Have you had a good cup of tea lately? What does “good” even mean? For Cassie Liversidge, good means that you grow, harvest and brew your own. The author of Homegrown Tea: An Illustrated Guide to Planting, Harvesting, and Blending Teas and Tisanes breaks the process down into doable steps, whether you’ve got a whole garden or just a windowsill. As the subtitle suggests, Liversidge makes the distinction between proper “tea”—from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis—and tisanes (infusions) made from other leaves, seeds, roots, flowers and fruits, but happily, the word “tea” is used generically throughout. Readers get the basics for nearly 50 plants (including the tea bush), which include how to grow and harvest, store, blend and prepare. Many—like rosemary, lavender, thyme and mints—are already garden staples. My own favorite, lemon balm, is particularly easy to grow. Medicinal benefits are listed, but any homegrown pot of tea cannot help but be healing, all the more so because when we grow our own, we can opt out of pesticide contamination, which is good for us and good for the planet.

Wise Craft: Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects into Stuff You Love, by Blair Stocker, features 60 DIY projects organized by the four seasons, a fitting strategy for a book meant to give us the power to “decorate and freshen” our homes. After all, what’s fresh in February might well be stale by November. Power comes in the form of creative tweaking, of being able to change what does not quite suit us—whether it’s a dish, mirror, sweater, frame or just about any old thing, even if you just brought it home from a yard sale. Each season begins with a thumbnail grid of the 15 beautifully photographed projects featured, giving us an at-a-glance pinboard of ideas. Carve a print tablecloth into pillow sheaths; cover a river rock with leather; write on china; craft a necklace from beach glass; or transform a juice glass into a specimen display. The important thing is to make a few things to ignite our innate creativity so that we become ripe for inspiration’s urgings.

The best part about Handmade for the Garden is that the projects are not only attractive, but also constructed from stuff we already own. Author Susan Guagliumi up-­cycles preowned possessions into prepossessing and utterly useful tools, such as a garden hose hider made of coiled, leaky soaker hoses and a bracket from a trowel. An old window screen is trimmed into a soil sieve; random sticks become tuteurs (towers) and tripods—both plant supports—while bottle caps and broken crockery tessellate as mosaic surprises underfoot. Even the moss-covered hypertufa fairy house is useful apart from its own whimsy: If the fairies snub it as real estate, a toad or other lover of secretive shade might just move right in.

Of the 75 projects, two of the most humble are my favorites. They set the DIY bar low enough to admit all, and they guarantee success: folded newspaper pots and plant markers. Who has enough seedling pots and plant markers? I even run out of popsicle sticks for the latter, but these shards, tiles and bits of metal are far nicer, and they’ll make me feel like a DIY genius.


This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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