Ciscoe Morris is a gardening broadcaster, TV host, author and columnist whose popularity has transcended the gardening questions he so competently answers. Who doesn’t recognize Ciscoe’s Wisconsin-tinged voice when it greets us over the loudspeaker on Washington state ferries?
The whirlwind that is Ciscoe brings his expertise and humor to writing a weekly gardening column for the Seattle Times, appearing on three King5 TV shows and two radio shows. He lectures all over the place and leads garden tours around the world. Ciscoe lives with his wife Mary, and dogs Fred and Ruby, in the View Ridge neighborhood.
Val Easton: What books are lying open on your nightstand right now?
Ciscoe Morris: I’m reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a true story about an American who somehow managed to survive weeks in a life raft only to be beaten and starved in a Japanese POW camp in World War II. I’m also reading “The Good Earth “by Pearl S. Buck, a fantastic read about life struggles in rural life in precommunist China.
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
I can’t recommend “Watership Down” enough. If you think it’s a kid’s book, you’re quite mistaken. It’s a story about survival, courage, kindness and the struggle against authoritarianism. After reading it, you’ll never even consider eating rabbit again.
I know you’ve long been an organic gardener … can you recommend a book or two that have helped you to understand and appreciate the living world?
I like a book called “Common-Sense Pest Control: Least-Toxic Solutions for Your Home, Garden, Pets and Community.” The book explains how to garden without resorting to chemical pesticides, and gives great alternative methods to deal with pests. Another less expensive, well-written and entertaining organic gardening book is “Bugs, Slugs & Other Thugs; Controlling Garden Pests Organically,” by Rhonda Massingham Hart.
Any “go-to” gardening reference or cookbooks?
For anyone who is a plant collector, fork out the big bucks and buy yourself the two-book set of “Flora, A Gardener’s Encyclopedia.” It describes and gives cultural information on over 20,000 plants, and even includes pictures of most of them. Perennial gardeners will wear the cover off "Perennials, The Gardener’s Reference" by local authors Susan Carter, Carrie Becker and Bob Lilly. It covers how to grow, divide and everything else you need to know on about every perennial available.
My all-time favorite cookbook is “Diet for a Small Planet” by Francis Moore Lappe. The ‘Greek cheese and spinach squares’ are to die for, even if there aren’t any Brussels sprouts included in the recipe.
What gardening books do you read for pleasure? Do you have authors or books you’ve returned to over the years?
I often go back to Ann Lovejoy’s “The Year in Bloom.” She has a way with words that makes you just have to have the plant she’s describing. I also greatly enjoy Vancouver, B.C. nursery-owner Thomas Hobbs' great books, “Shocking Beauty” and “The Jewel Box Garden."
Being the totally addicted plant collector that I am, I’m also into Dan Hinkley’s “The Explorer’s Garden” series. Anytime I need cheering up, I go back and read some of Dan Hinkley’s old Heronswood Catalogs. I suspect they’ll end up collectors’ items in themselves.
Maybe because they’re two of my best friends, I love the prose and pictures in "The Garden Gallery, the Plants Art, and Hardscape of Little and Lewis.” Finally, I never met a book by Christopher Lloyd I didn’t like.
What book(s) would you recommend for beginning gardeners? To someone who wants to grow food for the first time?
"The Sunset Western Garden Book" has a plant encyclopedia and practical information on how to do most anything in the garden from pruning to planting
For a beginning vegetable gardener (as well as highly experienced ones) I recommend “Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest,” by Lorene Edwards Forkner. It has great information on how to start your first food garden, and follows up with what you should be doing in your garden each month year round. “Grow, Cook, Eat,” by Willi Galloway includes recipes to make delicious dishes with vegetables, as well as tips on how to grow, harvest and store them.
What were your most cherished childhood books?
The first books I remember loving were “Mother West Wind” by Thornton W. Burgess and “Winnie the Pooh” by A. A. Milne. In junior high, I couldn’t get enough of Greek and Roman mythology. My favorite book in high school was “The Hobbit.”
Any favorite books you go back to again and again?
I rarely read books more than once, but I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” twice and will probably read it again.
Have you read a well-reviewed or popular book that you felt didn’t live up to the hype?
"The Shining" by Stephen King bored me to tears.
Do you have any favorite mystery or sci-fi titles, or favorites in another genre?
The absolute, flat-out best mysteries on the planet are written by Tarquin Hall. The books are about an Indian detective and are among the most entertaining mysteries you’ll ever read. He doesn’t use a formula, so each mystery is new and fun, and keeps you guessing until the end. You’ll absolutely love the main characters.
When and where do you settle down to read? To write?
I don’t have as much time to read as I would like. I usually read when I go to bed at night. Sometimes, if I have free time, I’ll go out with my pooches and pet them as I read for about an hour on a sunny day. I love to listen to audio books when I take my 5 a.m. walk each morning.
I write books, my Seattle Times column and articles in my office at home. I have a nice view of the garden, and enjoy watching hummingbirds hanging out on the clothesline just outside my window.
Any book you’ve read lately that really caught your imagination?
I just finished reading “A Week in Winter” by Maeve Binchy. I loved the way she described how turning an old decaying home on the coast of Ireland into a holiday house changed the lives of those who lived and visited there. It’s a wonderful read filled with fun stories about people finding meaning in life.
Are you writing another book, or do you have plans for another book?
I’m writing a book that will probably be called "Gardening with Ciscoe." I’m not sure exactly what it will be, but it’ll contain all sorts of environmentally friendly garden tips, as well as garden stories I share with the audience at my garden talks. It’ll include practical information on everything from how to garden with an equally talented spouse without getting a divorce, to how to prune your Japanese maple and everything in-between.
What book do you plan to read next?
Sitting on my bedside table, enticing me to open it before I even finish the other books I’m reading, is "The Hit" by David Baldacci. A friend read it and told me it’s a must read. I can’t wait!
What Val’s Reading This Week: Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” a treasure of a book both simple and profound. It challenges and comforts me every time I dip into it. Which is often.