• “There’s a Moose in my Garden” addresses the unusual quirks of gardening in Alaska
By Carey Restino
After more than two decades of gardening in Alaska, Brenda Adams is no less passionate about growing beautiful things in unique conditions than ever. Getting an interview with her means luring her away from transplanting efforts. As if on cue, a porcupine who has been making itself at home on her property causes a commotion. Gardening in Alaska is different, Adams said, and that’s why she wrote “There’s a Moose in My Garden.”
Adams’ recently published book attempts to answer the many questions she heard from would-be gardeners as they embarked on and negotiated their northern gardens; from how to design gardens to thrive, to dealing with the unusual predators and conditions.
“When I first came here, the first thing I did was turn to the bookstore, trying to find something to help,” Adams said. “Even to the casual observer, it was obvious that plants here were totally different than in southern California. Growth patterns were also totally different and I needed to understand that.”
Adams found the “Alaska Gardener’s Handbook,” but while that served as a good primer, it wasn’t the complete book on northern gardening she yearned for. She wanted one that covered design aspects and other topics.
Years of gardening, a blooming garden design business and more than 100 garden installations followed. And finally, the seed that was planted in the beginning of her Alaska gardening experience flowered. It was time to write a book.
“Through my design business, I saw that everybody had the same questions over and over,” she said. “Somebody needed to write them down. I kept waiting for somebody to do that and finally I said, ‘Well, I guess this is going to be my job.’ I wanted to write something so people would have an opportunity to get off on the right foot.”
Adams said she kept the book at a level that both beginning gardeners, as well as more experienced gardeners, could glean useful information from. She shied away from complicated terminology and focused on important questions; such as what you want from your garden. Interspersed in its 182 pages are dozens of colorful and inspiring photographs of gardens throughout Southcentral Alaska. Most are gardens Adams has worked on or designed.
Even the experienced gardener will find plenty of useful tips in Adams’ book. They are the kind of details you only learn through decades of work in the soil; like how to introduce new plants without bringing in unwanted pests at the same time.
True to her background as a garden designer — Adams owns the business Gardens By Design and has planned gardens across the state — the first chapter of the book encourages people to get out pens and paper before they get out the shovel. Gardeners should contemplate everything from plant choices to paths, and most importantly, where you are going to sit to enjoy the garden.
But Adams said the starting point should always be to ask yourself, “What do I want from my garden?”
“If you don’t know why you want a garden, you may not really be satisfied with it,” she said. “The book guides you all the way through the design process and helps you know how to do it so the garden will grow the way you envision.”
Adams said one of the key pieces of advice she gives to beginning gardeners is not to start too big. Gardens need attention and weeding, and a big garden needs a lot of it.
While the book is geared for the state of Alaska, Adams said she can see it being useful for a gardener in any northern climate. She noted the wide difference in garden conditions across the state, but said all northern gardeners deal with the similar conditions of harsh shoulder seasons with a lot of freezing and thawing, as well as the unique angle of sunlight, our generally mild summers and the issue of snow.
And then there are the moose.
The question of whether to fence or not and how to protect your gardens from Alaska’s most awkward ungulate, are well-covered by Adams’ book.
Adams said she focused less on specific plant recommendations in this text, because the topic is fairly well-covered in other publications. Instead, she looked at some of her favorite plants and why she loved them, encouraging gardeners to experiment with that knowledge and find some of their own favorites.
The book also covers how to build garden beds with good drainage — Homer gardeners can attest to the importance of that after last year’s damaging freeze — and considerations about making your gardens as low-maintenance as possible.
Adams said her broad range of experience gardening in Alaska helped guide her in writing the book.
“Because I’ve seen a lot of different situations, I have observed different approaches that people have taken,” she said. “There are a lot of things we have to grapple with. I tried to make this book something that people would like to sit down and read and have it be fun.”
Last of all, Adams encourages gardeners to keep perspective about why they are spending time focusing on building a garden in the first place.
“Finally, you have to decide where to put your chair,” she said. “A lot of people miss that gardening is really for pleasure. You have to let yourself enjoy it, look at what you’ve done and create a place for you and your family to gather.”
“There’s a Moose in My Garden” is $35 and can be purchased at the Homer Bookstore and ordered from the University of Alaska Press and Amazon. For more information, visit www.gardensbybrenda.com or check it out on Facebook.
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