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  • Angela Highsmith

Cold-Hardy Fruits and Nuts 50 Easy-to-Grow Plants for the Home Garden or Landscape

By Allyson Levy and Scott Serrano

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2022


Reviewed by Angela Highsmith


As a student of permaculture living in the northeast who prefers useful

plants that are low maintenance, I was very excited to read Cold-Hardy Fruits

and Nuts 50 Easy-to-Grow Plants for the Home Garden or Landscape. What I

love about the book is the casual way the knowledge is shared, enriched by the

authors’ lived experience - they grow every single plant presented in the book.

It’s like having a close farmer friend advising you on how to plan out a kitchen

garden over dinner. A farmer with an eye and appreciation for beauty and

function.


The book is written by Allyson Levy and Scott Serrano, two visual artists

who began their garden as a source of inspiration and raw materials for their

art. This grew to an extensive 11-acre collection of coldly-hardy plants, focused

on the rare and underutilized. Although my pre-sale copy has black & white

pictures, I know many of the plants and it’s nice to have a selection of 50 plants

that are not only edible and easy to grow but beautiful as well.


After the introduction, the reason for writing and “How to Use This Book”

section, the book really begins with the “General Considerations” section

comprised of; “Choosing a Planting Site”, “Buying a Plant”, “Planting & Care

- The First Season”, “Amendments”, “Delaying Planting & Storage

Containers”, “Pest Control & Animal Protection" (this one felt a little

overwhelming considering the promise that these plants are over 90% pest-free,

but I later appreciated all the solutions given for a wide spectrum of possible

challenges), and “Winter Protection” (again, this topic seems to contradict the

title of “easy-to-grow” in quite a high-maintenance way, but after reading

Throughout the entire book I realize these measures are not generally required for

most of the plants. They’re offering tools to set us up for success, should we

want to go that extra mile). This section was very informative and useful, but

dry and uninspiring. No matter, the rest of the book came alive for me with

inspiration around the cultivation of these often overlooked plants.


The plants are beyond the typical cold-hardy standbys. Many are

non-native, but all grow without special efforts in the northeast. There are

familiar berries, nut trees and Quinces as well as some interesting fruits I’d

never heard of like Che, Shipova and Goumi. Their reasons for highlighting

this uncommonly diverse selection of plants are centered around sustainability

in a world of climate change and homogenous landscaping & agriculture. They

wisely explain that diversifying what we grow benefits people with more options, food & less pest control, and also wildlife by having a ‘greater diversity of flower options over an entire growing season’.


Each plant has its own alphabetically ordered chapter beginning with a

brief history and description followed by: “Growth Difficulty Rating”, “Taste

Profile & Uses”, “Plant Description” (more technical than the introduction),

“Flowers”, “Pollination Requirements”, “Site & Soil Conditions”, “Hardiness,

Fertilization & Growth Comments”, “Cultivars”, “Related Species”,

“Propagation, Pests & Problems”, with some plants having additional specific

notes. Each of these areas is full of useful information, often with observations

and advice based on how the plants have grown in the authors’ garden over

time. This is the real meat of the book, I’m using it more each day as a cross-reference to cultivate and add to my plant wish list. The categories create a

user-friendly experience where one can quickly look up topics like the taste

profile, aesthetic, or growth habits of unfamiliar plants to consider if I really

want them in my garden. I appreciate having a handy variety of propagation

methods not commonly explained in Google searches, or even other gardening

books, that better suit my situation. I’ve had the book just a few weeks and it’s

already dog-eared, not something I can say about most of the gardening books I

own. A friend who’s a new farmer even learned some possible reasons for the

the unhappiness of a few plants on her farm after briefly browsing these chapters.

The book closes with the usual references and resource list that I usually

mean to look up, but don’t. The useful flow of this handy reference solidified

the authors’ credibility, so I feel encouraged to use their resources for my plant

orders next spring.


I love the authors’ experienced advice and instruction given in a clear,

concise, and easy-to-later-reference way. As a casual gardener who loves weeds

as much as cultivated plants, this is a book I will certainly use for years. Why

wouldn’t we grow beautiful plants that also feed us? Bonus points that, once

established, these are set-it-and-forget-it plants that can be fussed over as

much or as little as you like.

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