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Ask Ciscoe! His New Book Will Make You Say Oh La! La!

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Oh, my aching muscles...

Ask Ciscoe: Your Gardening Questions Answered By Ciscoe Morris Sasquatch Books, $18.95

Reviewed by Karen Preuss

Garden designer. Horticulturist. Arborist. Master Gardener. Radio and television personality. Beloved local celebrity. Humorist. Author.
I’m talking about Ciscoe Morris, of course. As if he’s not busy enough, with his television and radio shows and a busy public speaking schedule, Ciscoe’s written a new book. I’m exhausted just reading the book’s introduction, which gives an overview of his career. Where does he find the time?

Ask Ciscoe is a compilation of hundreds of gardening questions and answers. Before I picked up a copy of the book, I wondered how well the organization of this type of format would work in a book (I am a librarian, after all, and am a little compulsive about these kinds of things). I’m happy to report that Ask Ciscoe works beautifully for both its sheer entertainment value and its solid horticulture information, all delivered as only Ciscoe can.

First, the book’s organization. The Q&As are grouped into seven broad categories: flowering plants; edible plants; other trees, shrubs, and grasses; container gardens and houseplants; garden and lawn care; birds, bugs, and butterflies; and garden shed. In each category, the questions are arranged alphabetically by the subject of the question. So in edible plants, for example, we start with apples, and move through the alphabet to learning about which vegetables are best for winter gardening. The subject of the question is highlighted in bold type, so it’s easy to follow along.

This is one of those books that I like to keep in easy reach, to just pick up and open to any page. For the browser, Ask Ciscoe is great fun, as you never know what the topic in any given question might be, and the answers are littered with all of those familiar Ciscoe-isms and his unique sense of humor. 

One of my personal favorites bears the heading “Lose Ten Pounds on the Hedge-Pruning Diet.” The question: “I’m thinking about planting a laurel hedge along about 125 feet of my property line as a privacy screen. Am I making a lot of work for myself?” Ciscoe’s response? “If you want to stay fit as a fiddle, plant a laurel hedge. You’re guaranteed to lose weight because for the rest of your life you’ll be climbing the ladder with shears in hand at least once per month to keep it under control…Laurel hedges are like people: They get wider as they get older, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”

Strip away the media hype and goofy phrases, and Ciscoe is first and foremost an expert horticulturist with an abundance of solid plant knowledge that he shares in his book. I was thrilled to see so many questions on growing berries and fruit trees in the edible plants category; he may have just given me the courage to attempt growing some myself. 

In the section on Birds, Bugs, and Butterflies, there are a couple of entries dealing with hummingbirds, including a list of great plants to attract these delicate creatures to your garden. 

There’s an excellent index, if you’re looking for information on a particular plant. My only complaint (and it’s not really a complaint, but more of an obvious observation) about this kind of format is that it limits the depth of information Ciscoe can provide in his answers. I want to know more! I’m sure he could go on for hours, talking about any one of the plants included in the book. 

There’s so much information here, and hopefully Ask Ciscoe will inspire readers to learn more about the plants they love (that, and to seek out Ciscoe at one of his speaking engagements). Pick up a copy; Ask Ciscoe is a must for your Pacific Northwest gardening library.

As a side note: there’s a bumper crop of new books by local authors this season! Next month: Val Easton’s latest, A Pattern Garden.

Karen Preuss is the Library Manager of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

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