Book Review: Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl

 If the gardener is the garden, does a garden author's book also reflect the author's garden?  In this case, true--the book "Fearless Gardening" is a garden of ideas, crammed full of fresh, contemporary takes on creating and constantly re-creating a garden as a canvas for personal expression and inventiveness.  Garden as individual, joyful vision.   

 The book contains multiple examples of gardens, including the author's accomplished own, that present individual visions in apt descriptions and hundreds of beautiful photographs, though it is not a mere picture book.  The text provides plenty of useful information.

Photo from the book:

 The reader is encouraged to flex and expand her own creativity.  The book offers many valuable tips to do so based on Bohl's own hands-on experience.  For example, if intriguing plants are not cold hardy, trying growing a few as annuals.  If you don't like a plant, even a healthy one, you can ease the pain of removing it by giving it away instead of throwing it out.  Additional perspectives and lessons are provided by examples of other successful gardens. 

Photo from the book: plant as an annual, and enjoy!

While one or two of the example gardens are individual indeed (a mannequin with wings!), they are skillfully done and not eccentric to the point of questionable taste.   The emphasis is always on plants as a garden's starring features, not a collection of garden junk. 

 Photo from the book: it's about the plants

 This book is useful for both experienced as well as beginning gardeners. The beginner is encouraged to experiment and given confidence to do so via advice from the author's extensive knowledge.  The experienced gardener will recognize and enjoy shared experiences in the author's descriptions of gardening problems faced and successfully solved, though not always on first attempt.  

While many of the gardens discussed are located in the Pacific Northwest, the author knows and carefully points out that the reader's climate may be very different, and to adjust plant choices and techniques accordingly.   

Essentially the "Fearless" of the title's meaning is:  be unafraid of having fun and being creative gardening.  Can't argue with that!  I enjoyed this book very much.

 Taking inspiration from the book, my own attempt at fearlessness this week was, at this moment, neither joyful nor creative.  In truth, my long, rocky road to individual vision is paved with considerable doubt. 

I've long been entranced by the majestic glory of Bismarckia noblis, a palm native to Madagascar.  It is one of the boldest, most commanding plants I have ever seen.

(The remaining photos in this post are mine and not from the book.)

A small young Bismarckia in the Huntington's Palm garden:

A slightly larger, still juvenile example at the Los Angeles Arboretum: 

I've had a Bismarckia in a pot for years, and was at a loss (also for years) on where to plant it.  It was a generous gift from the owners of this glorious garden I visited back in 2015

It had become an increasingly painful experience to watch the Bismarckia languish, trapped in a pot, so finally...I fearfully made the "Fearless" leap...

I placed the palm where it has adequate space, (I hope, hope) but wowza Bismarckias get bigNo doubt the joy will burst forth  eventually, seeing the palm finally thrive and grow stately, but sometimes even in the garden, joy is delayed, and not entirely free of disquiet.  

"Fearless" means lack of fear, not something this timid blogger possesses much of.   Perhaps the term "courageous"?   Courage is doing something despite fear, not in its absence.   Me?  Nooooh,  likely not.  

What it was, actually:  the palm was silently screaming to get out of its pot.  I listened, and heard it.  If we are not fearless, our plants will be.   

Note:  I received a copy of the book as a review copy from the publisher before I could buy one, and I have enjoyed the author's blog for many years.  


  1. That Leonotis-Ensete combination captured my imagination too - I've never tried growing a banana tree here but I may try it now! I hope the Bismarkia thrives but doesn't overwhelm your garden, HB. Although I've generally unenthusiastic about palms, Bismarkias are one of the notable exceptions.

    1. There's a guy in the neighborhood with his own banana plantation, the fruiting banana kind. He gets huge bunches of fruit so he built special bunch supports. They are pretty cool.

  2. That's a palm I have admired many times over the years as well, although it's sadly not hardy here in Austin. (Not that people don't try.) I'll enjoy watching yours and hoping it gets big, but not TOO big. And yes, I really enjoyed reading Loree's new book too!

    1. No, not hardy, though it would love your summer heat.

      Yes, fun book. Enjoyed it.

  3. Nicely said. I look forward to buying a copy Loree's book.

  4. As you probably gathered from reading, I like the definition "with fear but you did it anyway"... which seems to fit here? I am so excited to watch your bismarkia grow. It is truly a most beautiful palm.

    Thank you for sharing your take on the book. It has been quite wonderful to learn what stands out to each different reader.

    1. Yes, I did it anyway, ha ha! If there had been one in the neighborhood, I could have gotten away with getting my Bismarckia fix by periodically admiring that one...but, there wasn't.

      A lot of different perspectives are good. :)

  5. I can understand your delight with the Bismarkia. I saw several when we were in Costa Rica. They were big handsome plants. The color of it is what caught my eye. I will enjoy watching yours grow. I did have a hardy banana in my garden. It was quite pretty but I didn't have it in a spot that got enough sun. Seeing yours sort of makes me want to find a spot for it. We don't have a long enough growing season to see any bananas but those dark red leaves are pretty.

    1. The banana leaves are really pretty and their big size makes a great contrast with other plants. Dramatic!

  6. I remember when you offered that bismarckia to me! If only I had the room. So glad you got it in the ground -- it will earn every inch of that space.


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