Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl: Book Review

 “There is no right way to garden” – Loree Bohl

Sparks fly when someone with whom you share a passion announces they are writing a book about that very same passion. How exciting it is that I enjoyed an early chance to read my friend and fellow garden-blogger Loree Bohl’s first book
Fearless Gardening. P
ublished by Timber Press, it will be released today, January 5. Before anyone brushes it off as “another book on gardening” (can there really be too many? Nonsense, I say!), let me declare this one special.

Loree’s spirit captured in a statement.
What this book is not makes it exceptional: It is not a book about how to garden. It is not a book covering particular genera of plants. It is not a book waxing poetic about drought-tolerant gardens. It is not even a book about spiky plants, even though that is what the author is most famous for from her garden blog
Danger Garden. While all of those topics are relevant, Loree’s message of boldness, breaking the rules and growing what you love may be the core point this book, and may represent the core of why we garden. Why I garden, for that matter. 

In fact, the first chapter is titled There is No Right Way to Garden. Right. I’m in.

Fearless Gardening will speak to novice and experienced gardeners alike. Novice gardeners will be given real-life advice – not so much about how to garden but how to imagine your ultimate garden filled with plants that you love. Loree inspires freedom and adventure in us all, to have fun with gardening, the point when gardening is distilled. Do you wish to plant agaves next to water-loving plants? The rules tell us that’s not a good idea – two totally different water requirements. But what if you explored the world of container gardening and placed the agave in a container in that sunny spot next to the stock tank full of aquatic plants? Solved. In that spirit, the book can be picked up time and time again and still be applicable and allow for constant re-imagining of outdoor spaces that we gardeners are prone to fantasize about. That’s the genius of it – its applicability. Its applicability means it can be read by anyone interested in gardening and translate to the perfect blueprint for how to proceed. It reaches across mental barriers, giving a green light and avenues to approach your gardening goals at any stage. 

Even successful gardeners kill plants!

The message of doing it your way is carried across all of the chapters while still offering practical advice, again with applicability. Advice, I should say, is more accurately described as permission with a goal of accomplishment. What a gift it is, i.e., permission to follow my intuition when so often we are told to follow the rules. 

  • There Is No Right Way to Garden – Believe in your vision and stay true to your dream. Use your “garden future” glasses – imagine what that 4″ plant will look like in five years and proceed with confidence.
  • Create a Garden You Love  – The core message – garden for yourself, create joy.
  • Explore the Possibilities – Perhaps consider pollarding if you love the plant but it gets too large for your small space. What about bringing the garden indoors? Ever practical, Loree delves into making the most of plant material. An avid appreciator of foliage and all its forms, she applies her no-rules ethos to gorgeous and unique bouquets, wreaths and indoor décor. No leaf goes wasted in Loree’s world.
  • Expand Your Options with Containers – As gardens become increasingly smaller, container gardening offers solutions for a changing dynamic. Loree cites many examples of how to expand your options with containers.
  • Grow the Unexpected – Highlights include how she demonstrates her own experience of breaking away from uniformity in typical neighborhood garden style and how she cares for tender plants over winter and exploring zonal denial, for example.
  • Hardy Plant Choices & Fool-The-Eye Alternatives – Can’t grow tropical palms? You can grow hardy ones (at least in zone 7 and above you can) and many look-alikes. Loree provides an excellent selection of tantalizing ideas.
  • Inspiring Garden Profiles – Stories and advice from a wide range of gardeners for both private and public gardens such as McMenamins Gardens (throughout the Pacific Northwest) and The Amazon Spheres. We are also lucky that Loree includes her own garden, Danger Garden, a stunning and unexpected mix of tropical style, desert flair, contemporary lines and abundant foliage. It’s eye-opening and inspiring to learn how these accomplished gardeners approach their art – all with very individual, fearless styles. I took away useful ideas from these diverse profiles. 

Loree’s own Danger Garden

Tropical-looking examples of hardy plants
More tropical looking hardy plants with fabulous foliage

Fearless Gardening offers a plethora of exciting ideas such as vertical gardening and crevice gardening, two relatively new gardening concepts. Do you love the idea but think it can’t be pulled off? Loree gives concrete examples of how to make it happen in most any situation, opening up possibility files in your mind you didn’t know existed. There are, after all, many ways of achieving goals. 

The message is to not be intimidated by rules, rather to embrace possibility. Throughout the book Loree profiles an array of amazing and diverse gardeners and their gardens that she has been fortunate enough to visit. In doing so, she shares generous amounts of images, ideas and examples of how each gardener has, in their own way, gardened fearlessly.

Fearless Gardening makes me rethink some of my plantings and even though I consider myself a pretty settled gardener, it has given me fresh ideas, particularly when it comes to container gardening. The ideas percolating are exciting, and isn’t that supposed to be the case? A little oxygen pumped into this old gardener is a welcome thing. I can’t wait to get started!

Final thoughts: The photography is stunning. After photographing gardens for decades Loree spots the heart of a composition quickly. Tips are generous – ranging from unusual tools (cleaning out those spiky agaves) to how to build a pvc frame for winter protection for tender plants. She has years of practical experience (and mistakes) under her belt to be able to turn a problem into a solution. It is also a secret look into how she has created one of the most popular private gardens, Danger Garden. In true Loree Bohl style, it is unique, useful, bold and breaks the rules. It’s a keeper. 

Yes, you can have agaves in Portland!
Would you enjoy a free copy of
Fearless Gardening? Timber Press is generously offering a copy as well as a copy of
The Bold Dry Garden (Ruth Bancroft) to one lucky reader of this blog. Simply write a comment on this blog post about what fearless gardening means to you and I will draw and announce a winner on January 16. The winner will be sent copies of both books by Timber Press. You must live in the U.S. to win, sorry international friends.

That’s a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting. Happy New Year! Happy Fearless Gardening!

wise words from a troublemaker

Disclaimer: Loree included a photo of our drought-tolerant garden on p. 34 – and I was given a complimentary review copy by Timber Press in December.