Read this book: “Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants” by Stefani Bittner & Alethea Harampolis (Ten Speed Press, $22)
By Wendell Brock
Next time I go plant shopping you won’t find me lurking cluelessly over lemon bee balm or screwing up my nose over huckleberry bushes.
That’s because I’ve found the perfect guide to growing things that taste delicious, smell like the gods’ own perfume, and, best of all, that can be cleverly repurposed as tea, amaro, cut flowers and body scrubs — to name just a few uses.
Starting with spring rhubarb and ending with winter calendula, Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis’ “Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants” is a stylish mother lode of inspiration and information for people who love to dig in the dirt.
These next few weeks in Atlanta are the ideal time to prowl plant sales for pomegranate and persimmon; schlep a buggy full of borage, lavender, anise hyssop and echinacea home from your neighborhood nursery; or sow packets of flowering basil and feverfew seeds.
Or, do like I do and talk your sweet neighbor out of a spade full of thyme or lemongrass.
All of the aforementioned plants, along with instructions on how to grow and harvest them, are covered in this stylish volume by Bittner and Harampolis, a pair of wildly talented landscape designers from the San Francisco Bay area. If you are so inclined, the authors also share instructions on how to make things like quick-pickled rhubarb, lilac-flower cream, apricot facial mask, blueberry dye and pomegranate margaritas.
Not to worry: This is not another predictable book devoted to fanciful Elizabethan herb beds, utilitarian container gardens, or tacky crafts that nobody wants anyway. Rather, it’s a tasteful, thoughtfully organized and curated tool kit for smart gardeners seeking sensual delights from backbreaking yard work.
And even if you never put a single crabapple branch in a vase or press peppermint candy flowers onto goat cheese, you can have a collection of fabulous specimen plants that will be the envy of your neighbors.
Pssst. Don’t dare tell my editors, but I’m taking the afternoon off to hunt down bay laurel (why buy expensive packaged bay leaves?) and rhubarb (see you next year, suckers, with pie).
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).