All About Shrubs, From Eva Monheim to Ellen Zachos

By Cris Blackstone, NRS ’06

Say “shrub”, and I see an Amalanchier in bloom, then progressing to producing berries for wildlife and golden orange autumn color for us to enjoy. Say “shrub” again and I see, smell and taste the refreshing sugar/fruit/vinegar-based drink popular since Colonial times. The word “shrub” comes from the Arabic word “sharab” (to drink) while the plant word stems from a few roots (yes, all those intended puns) such as Old English, “scrybb” (brushwood, shrubbery) or the root in Old English, “sher” – meaning “to cut.” Either interpretation of shrub that comes to your mind is covered here.

First, Eva Monheim’s newly published book, Shrubs and Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants (Cold Springs Press) is, just as the cover art states, “for homeowners, landscapers, and everyone in between.” Its 215 pages are rich with text, graphs, charts, lists and colorful sidebar stories, enhancing the science-based horticultural information about hundreds of plants and the best ways to care for them. Eva’s background is as diverse as this book! She is a garden designer, certified arborist, master floral designer, educator (currently at Longwood Gardens, for their Professional Horticulture Program) and owns her own business, Verdant Earth Educators. VEE is just one of the businesses she’s owned. She has also owned a flower shop and a landscaping company. It’s thrilling to have all of Eva’s expertise, passion, experiences and professional connections in one book. As if these credentials were not enough, it’s also important to know that the bulk of the photographs in this book were taken by the author herself! There’s just one amazing thing about this book after another.

Eva Monheim

Shrubs and Hedges is organized into eleven chapters (with a terrific resources compendium at the conclusion of the book). Starting with topics such as a short history of shrubs, it moves into profiles of various shrub and hedging plants, then to pruning and propagating – this is truly a one-stop shopping book. A chapter devoted to attracting pollinators and wildlife is particularly timely, and from that chapter you can learn a lot about the value of diverse bloom times for the pollinators and wildlife AND see suggestions for what plants may help you diversify the blooming in your garden.

You might also feel proud and happy when you read some of this material and reflect on things we’ve learned from UNHCE’s Dr. Matt Tarr, during presentations for Natural Resources Stewards, Master Gardeners, or through your garden club or library. The chapter on “Pruning for Structure, Shape, Form and Profit”, is particularly well-organized and makes a sometimes confusing, even scary, garden task seem accessible, sensible and easy. Eva includes ample photos, diagrams, and written material to help explain the many whys and wherefores of pruning all your shrubs and hedges. This book is something of a hybrid between a coffee table book and a textbook. It’s a rare combination!

After doing work in your yard, practicing things you learned from Eva Monheim’s book, you need to relax and enjoy. . .perhaps a wildcrafted cocktail, with your own foraged plants and recipes from author Ellen Zachos. Her book, The Wildcrafted Cocktail: Make Your Own Foraged Syrups, Bitters, Infusions, and Garnishes will help you gain a new appreciation for many of the plants you may see in your yard, or garden. (See pages 184-185, for a fantastic, refreshing Wild Strawberry Shrub, for example.)

You may already have seen or even own Ellen’s book, Backyard Foraging, with many recipes for some of the same plants and flowers as this book. If you are not already familiar with that book, look it up, and remember independent bookstores as well as the big suppliers when you are adding to your library. Ellen has written The Wildcrafted Cocktail to inspire the reader, as well as increase our knowledge of plants and recognize their growth habits and life cycles. There’s a bit of chemistry, as she explains how to make simple syrups, and a bit of insight, as she offers forager’s tips on such things as “after harvesting elderberries, put them in the freezer. It’s much easier to separate the frozen fruit from the stems than it is when the berries are fresh.” Tips about many plants are included and the book is riddled with creative ideas, like garnishing your drink with a fiddlehead on a toothpick for great shape and color.

Open the book to any page (it’s not a must-read-cover-to-cover-in-order kind of book), and you will have something to think about. How about adding a tablespoon of ground spicebush berries to your vanilla ice cream and enjoying that on its own or as a part of a milkshake with another interesting ingredient, nocino, in it? Many of the ingredients are readily on-hand, and some, such as nocino, you will have fun locating and learning more about. Along with how we define cocktails traditionally, there are many mocktail drinks, such as grapefruit-mugwort soda, which is super thirst-quenching and helps keep mugwort at bay.

This book awakens your senses, gives you new ways to look at plants around you, and offers a great new hobby to try as you investigate foraging and enjoy the “fruit of your labor.” Keep your eyes open on the social networks you follow and through education opportunity listings, to see when Ellen will be on the presenters’ circuit again, from her home in New Mexico, to New England (and New Hampshire, where she has family!) She offers workshops in host gardens, for participants to meander the garden with her, forage a bit, and sample some of the delicious drinks (both alcohol and alcohol-free) she makes to demonstrate what this level of relaxing in your garden can look and feel like! In the meantime, check out this Zachos book and see where your taste buds take you!