The Zen of Gardening by David Wann

I marvel at the lush gardens I see on gardening shows and admit to a bit of
“green” envy. Unfortunately, those shows and gardening books for the humid
eastern U.S. do not help me much here in Montana. Instead I seek out advice
from gardeners who create successful gardens in our challenging conditions out

David Wann is one such gardener. David began gardening at 7000 feet outside
Denver in the early 1980s. He has faced the same drought, wind, heat, cold, hail,
poor soils and short growing seasons that we cope with here in Montana. He
has distilled decades of experimental gardening and many lessons from masterful
gardeners that he has interviewed and worked with into this book.

Mr. Wann covers a very wide range of topics from mulching, choosing natives,
starting seeds, growing garlic, producing food in the winter to planting trees,
shrubs and perennial flowers. The novice and the seasoned gardener alike will
find great information here. As I read the book, I started a list of useful tips that
I plan to implement in my garden, such as mulching potato plants with pine needles, feeding my strawberries with compost and bone meal, using different methods of seed-starting to meet the varying needs of seeds, growing hairy vetch as a cover crop and companion plant to tomatoes, and trying the adage “When cottonwoods bud, plant the spuds.”

This book is not a story that you can read through like a novel. It is more a reference book and can be read gradually or used as a go-to source for specific help. One philosophical approach I particularly like about Mr. Wann’s gardening is that
there are lessons in failures—gardens are an experiment that we learn from every year. That is one of the things I love about gardening—there is always something new and useful to learn. And I definitely learned a lot reading The Zen of Gardening.

Reviewed by Ann Guthals


A Tip from Dr. Bob

The late Dr. Bob is the father of Montana’s Master Gardener program. When he taught theclasses nobody ever fell asleep. He was a writer of a great many articles on gardening. The following is just one of several hundred in my files.

A question to Dr. Bob: “How can I increase germination of my garden seeds?” (March 2002)

“Gardeners all over the country are right now wondering how to get better germination in the vegetable and flower seeds. Of course, start with good seeds and in most cases you’ll have good germination, but some seeds are notoriously tough with hard seed coats. Now, researchers in Georgia have found a common household substance that increases germination in watermelon seeds.

The seedless watermelon cultivars on the market are for the most part, triploids. That means that they form fruit that has no developed seeds. While they are no good for seedspitting contests, the melons do make great eating. The triploid cultivars are expensive to produce and, unfortunately, the seeds have thick coats that interfere with germination.

Researchers have found that soaking the seeds in 1 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide at room temperature and in the dark greatly improves their germination. After just a day or two in the solution, the seeds germinated readily in petri dishes and would no doubt do so in the garden soil.

The 1 percent solution does not damage the emerging radicle, but solutions two percent or higher do severe damage to the young seedling. The hydrogen peroxide is generally available in the drug store and is a three percent solution, so you must dilute it with water. You can do that by adding two parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide. So far, researchers have only tested the solution on watermelon seeds, but they suggest that it might also improve germination in a wide range of “hardcoated” seeds, such as those of cabbage and broccoli.”

Submitted by Corry Mordeaux

Book Review: Park’s Success with Seeds

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My Planting ‘Bible’

It seems I’ve always known gardening – introduced by my mother, her mother, and my father’s mother as well. These ladies worked hard always as farm wives, and especially diligently when they were in the garden. So when our local ag advisor visited our place on a sunny summer day between my eighth grade and freshman years to help me choose an FFA ‘SOEP’ (Supervised Occupational Experience Project? Gosh, it’s been a long time…) we discussed all the common options (sheep, pigs, crops, cows, mechanics and equipment), but briefly. He suggested a greenhouse project that was such a natural fit it stuck with me, and my mom, as we supplied our small town with bedding plants for the next twenty years. Among the various reference materials we used to construct the greenhouse and develop our processes, I owe a lot of our immediate and long-lasting success to this book, Park’s Success with Seeds. It is the most comprehensive reference I’ve ever used for selecting and propagating seeds and plants.


From the introduction to the glossary this book is easy to read, with detailed, accurate descriptions of practically every process you might use for choosing, propagating, and planting seeds. Beginning with the variety of supplies you will need on hand, the author, Ann Reilly, steps through the why’s and how’s of containers, lights, soils and other planting media, watering, temperature control, humidity and fertilizer. Her suggestions for alternate materials can save you time and money, proving that much can be accomplished with items you already have on hand (or in the trash can!) to start your own garden or houseplants.


As a fourteen-year-old embarking on an endeavor even her gardening grandma’s had never really explored in depth, this was foundational information that made an impression. Our greenhouse was built, supplied, and used for years based on the basic information in Success with Seeds. It was as much a textbook as any I’ve ever used in a class.


Ann’s detailed plant identification material in Success with Seeds is exemplary. If you never intend to plant your own seeds, this book is still a fabulous help to choosing the plants you will use for your windows, gardens, and beds. Starting with a listing of plant families, the book includes pictures of not only mature plants by genus, but photos of sprouts and first true leaves with individual descriptions on about one thousand specific species. (This has helped me distinguish weeds from keepers for many years!) The descriptions include genus and species, common name, origins, hardiness, uses, habit, germination needs, and culture. This large section is the part that was recommended reference in the recent January newsletter to accompany seed catalogue shopping. It is as relevant now as it was in the seventies when this book was published. There are many current books and magazines available for newer varieties, but this book is still a reliable starting point and includes basic information that is helpful in understanding the origins and growing requirements of modern hybrids as well.


The appendix seems page-thin compared with the photo section, but the information there is incredibly helpful. There are excellent listings for “PLANTS FOR EASY CULTIVATION (Perfect for beginners or children)”, “SEEDS THAT REQUIRE SPECIAL TREATMENT” (darkness, soaking, light, stratification, scarification, etc.), and “PLANTS FOR SPECIAL PLACES”. It also includes a glossary, and a cross reference index to help you find the botanical name if you only know a common name for a plant. There are garden layout and plant recommendations for several types of gardens, and then a great pronunciation guide and hardiness map (1978) at the end.


There are other titles in this Park’s Success series – Success with Herbs and Success with Bulbs – which I have never read or used but which may be equally valuable reference books. It seems there was only ever one edition published, which makes finding any copies a challenge and new copies are sort of like hen’s teeth. My daughter has my first copy now, so I searched the world and bought a used copy recently for myself on Amazon. Now I can refresh my memory as I sort through these seed packets and catalogues…



Submitted By Corinna Sinclair


So you have all the Christmas decorations stored, the income tax information compiled in a folder and now without any other interruptions, let’s get the seed catalogs all spread out and start making plans. You probably have a list of your standard vegetables and varieties. Have you ever thought about trying something entirely different just to see if it would grow well? Try two variety types to see which one produced more? How much space do you have for how many vegetables? When I look through catalogs, it’s like a kid in a candy store – I’d like one of each item.

What do we believe and expect from catalog products? Keep in mind as you swoon over all the pretty pictures that their purpose is to entice you to buy first-most, and to educate you last-most. Those pretty silver Artemesia that are “hardy and easy to grow” could barge into your property like a band of evil pixies, then float over the fence on the wind and take over your neighbor’s lawn, the back alley, and the cracks in the sidewalk out front! What the catalog might not tell you is that your Montana climate will turn those hardy annual plants into perennials that come from seed and from all the root bits, and if you aren’t ready for that it could be a three-year weed-pulling seed experiment gone bad.

When buying seeds it’s important to do your homework. Some seeds need special care to sprout. If you are preparing to pay $5 for a packet of 5 geranium seeds, for example, you should be aware that they are that expensive for a reason. That doesn’t mean to avoid them, it means you will want to know all you can about geranium seeds before they arrive in your mailbox. You won’t want to waste them because you didn’t know they want warm feet until they come up, and then watered from the bottom to avoid any extra moisture at the base of the seedling to avoid damping off. Pansies, on the other hand, better not be on that heat mat – they like it cool. And some seeds will want to be dark when others need to be exposed to the light! They won’t tell you those things in the catalog. Avoid preventable failures by having at hand (hard copy or online) a good seed identification guide that includes germination information (light requirements, moisture preferences, temperature, scarification, etc.), pictures of seedlings and first true leaves, time to germination, susceptibility to fungus or rots, and other helpful facts. [Park’s Success With Seeds is Corinna’s favorite reference.] You will want specific germination information on every seed you plan to buy for the best success.

If you find something you want to try that needs to be seeded indoors, assemble any
lights, heat mats or cables, and watering supplies before they arrive so you know what kind of space you’ll need. It can be a very enjoyable thing to have seedlings in the house on those dreary February days! The same diligence can be done for buying plant material. Know as much as you can about the plant, its best condition before planting, best time to plant, and best initial care requirements before you buy. Know what it is susceptible to, and what it wants for light, water, and soil. If you always have a reliable secondary source of information, you increase your rate of success and can spot ‘creative marketing’
before you fall for it.

It should be pointed out that if you are looking for specialty potatoes Montana has a Premier Seed Potato production that supplies seed potatoes to Idaho, Washington and other states that are famous for their potatoes. ( Nina Zidack of the MT Potato Lab “wants to encourage home gardeners to plant Montana-certified seed potatoes.” One reason is that certified seed potatoes grow better potatoes than potatoes bought in a grocery store or potatoes left over from previous seasons. Potatoes sold in grocery stores are often treated to restrict the sprouting of tubers, Zidack said, “and more importantly they may come from other states and carry virus diseases and tuber and soil-borne pests, or come from areas that have frequent outbreaks of Late Blight.” The Irish potato famine was caused by Late Blight, the most destructive disease of potatoes, which can also infect tomato, eggplant, pepper and petunia. Spores from the fungus may be wind borne and carried 50 miles or more. “Increased planting of Montana-certified seed in gardens will reduce the risk of introducing pathogens or other pests which would cause serious disease outbreaks resulting in monetary losses to [home and professional] growers,” Zidack said. If you have questions about sources for certified seed potatoes, contact your local extension agent or Nina Zidack at (406) 994-3150,

Don’t forget that your Master Gardener Association and Extension is a great source of information when you are trying new things. Use the online resources and your personal relationships through Master Gardeners to help you be a successful seed planter!

Submitted By: Sheri Kisch and Corinna Sinclair