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Armchair Gardening 

Cold weather reading

While our recent rains have been welcome from our drought-ridden perspective, they do make it more challenging to get out and actually, you know, garden. Walking on the wet ground can compact soil, and there's nothing like weeding under a tree when a stiff wind blows, knocking huge droplets of water down the back of your neck (brr!). Luckily, I have a solution that should work for even the most enthusiastic gardener: Take a break, cuddle up with a garden book, and hope for a few clear patches in January for all of that winter pruning we have on our to-do lists. Here are some new favorites you may not have heard of, perfect for winter reading, or for giving to that special gardener on your holiday list.

Gardener's Yoga by Veronica D'Orazio

On first glance, I thought this would be one of those silly gift books with fluffy contents that don't really fulfill the promise of the book, but I picked it up anyway, guided by fond memories of a Feldenkrais class I once took on gardening without strain and pain. I was thrilled to find that this charmingly illustrated, classy little book is filled with useful poses, each with a description sharing what the pose does for your body and how that helps during specific gardening activities.

The book is organized into the four seasons, with each section addressing the most common movements and activities done in the garden during that season. Each pose is given a full-color, full-page illustration to show how to do it, set against a backdrop of botanical sketches. A clear flowchart in the back shows which poses are good for which parts of the body, so if you're suffering from sore muscles or lack of strength in one area, you have a handy cheat sheet as to what to focus on in your next practice. Though dedicated yogis may already be doing many of these straightforward poses, I found making the connection between the seasonal tasks I'm doing and the yoga poses that help made me feel enthused to actually do them, which is half the battle in staying fit and strong.

Garden Made by Stephanie Rose

If you're a fan of the blog, you will already be familiar with the type of stylish yet easy DIY projects featured in this book, subtitled A Year of Seasonal Projects to Beautify Your Garden and Your Life. My favorites? The modern concrete planters for succulents or other small plants seem made for holiday gift-giving, as so many succulents look great year-round and can be kept thriving, even by those with a black thumb. She elevates these simple planters by using abstract stripes of brown and black concrete dye to add a contemporary touch.

I also love the felted acorn magnets, which pair the top of a real acorn with colorful felted balls and a magnet to create a cute, lightweight, gift-worthy set of magnets that would be great stocking stuffers, and easy to ship to faraway friends. Lastly, she has a tutorial on making those trendy bug hotels that are one part habitat for beneficial insects, and one part garden art. By using pine cones, twigs of varying sizes, bamboo stems and seed heads or lichen, she shows you how to build your own frame and artfully pair materials to make your own. I have a small cameo in the book, a sidebar about mosquito-repelling plants with colorful foliage for an unusual touch.

What's Wrong with My Houseplant? by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth

This line of books — which includes thorough-but-approachable titles on diagnosing issues in landscapes, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, and treating them organically — now includes this version about houseplants. From my perspective, it's not a moment too soon. As an outdoor gardener, houseplants often perplex me, with the most unlikely specimens growing with booming health in my house, and other varieties that seem easy dying despite my best intentions.

The book starts with a simple encyclopedia of common houseplants, so if you know what you have, you can look up its preferences and provide the best care from the start. But the real meat of the book is in the last 50 pages, where it targets the most common issues houseplants face and tells you in clear language what to do about it. If this book can help me keep from killing one houseplant, it's essentially paid for itself.

If choosing books for holiday gift giving, pair this one with Steve Asbell's Plant by Numbers, which is filled with inspired indoor planting designs that gardeners can experiment with on rainy days.

Garden-inspired coloring books

Coloring books for grown-ups have been all the rage lately. They pull you away from that twitchy, must-check-Facebook-from-my-phone-every-two-minutes state of mind, and put you into the present moment. So many of us don't think of ourselves as artistic people, or talented in that way, but coloring books are so fun and easy that our inner sensors will often get out of the way long enough for us to enjoy exploring the creative side of ourselves. These coloring books are printed on thicker paper than a usual book, so your finished drawings are actually nice enough to cut out and frame.

There are a few of particular note for gardeners. Color the Natural World by Zoe Keller is from Timber Press, which is known for its high-end garden books for professional and passionate gardeners. The author of this one is based in Portland, so while she hits high notes from across the country, like desert cacti and prairie foxes, the book leans heavily on scenes from closer to home. Though it's not specific to gardeners, there are tons of plants making up the verdant backdrop of each page, so you won't find yourself low on botanical things to color.

The other two I particularly like are Joanna Basford's Secret Garden and The Enchanted Forest, both of which have lots of tiny, slightly trippy floral and garden patterns, with snails, secret garden hideaways and overgrown fantasy gardens. Many of the pages have the patterns in a shape like a frame or a garland, so you can use them to make your own artistic photo frames or decorate scrapbooks or photo albums.

Girl Waits with Gunby Amy Stewart

Though this novel has nothing to do with the outdoors, Humboldt gardeners are surely familiar with local author Amy Stewart's writing from her longstanding garden column in the Journal, and her bestselling books about gardening and the natural world, like From the Ground Up, Wicked Plants and The Drunken Botanist. So after reading the first novel in her new series, Girl Waits with Gun, and loving it so much that I've been eagerly waving it in front of anyone who would stand still long enough, I'd feel remiss not to mention it here.

It's based on the real-life adventures of the feisty Kopp sisters, who lived at the turn of the 20th century. After a local gangster and powerful silk manufacturer runs their buggy off the road, the sisters, trying to retrieve the $50 payment owed to them for repairs, inadvertently stumble into a world of crime and danger. As expected, Stewart's writing is witty and fast-paced, and the strong and quirky female leads kept me up past bedtime wanting to know what would happen next. While we gardeners are holed up waiting for clear weather again, this is an excellent way to pass the time.

For a detailed monthly to-do list, visit Schmidt owns a fine landscape maintenance company in Arcata. Visit her on the web at

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Genevieve Schmidt

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