image below is the cover of a short booklet about houseplants that can be found at the latter website.

Two more websites useful if you were to be looking for Arabic gardening manuals - as I have been doing for reasons of sheer nerdiness - are and Many of the books are short monographs about the cultivation of a specific fruit or vegetable, but there are also booklets about flower gardening, ornamental trees, and houseplants.

Well, I hope you have fun reading, and I wish you all a happy New Year's Eve and a good start into the New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 12: Der Katz'sche Garten

The last garden in my 'Summer Travels' series is a small gem of a garden in my German hometown of Gernsbach. Located in a valley of the Black Forest in the southwest of the country, close to the famous spa town of Baden-Baden and the French border, Gernsbach has a very mild climate by German standards, and the plantings in this little park make full use of the opportunities this offers. The garden abounds with palms, banana plants, magnolias, camellias, fig trees, and countless small botanical treasures. Among my favorite plants found in the garden are the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), the hardy fuchsias (Fuchsia magellanica), and the lush crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica).

The history of the garden begins in the early nineteenth century when the riverfront property was developed as a garden for the mansion of the wealthy Katz family, designed by the architect Friedrich Weinbrenner and completed in 1813. The Katz family that gave the garden its name has been one of the most influential families in the history of Gernsbach for centuries, having acquired great wealth in the business of shipping wood from the Black Forest into the Rhine valley and then up the Rhine as far as the Netherlands. Somewhat confusingly, the name of the other family that traditionally made up the town's aristocracy together with the Katz was Kast, and at times the two families intermarried. To this day, both names can be found all over the older parts of town. Throughout much of the 19th century as well as the first half of the 20th, the Katz family decorated the garden with a growing collection of statues and other stone and and metal decorative elements, some as old as the 15th century. They also planted trees rare at the times of which some survive. A large bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) dominates one part of the garden and two large magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) were already mentioned in a travel guide in the 19th century and were then considered to be among the largest magnolias in Germany. In the 1960s the Katz'scher Garten was opened to the public, but in the following decades it deteriorated until it was all but ruined and overgrown by the early 1990s.

In 1995 a initiative to restore the garden was founded by local residents and from 1996 until 2001 the garden was thoroughly renovated, restoring many of the playful intricacies of the 19th century designs and many of the antique ornaments that once graced the garden. The replanting of the garden was undertaken with many of the rare or exotic species now seen and since then many more have been added. Interestingly, the restored garden might even have had an effect on the gardening tastes of others in town for plants like Japanese fiber bananas (Musa basjoo) and cypresses are becoming ever more common throughout the area.

If you can read some German or just want to see more pictures, you can find more information about the Katz'sche Garten on its pretty website at

Friday, December 25, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 11: La promenade plantée and le jardin de Reuilly

While I am still a bit sickly - the fever ofe the days leading up to Christmas has now evolved into phlegmy throat misery - I need to keep up with my 'Summer Travels' posts if I am going to finish them before the end of the year as planned. So here we are with the "Planted Walk" and the "Garden of Reuilly", two beautiful and unusual parks in the 12e arrondissement of Paris. I first mentioned the promenade plantée on this blog in September in one of my posts about the High Line in New York City, which was partially inspired by the similar but older Parisian park. Like the High Line, the promenade plantée was planted on an old, no longer used railroad viaduct. Consequently, the two parks share their unusual long-but-narrow "geography" and the fact that they stand on pillars well off the ground. Despite their similarities, however, the promenade plantée and the High Line have a decidedly different feel. Part of this might be a result of their respective ages: the promenade plantée was created in 1988 by landscape architect Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux, while the first section of the High Line was only inaugurated early this past summer. The plants in the promenade plantée have therefore had considerably more time to grow and as a result the overall visual effect when one is on top of the viaduct is a lot more reminiscent of a traditional park since trees and large shrubs block most views of the surrounding urban scenery. However, the design and planting schemes themselves are also more traditional than those of the High Line, aiming more for classic elegance and lushness than sleek modernity. The plantings consist by and large of the familiar denizens of park plantings: oaks (Quercus sp.) and linden (Tilia sp.) for trees, various evergreens such as eleagnus (Eleagnus x ebbingei) and bamboo (Phyllostachys sp.) as hedges, beds of roses (Rosa sp.), and crimsom glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) as a climber covering arbours. Many of the plantings seemed to be suffering somewhat from lack of water since apparently the weather up until our visit had been unusually hot and dry and the relatively thin layer of soil on top on the of the viaduct gave the plants little to draw on. The roses, however, appeared to be irrigated more heavily for they were blooming beautifully.Besides the roses, there were of course a few more interesting plants, even though the planting was quite traditional overall. One was monk's pepper (Vitex agnus-castus), one of my favorite flowering shrubs. I guess technically it is common enough to not be terribly exciting but I am still happy whenever I see a nice specimen. Then there was a kind of sage (Salvia sp.) with cheerful red flowers and large stands of some kind of Helianthus as well as some pretty combinations of plants I have unfortunately been unable to identify. Let me know if you recognize them!

At its eastern end, the 2.8 mile (4.5km) long promenade plantée feeds into the jardin de Reuilly, a beautiful park with very pretty and varied plantings close to the Bois de Vincennes. There is a large bed planted mainly with Mediterranean species, such as olive trees (Olea europea), umbrella pines (Pinus pinea), cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), and European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis). Adjacent lies an area planted like a modern take on a cottage garden, with a wild mixture vegetables such as cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) and flowers such as pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) and even a scare crow. More such different beds may be found around most of the edge of the park, all framing a large central lawn for people to relax and play, traversed well overhead by a delicate and elegant bridge, so that those merely travelling across the park and those making use of the green are never in each other's way.

In the west, the promenade plantée extends all the way to la Bastille, and the space under the arches of the viaduct is used to house art shops and craft-related businesses in a program known as le viaduc des Arts. For more information on any of these, you can follow this link to the website of the promenade plantée if you know some French:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

I apologize once again for not posting for so long! After I finally finished my final exams, I was supposed to leave for home last Sunday but then of course the big snowstorm that made its way up the East Coast hit Boston and I was temporarily stuck. Still, I was relatively lucky since I was able to fly out the next morning quite early and I made it home only a day late - though it took my luggage another day to arrive - but then I came down with some form of flu within hours of getting home. Now I finally seem to be getting better, or at least fit enough to decorate our Christmas Tree. As you can probably tell, I like my Christmas trees quite gaudy - I pretty much decorate it with all the ornaments that have accumulated in the years since my parents and I moved to the United States. I am particularly fond of tinsel and imaginative, glittery glass ornaments like clip-on birds of which you can see one below. The tree is real, though so far it has not been quite as fragrant as one would hope. Then again, maybe my sense of smell is simply a bit handicaped due to my flu episode.

My dad bought the tree at the end of November when Christmas trees are first beginning to be sold and kept it in a bucket of water first outside in the yard and then in the garage until this morning. His reason for doing this consists in the hope that the tree be fresher than if it had spent a month without water at the garden center, and that by buying earlier, we might be able to get a nicer specimen of a tree.
Now you may ask: Why go through the process of storing the tree at all and not simply put it up around Thanksgiving like most people? Well, in Germany most people traditionally do not put up their Christmas trees until December 24th and then leave them up until Epiphany on January 6th and we continue to follow that custom. Incidentally, the main celebrations of Christmas generally fall on the 24th in Germany, that date being known as "Heiligabend" or "Holy Night" and the 25th and the 26th being designated "Weihnachtsfeiertage" or "Christmas Holidays". On that note, I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and hope that all your wishes are fulfilled!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 10: La Grande Mosquée de Paris

I apologize for the lack of posts during the last couple of days; it is finals period and while I was not writing posts I was busy writing term papers and reviewing lecture notes for upcoming exams. Alas, I now only have one exam left and four days to prepare for it, so I thought it would not be too irresponsible to take a break and write a new post. Besides, I want to finish up the 'Summer Travel' pieces by the end of the year, and there are still two more to go after this one, so I better hurry up.
The subject of today's post, the Great Mosque of Paris, is easily one of my favorites among the garden-related sites I was lucky enough to visit this summer. According to Wikipedia as well as the plaque next to the main entrance to the building, the mosque was built to commemorate the Muslim soldiers who had fought for France during World War I and was inaugurated on July 15, 1926. Reflecting the North African origin of most of France's Muslim troops then as well as most of its Muslim population now, the mosque was constructed in a style reflecting Maghribi - Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian - and Andalusian styles. The elaborate tile designs, intricate stucco decorations, and even the style of the Arabic calligraphy running in bands along most walls are all typical of this form of Islamic architecture and will seem quite familiar to anyone who has visited or studied the Alhambra in Granada or some of the historical mosques and madrasahs in Morocco. Similarly, the minaret of the mosque is a scaled-down version of the typically Maghribi minaret model that can be seen in La Giralda, the famous bell tower of the Seville Cathedral ( and the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech ( . The official website of the mosque can be found at . Though mainly focused on religious life at the Mosque, the website does have some picture galleries and even French translations of the Arabic poetry inscribed on the walls.
The mosque garden has a decidedly Andalusian feel as well. Set in the first of the mosque's two main courtyards, it is arranged geometrically, with rectangular beds bisected by blue-tiled walkways and small rivulets of water. At the end of the courtyard closer to the main entrance of the mosque a tall fountain serves as a focal point, while on the right side of the courtyard as seen from the portal, a small water channel, also tiled in bright blue, follows some steps down from a raised terrace leading to a monumental gate through which one passes to the other courtyard. The other sides of the courtyard are framed by beautiful rows of arches, heavily hung with various climbers, among them Wisterias (Wisteria sinensis) and Jasmine Nightshade (Solanum laxum or Solanum jasminoides).

The beds themselves are lined with neat low hedges of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and are filled with as Mediterranean a planting scheme as the Parisian climate will allow. Windmill or Chusan Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) provide the main vertical elements in the plantings, but there are also specimens of Chaste Tree or Monk's Pepper (Vitex agnus-castus) - one of my favorite flowering shrubs - and loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). Ivy (Hedera helix) serves as a groundcover throughout the beds, which I found somewhat surprising. While it is certainly an effective groundcover, particularly in the mild, wet climate of Western Europe which keeps it growing virtually year-round, the very vigor of ivy makes me wonder how much work it must be to keep it from overtaking and smothering all the other plants in the garden. In my family's gardens in Germany keeping the ivy in check is always a challenge...

Flowers in the garden include roses (Rosa sp.) and plenty of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) as well as Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata), the latter unfortunately no longer in bloom at the time of our visit. Perhaps my favorite plant in the whole garden, however, was a double-flowered variety of pomegranate (Punica granatum) with huge, bright red blossoms. As you can probably tell by the background picture of this blog's header, I love pomegranate blossoms, and the ones on this particular shrub combined the silky petals and flaming red typical of the species with the lush density of peonies or antique roses.

The other courtyard of the mosque is much more architectural, completely tiled and without any plants. Surrounded by beautiful white arches and with a large, low bowl-shaped fountain at its center, this courtyard is a bright, visually calm space with a cool elegance. The play of the light between the arches and on the tiles was absolutely beautiful.

For garden lovers visiting Paris the mosque is ideally located since it is situated right behind the Jardin des Plants and the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in the 5th Arrondissement on the left - or southern - bank of the Seine. The museum and botanic garden are fascinating and really a must-see, and after visiting these, the mosque is an ideal stop before heading to a different part of the city. It even has a restaurant and a café in two small additional courtyards accessed separately from the outside of the mosque, in case refreshments are needed. They serve North African fare, and though they can be crowded and pricy, sitting in the cool courtyard under shady trees and drinking sugary mint tea accompanied by rose-flavored pastries can be a beautiful way to while away a hot afternoon hour...