In 1997, Daphne Gray-Grant, an executive working for Pacific Press, came to me and asked if I had considered writing a book. I had been writing garden stories for The Vancouver Sun for about six years at that time and had built up quite a solid readership.
At the time I told Daphne that I didn’t know enough to write a gardening book. I said, “I have about 100 plants in my garden and I know them but not much more.” She said, “Then write about them. Write what you know.”
And that is how I got started on writing my first book, 100 Best Plants for the Coastal Garden.
I wonder if it had been called 101 Best Plants, I might have been left scratching my head.
Daphne ended up editing the book which was then published in the spring of 1999 by Whitecap Books of North Vancouver.
Throughout the process, I was also greatly encouraged by Robert McCullough, the publisher at Whitecap.
The book was a big hit. It was No.1 in the BC Bestsellers list for 13 weeks. I remember exactly because I was stunned when it first made it to No.1 and then every week after that I made a habit of never asking the Books Editor at the Sun where my book was on the bestsellers list.
It became a bit of a good-luck habit; I just didn’t want to jinx the book’s run of success.
Every week, I would ask my wife, Loraine, to peek at the list in the paper; and every week she smiled and told me, “Still No.1”.
After 13 weeks, I had become a little blase. I decided to break my silly habit and walked up to the Books Editor and asked about my book’s ranking. No. 2, he said.
The next year, Whitecap asked me if I wanted to do a similar book for Ontario or did I want to let someone else do it. I decided to take on the challenge.
I went to Ontario and checked out the nurseries and garden centres and talked to gardeners and came back and wrote 100 Best Plants for the Ontario Garden.
At the time, Loraine was hobbling around, recovering from a badly broken leg, but she accompanied me on my trip to Ontario and helped with a lot of the research.
The book was released in 1999 and sold very well. I never saw it listed on any bestsellers list but it did very well.
In 2000, I wrote The Blooming Great Gardening Book: A Guide for All Seasons, which contained some of my columns from the paper in a beefed up form. It was a dense book but I feel Whitecap made a big mistake in not illustrating it better.
It was too type-heavy and the small colour-photo insert was just not good enough. It had a great cover and sold very well. It also made it to No.1 in the BC Bestsellers list.
In 2005, Whitecap produced a completely revised and updated version of 100 Best Plants for the Coastal Garden with a smart new cover and more lavishly illustrated text and more contemporary layout. It also sold very well making it again to top of the bestseller list.
My last book, Best Plants Picks, was written for The Vancouver Sun in 2008 and was designed as “your month-by-month guide for a West Coast Garden”. It also sold very well and is still available.
Writing books is a very time-consuming project. When I did my first book, I had dozens of reference books scattered everywhere to confirm the spell of species and variety names.
By the time, I wrote my last book, the Internet was available and I was able to check names very quickly by going to the data bank of various botanical gardens and horticultural libraries.
It made the whole process a lot easier and faster.
These books have now become something of a collector’s item, partly because they are not in print anymore.
I have copies of The Blooming Great Garden Book and Best Plants Picks for sale if anyone would like a copy for their library.