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Miniature Garden Guidebook

By Don Parker | June 24, 2011

Gardening book by Nancy Norris

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Miniature Garden Guidebook
by Nancy Norris
Published by Kalmbach Publishing Co.
PO Box 1612
Waukesha WI 53187
112 pages, 8¼” x 10¾”
Softbound, color photos throughout
Price: $21.85  
Nancy Norris, Horticultural Editor for this magazine, has put together this handy guidebook that railroad gardeners, from novices to green-thumbers, will find useful. It is well organized into parts and chapters that are color coded, identified with colored tabs along the margin. The emphasis is definitely on small and miniature plants and intricate landscapes especially suited to garden railways.

After a general introduction, Nancy takes us on a photo tour of a fascinating variety of garden railroads from Hawaii, Canada, and the continental US, to Germany. In Part 2 she covers topics related to miniature-landscape development and maintenance. Part 3 moves on to a wide-ranging discussion of plant selection, culture, incorporation into a variety of landscape themes, miniature-tree development and shaping, and other garden-related topics. Many of the chapters are taken from Nancy’s column,

“Greening your railway,” including the “Regional garden reports” written by a panel of avid railroad gardeners from across the US. Handy charts in each section give useful information to help in plant selection. There is a wealth of information in the appendices at the end of the book, which offer resources for further reading, from books to online sources; online nurseries offering miniature plants; and gardens that are open to the public for visiting. And there is an extensive glossary of terms for those unfamiliar with things horticultural, especially related to garden railroading.

Nancy is a highly qualified expert in the miniature-plant world, especially in relation to railroad gardens. Her credentials are augmented by her experience as a consultant and designer of garden railroads, and by her travels and investigations of garden railroads in many parts of the US and Canada. In the how-to sections of the book, I found her writing to be clear and informative, with helpful references to related resources tucked in. In the more descriptive sections, I found her prose to be rather colorful and inventive—although occasionally sounding a bit contrived or overdone. She seems to have a special fondness for the whimsical and unusual. The soft-cover book is beautifully illustrated throughout with excellent photography , nicely reproduced on glossy, white paper.

Nancy points out that she can’t cover all topics related to this wide subject but this book does a great job of organizing important material in a very readable format. I don’t necessarily agree with every recommendation but there is always room for personal preferences. I did find one place where the information was incorrect. In Chapter 15, under “Bugs!” (page 82), she states that iron phosphate will kill slugs and snails when they crawl on it. Actually, iron phosphate products (e.g. Sluggo) are only toxic to slugs and snails when ingested. The pellets have a coating that appeals to the slimy creatures. However, it is safe for animals and humans and is actually beneficial for the soil. On the other hand, diatomaceous earth is a sharply abrasive substance that the tender-bellied slugs and snails are reluctant to slither across.

That small caveat aside, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone wanting a handy reference for starting, expanding, or maintaining their railroad garden. There are enough ideas with links to further information here to fire the imagination and give you the necessary know-how to approach railroad gardening with confidence.

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