A review from my book blog that I thought would be of interest to both gardeners and bird lovers.

Backyard Bird SanctuaryGardening for the Birds
How to Create a Bird Friendly Backyard
by George Adams

Genre: Gardening
Publisher: Timber Press
Publish Date: June 25, 2013
Format: Paperback | 444 pages
Rating: 5 of 5

From the Introduction:

By establishing a bird-friendly ecosystem around your home, arresting color, birdsong, and antics of our native birds will add to the splendor of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers to create a spiritually uplifting garden environment.

Creating a native landscape

Several years ago I began adding more native perennial plants to my garden in an effort to save myself some work and at the same time help the environment. Native plants require a lot less maintenance than non-native species. Once established many are drought-resistant and need little watering, fertilizing or pest control. As a bonus, many are distasteful to the local bunnies who would feast on the garden center annuals I had been planting. I have never seen a bunny try to eat a coneflower but they would devour my petunias.

Last year I began ripping out sections of the front lawn and replacing it with wildflowers such as Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Blazing Star and Spider Wort, and small shrubs that flower or make berries such as Viburnum, Dogwood and Butterfly Bush. As I chose new plants I would research whether or not they would make seeds or berries that birds would eat. My efforts have already made a difference in the variety of birds that visit my yard.

Attract birds to your own yard

Which brings me to this new book from Timber Press, Gardening for the Birds, a wonderful resource that has everything one needs to know to create a bird friendly environment, all in one volume.

The book is divided into four sections:
• Planning for the food, water, shelter and nesting sites the birds need
• Designing for your region
• A plant directory
• A bird directory

Do as much or as little as you want to create your bird friendly space. Whether you want to create a tiny oasis with only a birdbath and a few plants, attract a few favorite birds, or landscape a large area and create a bird sanctuary, this book is a wealth of information. You don’t need to be a master gardener or have a green thumb to be successful.

In the first two parts we learn about providing food, water, shelter and nesting sites for the birds you hope to attract. There are loads of photos, charts and designs to assist the reader in creating their garden and learning about the habits of the birds who will use it.

Tall Yellow Coneflower in my backyard. Can you see the Goldfinch?

Tall Yellow Coneflower in my backyard. Can you see the Goldfinch? (Click for larger view)

Emphasis is placed on choosing native plants as they are the cornerstone of successfully attracting birds. These plants are already adapted to the area and attract local insects which are in turn eaten by the local birds. Since the native birds evolved with the plants, their color is often an effective camouflage and shelter. An American Goldfinch hiding in Tall Yellow Coneflower can barely be seen.

The third part of the book is an extensive plant directory including full-color photos of the plants and the birds that inhabit them. It is arranged alphabetically by botanical name and includes the common name, a general description of the plant and the birds that are attracted to it. Different species are listed along with cultivation tips and hardiness zones.

And finally the last sections is a guide to the birds most likely to visit North American gardens. There is an introduction to each bird plus information on behavior, nesting habits, feeding habits and the types of plants the bird uses for food and shelter. Photos and sketches of each bird are included along with a range map.

Gardening for the Birds is a treasure trove of information and handy reference guide to be referred to again and again. With this book you can’t help but design a bird friendly yard.

Source: Review copy provided by NetGalley and Timber Press
© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.


Signs of Life



The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Genre: Literature
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover | 336 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5

Victoria Jones has spent most of her life in the foster care system. Today is her 18th birthday; she has aged out of the system and is now emancipated. Victoria wants nothing more than to leave the group home she is living in, never to return.

Through her social worker, Meridith, Victoria is given some money, a place to live and instructions to find a job. Instead of finding work, she spends her days in the park where she plants and cares for flowers. Flowers are what give her peace and she feels a special relationship with them. Within a few months she is kicked out of her new home for she has no job and no money with which to pay the bills.

Victoria is now living in the public park. Days turn into weeks and she is hungry and getting desperate. When she asks a local florist to give her a job she is surprised the woman is willing to take a chance on her and says yes. But Victoria has a gift, she understands the language of flowers which she learned in one of her foster homes, and the florist is impressed with her abilities. Things begin to go well for her, customers adore her and business is booming. But when Victoria encounters a mysterious stranger at the flower market, someone familiar, she knows she must face up to her past.

The book alternates between the present and a period about 10 years ago when Victoria was placed in a foster home under the care of Elizabeth, who wanted to adopt her. By all accounts Victoria seems happy. But the adoption never happened; something went wrong.

Victoria is a flawed and dysfunctional character but so very likable. Many of the things she does don’t make sense on the surface but when viewed through the prism of someone who feels unloved and unwanted, they become more understandable. That she has a painful secret in her past only made me want even more for her to succeed and to be happy. There was one point where she does something so outrageous and so irresponsible that I became disappointed in her. (No spoilers, but if you read the book, you will know). After what she did, the ending tied things up a little too neatly and that was the only thing that kept me from a 5-star rating because I truly loved this book.

I could relate to the flowers providing peace and happiness for Victoria. As an avid gardener I spend many hours with my flowers. In fact, I’m sitting in the garden surrounded by beautiful flower as I write this. Daisies, begonia, hibiscus, petunia, verbena, cone flower, rudbeckia, and too many more to name bloom around me. The Dictionary of Flowers included in the back of the book was a delight. I never knew flowers had a meaning and now I’m looking them up before I give them to anyone.

This is a wonderful book, at times painful and heartbreaking and at others redemptive and joyful. It shines a light on the foster care system and the toll it can take on the children living within it and the people who try to help them. The flowers bring bursts of happiness as Victoria is able to help others and bring joy to their lives. Highly recommended.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.
Reviewed on my book blog, Under My Apple Tree.


The chives got away from me again this year. As with all herbs, it’s best to pick them before they flower. They do look quite lovely in the garden though.

This is a recipe from the cookbook Good Mood Foods by Donal Skehan. The recipes are simple with easy to understand instructions and beautiful pictures. They use fresh, healthy ingredients and most are readily available.

This book was published in Europe so I had to translate temperature and measurements. I used one of the many conversion sites on the net, Traditional Oven is one of my favorites, to convert the measurements.


2 eating apples, grated
100g / 3½ oz raisins
90g / 3½ oz rolled oats
105g / 5 oz wholemeal flour
90g / 3½ oz brown sugar
200ml / 7fl oz goat’s milk
1 egg
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon


  • Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F
  • In a large bowl mix the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  • Add the egg and milk to the center of the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon gradually incorporate the dry ingredients to form a thick, wet mixture.
  • Fold in the grated apple and raisins.
  • Spoon even amounts of the mixture into baking cases in a muffin tray.
  • Sprinkle with a little rolled oats and bake for 25-30 minutes.
  • Makes 8 to 10 muffins.

The muffins can be frozen. I put a few in individual baggies for breakfast during the week and they came back perfectly.

Robins Have Returned

Last week a few robins were in my backyard. Perhaps checking it out for a nesting site or stopping by on the way back north. Either way it was a welcome site after a nasty winter.


Yesterday I spotted about eight robins poking around in the leaves when I went for a walk at a nearby park.

Welcome back robins.

Vernal Equinox

I’m counting the days until spring.


Somewhere under all that snow is my garden.

One Seed ChicagoVoting for One Seed Chicago is now underway. The event, now in it’s fourth year, is designed to unite Chicago area gardeners through planting a common seed. The three candidates this year are radish, eggplant and swiss chard.

All Chicago area gardeners are eligible to vote for one of the seeds. And there are prizes! Everyone who votes receives a free packet of seeds in the mail and one gardener will be randomly selected to win a TB57 Lithium Ion Battery Cordless String Trimmer / Weed Trimmer provided by the very generous folks at Troy-Bilt.

I’m voting for the eggplant. This is probably the most challenging of the three seeds. The growing season in Chicago is not long enough to sow eggplant seeds directly into the ground so they must be started indoors and moved to the garden after the danger of frost has passed. They can also be grown in a container on a patio or balcony. Radishes are too easy and I’ve successfully grown swiss chard many times, so eggplant is my choice for 2011.

Voting for One Seed Chicago runs through April 1st, 2011.

Healthy Oven Fries

These very yummy oven fries are the best tasting potatoes I’ve eaten in a long time. I used Russet Potatoes but any type will work. In the picture I’m flipping them so they cook evenly.

These are so good and so easy to make I’m wondering why I never tried them before.



  • Cut several clean, unpeeled potatoes into quarter inch slices.
  • Soak in water for about half an hour.
  • Dry off potatoes.
  • Coat with a teaspoon or two of oil and seasonings (salt or spices).
  • Bake at 400°F for about 40 minutes or until crisp.
  • Flip several times so they cook evenly.