Book Talk

River Oaks Garden Club gets organic: With Azalea Trail here, venerable group touts new-age tips

River Oaks Garden Club gets organic: With Azalea Trail here, venerable group touts new-age tips

Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, azaleas Bayou Bend
More than 26 varities of azaleas, plus new recently introduced hybrids, await you at the historic Bayou Bend Gardens. Photo by © Rick Gardner in memory of Mary Gardner
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013,  book cover
The most recent edition of A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast Photo by © Lynn Herbert/Design by Public Address Design, Houston
Lynn Herbert, gardening, gardener, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast
Lynn M. Herbert, gardener extraordinaire and River Oaks Garden Club member Photo by Ardon Armstrong
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, permaculture
Permaculture gardens, such as this one in the Heights, maximize conservation and productivity while lowering maintenance costs. The yellow pendulous flowers are known by the common name of Angel's Trumpet. Photo by © Lynn M. Herbert/Courtesy of Kevin Topek, Permaculture Design, Houston
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, garden gate
Learn how to create your own secret garden. Photo by © Terry Vine/Courtesy of Botanica Landscape Services
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, azaleas Bayou Bend
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013,  book cover
Lynn Herbert, gardening, gardener, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, permaculture
Lynn Herbert, River Oaks Garden Club, A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, March 2013, garden gate

Get ready for a weekend of gorgeous blooms that brighten landscapes, sidewalks and paths of the historic Bayou Bend Gardens and other locations during the River Oaks Garden Club's annual Azalea Trail, now in its 78th year.

Coinciding with this glorious rite-of-spring event is the release and sale of the garden club's latest edition of A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, initially published in 1929. This first revision since 1989 is entirely updated, expanded and colorfully redesigned with a new emphasis on organic gardening, native plants and conservation.

“Since 1989, we’ve learned a lot about gardening that is more environmentally sensitive,” says Lynn M. Herbert, author and editor of the 670 page-plus definitive guide. “We all need to follow organic practices, like not using chemicals and using native plants.”

 This first revision since 1989 is entirely updated, expanded and colorfully redesigned with a new emphasis on organic gardening, native plants and conservation. 

The tribute to organic gardening begins with the cover photograph, which Herbert took along with numerous other frameable images featured in the book. Her close-up capture: A blossom from the passion vine, Passiflora incarnata, and so apropos as the vine is one of Houston's most prolific native plants.

The theme continues with sections in the popular tables on trees, shrubs, vines, annuals and perennials, bulbs, turf grasses and more with green, bold-faced “NATIVE” designations for hundreds of indigenous plants for Houston-area gardeners to consider.

Readers can learn more about organic gardening through chapters like “Native and Invasive Plants,” “Lawns and Lawn Alternatives” and “Organic Recipes for Fertilizers, Insecticides, Fungicides and Herbicides,” to name a few sections.

“Native plants can require much less water," Herbert says. "You'll find native plants that like shade, sun, filtered light, almost any condition. Discovery Green is a example of great use of native plants, while you can also create a formally clipped garden with them. And they really attract wildlife, like butterflies, to help bring your garden even more to life.”

Azalea blooms lure butterflies and, with the Encore varieties and hybrids now flourishing at Bayou Bend Gardens, possibly soon hummingbirds, as the newer plants flower in Houston five to six months out of the year.

These hybrids join the 26-plus varieties of azaleas at Bayou Bend Gardens alone. And no wonder azaleas became popular for landscaping in Houston in the early 1930s, as they are “happy” nestled under pine trees that drop needles to add the perfect acidic balance to the soil.

In addition to the entire chapter dedicated to azaleas, gardeners can still depend on the comprehensive information throughout the volume, including in the month-by-month calendars for soil preparation, planting, pruning and maintaining hundreds of plants, Herbert says.

She adds the encyclopedic volume filled with stunning color photos came together only through a community wide effort, with more than 100 professionals and amateur gardeners contributing their knowledge to this edition.

"We've been told by nurseries, arboretums and more they see many people come in with the book in hand, asking for specific plants," she says. "We decided to keep it hardback for that reason: It gets a lot of use.”

A Garden Book for Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast ($40) is available from 11 a.m to 5 p.m. during the length of the Azalea Trail run, Friday through Sunday, at the Forum of Civics Building, 2503 Westheimer at Kirby; The Shop at Bayou Bend and at 1620 River Oaks Boulevard. National Book Network is distributing the book.

In addition to the early sales at Azalea Trail locations, A Garden Book will also be available at area retailers and online in both hardcover and e-book formats.