Catching up with Graham Rice



What's New and Book Giveaway

Graham Rice is one of gardening's most prolific and prize-winning authors, and we're lucky to have him – on both sides of the Atlantic.  After more than 20 books, including the behemoth Encyclopedia of Perennials that he's holding in this photo, his Planting the Dry Shade Garden is a great resource for the site-challenged gardener.  To win a copy – signed by both the author and the photographer, Graham's wife Judy White – just leave a comment and I'll select the winner at random. (Entries close Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern time.)

But really this whole post was an excuse to catch up with Graham, with whom I've had the chance to hang out a few times in gardens around the region.  He told me about the terrible vole pandemic his Pennsylvania garden suffered this year – the worst ever.  He says voles are more destructive than deer because they don't just mulch on hostas; they eat the centers and kill the whole plant.  At least the family cat had a good year – it bagged over 50 voles over the season, more than earning its keep in kibble.

Of course I asked about Graham's next book and I wish I could report on the answer but he's keeping the details under wraps (Here's his big tease about it).  And he's still pondering what the one after that will be but he tells me he never runs out of book ideas.  Or blog post ideas.  Or magazine article ideas.  Can't imagine that.

And Graham's a Twitterer!  (@Graham_Rice).  Facebook, not so much. 

Transatlantic Media Commentary

Graham is my go-to guy for U.S.-U.K. comparisons, and this time he enlightened me with these tidbits:

Digitally, there's a lag, with garden blogs catching on here first.  He believes he was the first British garden writer with his own site or blog.

Asked to name his favorite garden writers, Graham (cautiously, wisely) named Christopher Lloyd, whose book about foliage made him laugh out loud.  Another source of laughs was Reginald Farrer, now long gone.  And Pat Stone, editor of Greenprints and the Weeder's Digest, is also known to be funny.

I was sad to hear that English gardening magazines, admired by so many American gardeners, are shrinking in number.  Still holding on are the top guns – BBC's "Gardens Illustrated," and the Royal Hort Society's "The Garden," but other mags have stopped paying for photographs – at all.  The cause is the same challenge faced by all print media, of course – having to compete for advertisers with online media outlets that can track results to the exact number of eyeballs.

Speaking of garden writers, the U.K. has no equivalent of our big Garden Writers Symposium – because they don't need it; they see each other all the time.  It's a small place – the country, and the world of garden writing.

Transatlantic Hot Topic Comparison

Organics are a hot topic in the U.K., as here, but natives and invasives, much less so than here.  Of course I had to ask about lawns.  We complain about boring, resource-intensive lawns here but what about the homeland of the greensward, where supplemental watering is rarely needed?  Graham can't remember seeing anything on the topic in the British press or other media – zip.  He thinks that's because they have such tiny lawns, anyway – or none at all – on their much smaller properties, especially in or near cities.  They're much more likely to use decks or paving for their outdoor rooms, and no lawn at al.  And maintaining the lawns they do have rarely involves the use of pesticides like grubkillers.  Just a bit of fertilizer, thanks.

Off-Topic:  Brit Mix Britmix

Honestly, my favorite thing to talk to garden writers about is what ELSE are they interested in?  And in Graham's case he has an actual media outlet for his other passion – music, British music.  He has his own radio show, fer crissakes – Brit Mix, broadcast on 90.5 FM Radio Catskill – that covers "British music right through from the 1960s to next week". I'm a big folk fan myself, so asked for a tip in that genre – that would be June Tabor, with her mix of traditional and contemporary. 

Fun with Google Images

Googleimage2When I went looking for the book cover above I put "Dry Shade Graham Rice" into Google Images and got the usual interesting mix of responses, including this photo of some Graham at some bar (one of 365).  Definitely not our Graham; ours is hip without having to try so hard.  


  1. I am an avid follower of Graham Rice’s blog, and I always find it to be thoughtful and informative. As an American who reads lots and lots of British gardening writing, I also find the cross-Atlantic perspective of the blog really useful.

    And I have tons of shade! I would love to have this book!

  2. I have lots of shade and we are in a drought in Central Texas. We also have lots of heat from April through September which I fear this book’s offerings may not address. I’d like to read it anyway.

  3. I had a plague of voles in a client’s garden two years ago. They ate up hundreds of tulips then moved on to the lilies and hosta. No amount of special vole food got rid of them. Now the poisonous daffodils and hyacinth are the main bulbs planted.

    Up here it rains and snows too much to have classic dry shade despite the forest setting. Down below in the valleys I run into dry shade all the time. I could use some planting tips for those conditions other than the hosta.

  4. His blog’s archives go back to 2006. Anyone writing a blog then likely was the first.

    Totally sympathetic to the vole issue. We had them last year in the garden. They are way more destructive than gophers, and harder to get rid of.

  5. Gosh, I really need this book. Dry shade is all I’ve got. That and dry sun, here in the high (‘cold’) desert. Ponderosa pines and western juniper ‘R’ us. The whole concept of ‘dry shade’ is one I have only recently heard of, and I am thrilled to know there is a body of knowledge and actual plants, for my yard. Especially since I am one of the last people on earth to still be dragging hoses around and watering with actual sprinklers. It’s a pain in dry shade. Let’s plant some ……….. er, well, I need Graham’s book to tell me what.

  6. I’m addicted to plants and I love reading Graham Rice’s New Plants blog. Planting the Dry Shade Garden looks like a great book to have as a reference. We all need some help in adding more interest in the dry shady garden.

  7. I have southern California dry shade. Oh so very dry…. I would love to add this book to my too large collection of books.

  8. Thanks for introducing me to some new garden writers….I’m always on the lookout, especially for funny ones.

    Also, I like this topic of “Comparative Gardening” where you discuss what issues gardeners from other countries are all a-buzz about. I think it’s funny that in the UK they have no interest in discussing the merits of lawns or native plants.

  9. I have just started gardening. I just, in fact, made my first closed terrarium and the plants are growing (I talked about it in my website with photos too). I would like to have the book, of course. Not just because it is not available on my country but I’d also like to learn more of gardening.

  10. oh my goodness it’s sad to hear about the British magaizines. I have a subscription to The English Garden, which I love despite the fact that it has zero relevancy to my zone 7b southern garden.

  11. I really need this book because I have 2 acres of mostly dry shade. I have a lot of hostas and I hope not many voles. I have 3 cats but lately they have been fixated on the frogs in the koi pond.
    It’s funny how many people have never heard of voles. When he was little, one of my sons was bitten by a vole he tried to rescue from a cat. I called the pediatrician to see if there was anything I should do. He said he knew nothing about rodent bites and that I should take my son to the ER at the hospital in the city. Two things stand out in my memory. 1 – The total amazement of the staff that my son was totally up-to-date on his vaccinations. 2. Nobody had ever heard of a vole. They were sure I probably meant a mole…

  12. I’m glad that Planting the Dry Shade Garden looks as if it will be helpful to so many people. It was always one of those problems greeted with a heavy sigh so I hope I’ve provided plenty of solutions. You can find out more about the book at
    And thank you for a great piece, Susan. A lovely gift on my birthday!

  13. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and speak with Mr. Rice in 2008 at the S.F. Garden Show. He was witty, insightful and a powerhouse of horticultural information. I’ve enjoyed several of his books over the years and have no doubt that this new book will be just as coveted as his earlier works .
    We’re lucky to have such a talented writer in the horticultural corner.

  14. Some of my best dry-shade performers here in AL are actually ferns-
    of course some of the same varieties you see doing fine out in the dry woods. I would be interested to see what other ferns he specifically discusses for dry shade.

  15. Love his blog and the info might just help me next year with the area under a black walnut that I’m currently sheet mulching. Let’s see… juglone toxicity + dry shade = an experiment that will likely extend over several years!

  16. I’ll probably get this book, but getting it free would be nice too. 🙂

    Silver and sugar maple trees? Check. Hostas survive, sort of. That part of the garden just sort of hangs on, until there’s a flood.

  17. I’ve just added the transatlantic gardener to my subscriptions list and Planting the Dry Shade Garden to my wishlist.

  18. I volunteered at a native plant salvage just so I could score some ferns to plant in my shady spot. Unfortunately, there are only two survivors in the bunch. Turns out – I have dry shade! I desparately need some help in plant selection and would love to win a copy of Graham’s book!

  19. I have dry shade AND voles. But dry shade caused by 30 mature native trees, which are a treasure……but I could sure use the book, thanks!

  20. Comment.

    No, just kidding.

    One of my favorite UK Garden people is the lady who puts out the Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast. She always has interesting things to say, whether it’s about her garden, her chickens, seedswaps, or book reviews.

  21. I really need this book! A large chunk of my yard if full of great big white pines … very little sun and almost no rain pass through.

  22. I too faced the despair of plant demise caused by voles. A wide variety of lilies that I had grown for years are now only a memory. 🙁

  23. Sounds like a book for me–for the first time in my life, I actually have substantial amount of shade, and mostly dry dirt in it. I’ve been planting heucheras, a bit of moss, and dwarf conifers, but could use some other ideas.

    Spot on for June Tabor. Her Aqaba is positively haunting. She’s also done some work with the “Mrs Ackroyd Band” a construction from the imagination of the very twistedly funny Les Barker. She and Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span have two albbums out worth pursuing, as well, Silly Sisters and No More to the Dance. I think she works with Oyster Band these days.

  24. Great commentary! Love Graham’s book and will be getting one either way.

    Sad to here about the printing challenge. Digital has its place but I love going through page by page of the last of the great gardening magizines and adding them to my reference library. I am also one of those that go for the hardcover books – be nice if the reading public could understand that. sigh…

  25. Thanks for the heads-up on Planting the Dry Shade Garden. I need some inspiration for my dry shady yard in the south.

  26. I’m watching the first snowfall of the year from my home office window. A new gardening book is exactly what I need right now.

  27. Landscaping dry shade is the Holy Grail for horticulturists like me. It’s one of the more perplexing problems I get to solve. This book would be a welcome addition to my Liabrary. I hope I win!

  28. Please may I have a kitten trained by the cat who killed >50 pine voles this year? I have a dry shade garden in Atlanta with 20 towering “pine needle factories” in the front garden. I bought Graham’s book the day after it was published and have put his suggestions to good use. His garden bed photos were extremely helpful in explaining it all to my hubby. I met/know Rice/white through Garden Writers Assocn. Perchance are you giving away his Encyclopedia of Perennials? I don’t have that one yet. thank you.

  29. I definitely need to add this book to my garden resources! Love that the project was done by a husband/wife team, too. Happy Birthday, Graham! 🙂

  30. I have these exact same tough conditions at some large space in my garden, so win or not, I will read it. I hope the book content is “compatible” with my zone in Canada…

  31. I need this book! Nothing but dry shade — and deer, but no voles yet! It would be lovely to win, but will buy it if I don’t.

    I love this blog.

  32. Voles are a big problem for me also, but the chipmunks are the big tulip and crocus eaters. I can always use more ideas for dry shade. The maples take most of the moisture and nutrients in my shade garden.

  33. I love Graham Rice and have a couple of his books already. The dry shade book would be a nice addition to my collection!

  34. this would be a great book to have for my little patch of dry shade. I always look to the brits for the best plant combos!

  35. This book sounds like the perfect solution to my next garden project. I have an area next to the shed–which needs replacing–that never gets water. It looks ugly and I have no idea what to plant. I tend to be “unlucky” in contests, but would love to win this one. If I don’t win, maybe I’ll add this book to my Christmas list for Santa.

  36. Ive got 1/3 of an acre on a non-irrigated hill cover with blackberries and scotch broom. Id love some ideas for planting in this area as well as around the redwoods and more sunny areas that define our mountain property.

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