The Voice of Experience

– Posted in: Book reviews

image of book coverSay you just moved from a supposedly more reasonable climate to the far north. Winter is fast approaching; you know you won’t be able to get anything done before the snow flies, but you’d sure like to know what you were in for before spring comes. Wouldn’t you like one of your new neighbors to be a veteran gardener, who just happens to invite you over for a chat and a cup of something warm, and shares all her hard-won experience?

Wanda Ferguson is that gardener.

A glance at the hardiness zone map for Maine reveals a range of climate zones, from the near-sultry zone 6 of the coast to the frigid zone 3b of the interior. Wanda Ferguson has been gardening in zone 3 for, oh, about 50 years now. With that kind of experience, you’d think she’d have a thing or two to share, and you’d be right.

. . . the first thing you need to know is that most of the soil in this area tends to be on the lean, mean and rocky side. Winter’s frost hangs in there with a vengeance, and summer’s gardening season is shorter than the hair on a Chihuahua.

(Sorry, you’ll have to fix that warm drink yourself, and just pretend she’s sitting across the kitchen table from you.) Ferguson is nothing if not practical and frugal, so her focus is on growing food for the table. Still, two of the thirteen chapters cover growing ornamental plants, and once again, they are full of practical advice. Since many gardeners in her area of Maine are summer residents only, she wisely points out that when you are in residence and how much time and energy you are willing to expend should be deciding factors when planning your garden. The second chapter dealing with ornamentals consists almost entirely of which plants, in her experience, the deer leave alone. ‘Nuff said.

A short season garden in the upper plains is going to have different challenges than Ferguson’s New England mountains, but I think there’s plenty here for anyone new to gardening in a cold climate. I know I learned a better way to plant peas and manage a strawberry patch, and I’ve seen my share of subzero winters. If you know someone new to cold climate gardening, or has a cottage up north, or who perpetually grouses that “it’s too cold to grow anything here,” this book would make an excellent gift.

Wanda Ferguson, Mountain Gardening. (Lupine Press, 2004; ISBN 0974551708.) 82 pages. Order here.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Mary Ann November 10, 2006, 1:22 am


I am in LA for a couple of days. Visiting my cousin Anne and attending a
Garden Conservancy program with her (our idea of celebrating her 50th birthday.) She is a new landscape architect and we have been touring gardens together for years. So, anyway, that’s why I am notat my desk, bugging you with Word Press issues.

I love your review of that tool cart. I have been trying to talk myself into one forever. You did all the homework for me! Thanks,


Sandy November 8, 2006, 11:28 am

This book looks so good! I know Rangeley well, and have often wondered about gardening there.

Wanda B. Ferguson November 8, 2006, 11:04 am

Just want to extend my thanks to Kathy Purdy for the wonderful review of my book Mountain Gardening. Your organization is more refreshing than finished compost–and that’s no bull!