Garden Gnome: Joe Lamp'l garden books offer good advice

Just when I thought I’d be able to work to free an elderly dogwood of English ivy and clean out the surrounding bed of dreadful monkey grass last weekend, the rain came.


As you know, you shouldn’t work with plants that are wet. With my plans shot, I decided to take a day off and curl up with a new gardening book, Over the Fence by Joe Lamp’l. I got a copy when he was here the other week to speak. If you can’t find it locally, the publisher’s Web site is

The title is rather perfect for the book. It reads like talking with a good neighbor about gardening needs. Joe walks through the basics of good gardening practices and provides the needed confidence to get out there.

It’s a great book for beginners, and the pictures are inspiring. I really like the plant lists that he includes – some of which you don’t see often. There a list of common plants used for security. Anyone who has tried to tame a Pyracantha can attest to its ability to send a potential burglar down the road.

I did learn some things from the book. Joe brings up a good point about the importance of limbing up trees. With selective cutting, you can open a tree to let more light reach below. It’s also a good thing for the tree because it increases air circulation. And Joe makes a very good point about hiring a certified arborist to help you.

He also provides an interesting story about discovering a protein called harpin. Eden Bioscience markets the protein that allegedly boosts a plant’s immune system and stimulates growth. As someone who is usually embarrassed by her tomato plants, I’m going to track down this product.

As a promoter of natural products over man-made chemicals in the garden, Joe stresses preventive measures to limit the damage caused by insects and disease. To help control fungal and bacterial diseases, he suggests using a weekly spray of one tablespoon baking soda and one teaspoon vegetable oil per gallon of water. Potassium bicarbonate also helps reduce and possibly cure powdery mildew, black spot, blights, molds and other diseases.

He also suggests using iron phosphate for those awful snails and slugs that attack hostas. Unlike the chemical Metaldehyde that is commonly used, iron phosphate is not toxic for pets.