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Book Reviews

Herbcrafts: Practical Inspirations for Natural Gifts, Country Crafts and Decorative Displays

by Tessa Evelegh

Flowercrafts: Practical Inspirations for Natural Gifts, Country Crafts and Decorative Displays

by Deena Beverley

Making and Selling Herbal Crafts: Tips, Techniques, Projects

by Alyce Nadeau

Whether pretty posies or practical aromatics, book publishers are offering a stack of craft books on creating items for home, body, or gift giving from the garden’s bounty.

From the glossy front cover of Living With Herbs, Jo Ann Gardner beams a smile across a dirty blue-jeaned knee and a colourful bed of coral bells, poppies, and veronica. Although it’s modestly black and white inside, readers will want to pick up this smallish guide. The aptly named Gardner, transplanted from Vermont in 1971, has been roughing it on a rural Cape Breton farm ever since. Despite poor soil and a short growing season, she thrives. She sells home-grown herbal products, and teaches and writes on the topic. Like her garden, her book contains both the useful and the ornamental. She discusses growing, harvesting, and using herbs, and presents 74 herb portraits, each with an identifying drawing, tips for planting and use, snippets of history, reminiscences, and home-tested recipes that range from the everyday (pesto and pita bread) to the exotic (angelica candy and rose-petal sandwiches).

Although garlic and tarragon are left out, Gardner’s comprehensive herb list embraces even hollyhock, nigella, and viola. Cold-climate gardeners will be happy to find that many of her recommended herbs will overwinter outdoors. Along with all this, Gardner gives recycling and general craft tips. For this author, however, gardening itself is the craft – to be practiced with humour, hope, humility, and curiosity. Her companionable volume will be right at home on most gardeners’ shelves for quick reference or a leisurely graze. An index, a welcome bibliography, and a source guide for both Canada and the U.S. is provided.

Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson, the Minnesotan authors of The Anne of Green Gables Christmas Treasury, have piggybacked previous books onto the creations of Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder. A distant relative of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne, this latest book may have difficulty getting adopted. It’s an uneasy mix of garden crafts, gifts to make, games to play, and Christmas cooking – stuck together with syrupy writing. Pretty illustrations add a picture-book charm but can’t cover the lack of real coherence.

First, the authors confuse their audience. Many of the crafts are easy and inexpensive to make; most will appeal to between-child-and-teen Anne fans. Why, then, add the complicated cooking recipes aimed at adults? The odd misspelling, misunderstanding (russets are not shiny red apples), and inconsistency between the craft as shown and as sewn mar the book. And lines like “A platter of glistening glazed carrots will be yet another reminder of Anne on your Christmas table,” are only to be wondered at.

In contrast, it is bracing to encounter the brisk and well-bred Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Flower Arranging. Its design is crisp and direct, with clearly identified colour photographs, diagrams, and step-by-step instructions. British author Judith Blacklock (a flower arranger, teacher, show judge, and writer) promises information, instruction, and inspiration – and she delivers. Her book awakens new appreciation for this artful ephemera and the astonishing amount of information offered here will extend any arranger’s repertoire. Thirty pages alone are devoted to a discussion of appropriate containers. A calendar of flowers in season is laid out, along with tips on picking, purchasing, and preserving. She explains equipment, techniques, design elements, colour, texture, and specific designs for seasons, celebrations, special venues and events (royal visits, and so on). She examines flower culture and cultivation and exhibits arrangements from over 20 countries. The book opens flat to display its instructions for the armchair enthusiast, the amateur arranging home-grown blooms, or the professional putting together bouquets for a wedding party. Much of the plant material can be grown in a Canadian garden; most can be found at a florist’s. An index and worldwide list of flower arranging societies and garden clubs is included.

A trio of garden craft books share the same British publisher, and all are glossy and full-colour glorious. These are garden-dreaming books for deep-winter days.

The Country Store is the best of this bunch. Author Stephanie Donaldson has worked as a professional gardener, lecturer, and writer. After a short history lesson, she gives general tips on flower-and-herb growing, gathering from the wild, purchasing and harvesting, then offers how-tos and recipes for kitchen, household, and seasonal uses. In addition to the inevitable wreaths and potpourris, she shows many less conventional projects. Her pantry has flavours from almost every corner of the old Empire and includes, among other things, spicy chutneys, vinegars, sauces, and, from England’s own hedgerows, sloes to make sloe gin. Home-gardening purists and preservers may be disappointed that some of the ingredients she specifies aren’t so easily found or grown without a glasshouse, but her uncommon foods and crafts may be welcomed by those who want to make something quite special. With well over 100 recipes and projects, this book will be consulted again and again. Sources and suppliers are listed (Canada’s are a surprise under the U.S. heading), and an index is included.

Deena Beverley’s Flowercrafts, an undeniably beautiful book with more style than content, may have a more limited life span for its readers. It opens with an entertaining history of flowercraft in its domestic, romantic, religious, and artistic manifestations, briefly outlines drying and preserving techniques, then presents a series of well-illustrated floral projects. Some, such as the bridesmaid’s circlet and the pressed flower stationery, are charming and so simple to make that they will have wide appeal. Others, such as the dried-flower pillow front, are stunningly impractical. Unfortunately, many of the photographed flowers are unidentified.

Tessa Evelegh’s Herbcrafts also begins with a look back – at both formal and informal herb gardens. The author then takes the reader on a quick tour of herb-garden planning, plant propagation, growing, harvesting, and giving. A section on decorative herbs combines unlikely elements into quirky, elegant crafts (small turnips and carrots wired onto a wreath of fresh-picked sage or artichokes added to a garland). The next chapter has an array of aromatic cosmetics and fragrant crafts. Another shows how to use herbs with food and drink. Step-by-step photographs illustrate the projects. A directory of 54 herbs is also presented: each with a colour photograph, information on cultivation, and culinary and medicinal uses. Canadian gardeners will wish growing zones were designated. A source list (U.K. and Australia only) and an index complete the book.

Back across the Atlantic, Alyce Nadeau lives, works, and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the southeast United States. Making andSelling Herbal Crafts is filled with her hard work, enthusiasm, and common sense. Unlike Gardner, with whom we began, Nadeau seems uncomfortable down in the dirt. After a detailed description of her gardens, she gets right down to small business. Nadeau outlines how to set up a studio, an office, and a booth, what to bring to market, how to dress, different sales techniques and types. Her instructions are easy to follow and many readers will enjoy the crafts she offers: the small projects are predictable but perfect for bazaars and fundraisers. From-scratch Canadian crafters may not approve, however. Many of Nadeau’s basic designs are built on purchased forms using plant materials not grown here.