Check it out: Author proves gardening is fun

'Kiss My Aster' takes guesswork, guilt out of outdoors

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Review

“Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You”

By Amanda Thomsen; Storey Publishing, 159 pages

I hope that readers of this column will forgive my reading obsessions. If you're a regular "Check It Out" follower, you know my predilection for felines, cookbooks, and Mother Nature. While I champion a wide variety of reading material, I can't help but share some of my passions with you, dear reader. Having said that, I present to you another delightful book about gardening.

Amanda Thomsen, a master gardener and landscape designer, has written a fun, smart guide about do-it-yourself landscaping. While there are many, many excellent books out there about gardening and yard design, I haven't come across one quite as inviting and engaging as "Kiss My Aster" (nor as memorable a title). In the introduction, Thomsen describes the book's style as resembling the Choose Your Own Adventures series she enjoyed as a child. Instead of "deciding whether to enter the haunted cave or to use that time machine," she explains that her book allows the reader to decide such things as "whether you should plant that tree or hire someone to do it for you," or "do you have what it takes to grow your own vegetables -- or should you just stick with the farmers' market?"

Unlike other how-to gardening titles, this one gives the reader permission to say, "Hey, I would love to have my own vegetable patch, but let's face it, veggies taste just as good from someone else's garden." Not having to feel badly about having a brown thumb? Priceless.

Accompanied by charmingly quirky illustrations, this guide makes even mundane topics like composting and shrubbery shine. "Mother Nature will rot what you got" is a clever way to look at what happens in a compost bin. And making fertilizer is even more wonderful when you add worms. As Thomsen quips, if you order "red wigglers" off the Internet, "you'll come home from work some day to a box of worms on your doorstep, on purpose." Think shrubs are practical but dull? She admits that shrubs are the "khaki pants of the landscape," but hydrangea is a shrub, and Northwesterners surely know how spectacular those can be. Her advice? Don't disrespect those boxwood hedges or red twig dogwoods -- they have more to offer than just adding structure to a disorganized yard.

With the idea that it's OK to laugh while learning, "Kiss My Aster" does a great job of enticing and charming both wannabe and hard-core gardeners alike. Taking a stroll down the garden path never felt so good.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org