Book excerpt – looking for your feedback

Here is an excerpt of a first version of my book that I’ve been pounding away on for weeks now. I so cherish all of your feedback and have taken all of your comments into account to this point.

When in doubt, why not ask?     

I would love your feedback on the following:

Book title – any creative ideas after reading through below? I’ll handsomely award the winner of the one I like best.

Content – more or less info based on the excerpt below? Less “sentences” and more boxes/bullets/etc?

Layout – this snippet isn’t an exact replica of the layout but it is as close as I can get. What do you think?

Tone – is it me?

Thank you all in advance for taking the time to assist me here.

Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

I remember the exact day back in the fall of 2003 when I decided to purchase some Lady’s Mantle for the first time. Up until that point, all I thought about was flowers in my garden. Foliage was nice, but an afterthought.

My obsession with plants and gardening was gaining steam and I was reading books relentlessly. Books you ask? Those are pages of printed words and photos that are held together with binding. Your grandfather can tell you all about them.

I don’t recall the exact book, but it was all about design and one photo grabbed my attention and changed the course of my garden fanaticism. A beautiful and haunting garden photographed in the early morning was lined with Lady’s Mantle that was covered in dew droplets. My tongue dropped to the floor and I knew I had to try it.

Fast forward a few months and I planted a whole bunch myself in my tiny front bed at our old Cape Cod home in Somerville, NJ. I was so proud of it and sensed that my love of plants was going to exponentially increase now that foliage was part of the game.

Sadly, we moved out of that home by the end of that year and I never got to grow with my new favorite edging plant. I did drive by the home periodically for a good 2 to 3 years after that just so I could watch my babies mature into full adult plants. They ended up looking beautiful even if the new homeowners let everything fall to shit in the garden around them. The day they pulled them out of the ground, I almost got out of my car and approached the house in a fit of rage.

Luckily I thought better of it and drove away and spared myself jail time.

Instead, I bought a bunch and put them in my newly developing garden where they still reside today.

Alchemilla mollis rarely steals the show in the garden. Instead, it is that steady performing groundcover or edging plant that makes the garden whole.

From the moment those leaves start to unfurl in spring, you know old reliable is back for another season.

Let me correct myself for one moment. There is a time when this perennial does truly “shine”. That is when Lady’s Mantle captures the rain droplets in spring. It is a photographer’s dream.

Beyond that, this plant provides a nice contrasting leaf shape to other perennials and shrubs from spring through fall.

The chartreuse blooms, typically arriving in June, are a nice understated feature as well.




I have found it is best to trim off the spent flowers as soon as possible to keep this plant looking its best as summer approaches.




• Survives in zones 3 – 8
• Size typically maxes out at 1.5 ‘ x 2.5’
• Can handle full sun to almost full shade
• Blooms in June here in zone 6B
• Prefers a consistently moist soil
• Has been reliably deer and rabbit resistant over the years
• Non US native
• Flowers brown quickly and can become an eyesore (see more below)
• Leaves are scalloped and fuzzy to the touch

I currently have these as a groundcover in my back bed along the deck.

In full bloom in June and backed by the light of the afternoon sun.






As you can see below, Lady’s Mantle comes along pretty quickly in spring as evidenced by the “still no signs of life” ornamental grass sitting behind them.

**NEGATIVE ALERT** The one negative/higher maintenance aspect of Lady’s Mantle is that it does require constant moisture. If not, this is what you may see.

Luckily for me, constant moisture isn’t much of a problem unless we have a real dry summer but keep that in mind before purchasing Lady’s Mantle.

This perennial has been labeled as “invasive” but I can say that has not been a problem for me at all. In fact, I’ve never seen a single seedling since I’ve had these. This may be due to the fact that I am pretty diligent in cutting off the spent blooms and therefore there is no opportunity for reseeding.

I must also add that my deadheading has never resulted in any re-blooming later in the season.


24 thoughts on “Book excerpt – looking for your feedback

  1. Kathy Matteo

    Love this! It feels like you’re just chatting away to another gardener, and I really like that human, down-to-earth element (pun intended). And as I was reading about lady’s mantle, I thought, “yeah, but who can grow this?” And, voila!, a little more scrolling and there were all the necessary stats! Also, no matter the final cost, it is imperative to me that you include your gorgeous color photos in your book!! Very nice start, I want this book already!

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thank you so much Kathy! I’m really hoping the photos drive the narrative more than anything else.

  2. Misti

    A few things come to mind:

    I do like the conversational style because it is nice to see that in a gardening book. However, I would rethink the use of the word ‘shit’. I get that it is probably your personality and I’m not opposed to it but if you want to have a broader audience that doesn’t turn their nose up at cuss words, maybe find something else like ‘deteriorate’. The next sentence I think we get your full idea of how upset you were without going over board.

    I think it would be actually easier if we could see something in a PDF format, how it would actually be in the book. It would make it easier to view the layout and get a better grasp of how each little section will look.

    where you say non-US native—maybe state country/region of origin instead.

    I like where you are going with this!

  3. Laura L

    WOW! This is exactly what gardeners are looking for—more relevant details about a plant than just growing zone, sun/shade and height and width (that you typically see in book after book after boring book). I can’t emphasize enough how useful this information is, as I’ve had exactly the same experience with this plant—and would have loved to have known about the constant moisture issues beforehand. The accompanying photography is gorgeous too (and instructional). Keep the conversational tone and your quirky humor and I think you’ll have a best-seller!

  4. marilyn sandau

    Hi, I agree with the positive comments from the 0ther two posters. I enjoy the more complete personal information than one gets in a more factual gardening book and the photos are great. I also am a great fan of alchemilla and it grows wonderfully out here in the Pacific Northwest in my zone 8 garden. Here, it does spread quite a bit, but it is easy to dig up any that is in the wrong place and find it a new home. And the dew in the mornings looks like diamonds!

    Let us know when the book is ready for purchase!

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thanks Marilyn! I’ll continue to tweak to make sure the info included is grounded in true experience and is useful.

  5. Mary Hatton

    I love the over the garden fence style of writing. My favorite authors use their personal experience stories of success, , failure, suggestions and humor to write about their gardens and individual plants. This excerpt has encouraged me to try this plant in my Hudson River Valley garden.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Great to hear Mary! You being encouraged to try this plant tells me all I need to know. Good luck!

  6. Polly Williams

    Go for it, John! I love your writing style, so your book would certainly be on my reading list.

  7. Marilyn Gist

    First, love it, can’t wait for the book!
    Book Title –It wouldn’t be you to have some boring old name. You could use your blog title. I’m trying to come up with something that grabs the reader’s interest, yet lets them know that you are telling stories about your plants as if they and your reader were your best friends, you’re describing WHY we would fall in love with this plant, you’re often describing what it does through all the seasons, not just the 2 weeks a year when it shines, and you’re telling the reader how to actually be successful with this plant. As others have commented, I hate when all you get is sun/part shade, zone 3-7, moist well-draining soil. EVERYTHING wants moist well-draining soil, but what does that really mean? And, I’m sorry I can’t do better than your blog title. It lets us know this is going to be a DIFFERENT gardening book. Maybe you could try to work with that, “A DIFFERENT Gardening Book, one you will actually use and re-read.”
    Content — love it. If you have room to add anything, can you distinguish between say, well-draining but moist soil, and constantly wet, boggy soil? Add any notes on pH preference or dislikes? Balance of sentences and boxes/bullets is perfect. Any tips on zone range? For example, you say it’s good to zone 8, and the person in the Pacific Northwest says yes, but here in Raleigh, NC in zone 7B, I can’t keep it alive, and I never see it in any friend’s gardens or public ones. So maybe we both have winters that would work for it, but not summers? I grew up in MA and loved it as a child in my mother’s garden, sure wish I could get Lady’s Mantle to grow here.
    Layout– love it. It’s interesting, not predictable or boring, easy on the eye. The only thing I can say is watch that you don’t get the photos, which are all excellent, too small. The effect of the photo taken in June which shows LM being backlit by the sun didn’t have the impact it should till I clicked on the image and doubled its size. Then, WOW, yeah, that IS gorgeous — so OK, I want to put this plant somewhere in the garden where the sun can shine through it part of the day if I can.
    Tone– is it you? Yeah, love your style.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Wow Marilyn, this was tremendous, thank you so much! You really got me with the well draining/moist thing. I may need to pull this into the book in some way. I have always found that maddening as well. And great point on the photos, that is the trickiest part, getting them to the right size but in an appealing layout.

  8. Kathryn

    Hilarious! I love the background story – it really drew me in about wanting this plant (though I confess I already have it and do want more). The stats are good without being snooty and boring. I agree with others who emphasized great photos and BIG photos if you can. A book with gorgeous photos will set you apart from other gardening books. I’m looking forward to the book!

  9. AnnJ

    It’s amazing how similar all our reactions are.

    My first thought was that the pictures are too small.

    Yes, the tone is you. The story about driving by to visit your former Lady’s Mantle and your reaction when the new owners dug it up resonated with me and evoked some similar experiences. It also told me that here was a writer on my wavelength whose book I would want to read.

    There’s a good balance of personal information and gardening facts. We don’t need more books of facts; it’s your tone, humor, love for grasses, appreciation of the different stages of growth, amazing photos… that justify another gardening book.

    Marilyn Gist above said several other things that I had also thought of: bigger photos, perfect balance of text and bullet points, a layout that’s not predictable. PLEASE do not have boxes all over the place to make the book look like a web page full of ads. I hate when I’m reading a book and then see a box and read that and then have to remember to go back to the text. (Yes, I know that younger people like that kind of layout.) However, I disagree with her about about the zone ranges. I think that the way you present them is sufficient, because otherwise you might have to cover all the exceptions and there would be no end to it.

    I also like her idea of using the name of your blog for your book title (but maybe not exactly that same image of you on the cover!). That way, it will be instantly recognized by readers who already know your blog, and it’s a catchy title. It promises humor, always a plus. I don’t remember why I started reading your blog, but it may well have been the title that piqued my interest. Maybe add a catchy and informative subtitle mentioning New Jersey? foliage?

    I’m especially interested in words, so I’d like a word or two about the origin of the common names (e.g., “the shape of the mature leaf is like..,” which might not be obvious to people who think that a mantle is a fireplace mantle), and also a translation of the Latin names, as in Latin for Gardeners. I’ve known people who painfully memorize scientific names of plants, fish, anatomy, etc. and it never occurs to them that if they knew what the terms meant – leaf, flat, star, Japanese – it would be helpful and interesting. I’m sure that you don’t want to go too deeply into this in this book, but I’d love to see a line or two, in the Specifics area or even in the text if particularly interesting. For instance, there’s an evocative image in the translation of Alchemilla mollis:
    “Modern Latin, from a medieval Latin diminutive of alchimia ‘alchemy’, from the belief that dew from the leaves of the plant could turn base metals into gold.” []
    “Mollis soft, pliant, flexible, easily moved, gentle”
    Ironically, “easily moved” obviously doesn’t refer to transplanting, but when I read the definition, I remembered that Marilyn Sandau said above, “it is easy to dig up any that is in the wrong place and find it a new home.” That reminds me, please add your own experiences with transplanting and propagating, maybe not with the Specifics but in the text.

    Are you going to add some of your failures? Plants that fall within your range but didn’t do as well as they should? Combinations that you tried and didn’t like? Perhaps some of those tales could be included, particularly if they are funny, if only to contrast with your successes, or maybe to make us less successful gardeners feel better about our own failures.

    Good luck. It’s going to be great.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thank you so much Ann for all of this feedback! I couldn’t have asked for anything more and know that I am taking it all to heart. The suggestion of name origin really piques my interest and while I added it for a few plants, I’m liking the idea of adding it to each even if very briefly. And I promise you failures, ha!

  10. Misti

    I replied yesterday but the internet ate it!

    First off I like the idea of it all and your set up. Very conversational and tells a story while also talking about the plant!

    I would re-think the use of the word shit, though. I know that is probably just your style but maybe try to use something more like ‘deteriorated’ instead and keep up the use of the anger in the next paragraph.

    Overall I like the content but maybe you can format a PDF sample of it in the exact way it would be presented in a book so we can see it in that manner? We could download it and review it that way, to get a better feel of presentation.

    In the specifics bullet section, elaborate on where it is from instead of being general ‘non-us’. You could say country or region instead. I’d also be sure to carry on the same format/order in the other specifics, listing zones first down to leaf type so that it is consistent.

  11. Tami W Jones

    I loved the excerpt. This would be my perfect morning coffee reading book! My brain doesn’t seem to be able to come up with any helpful hints like the incredible ones already mentioned, but wanted to let you know I love your writing style and I will buy you book. I can’t wait, actually.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thanks so much Tami! I’ve been working away on it day and night the past few weeks. Hope it doesn’t disappoint.

  12. Jennifer Kotter

    I just came across your blog today and I am in love. I really appreciate that you used multiple photos of the plant in different situations. That is something that I find lacking in many gardening books. I always want more pictures of each plant. Nice job showing photos of the specific features of the plant that you are writing about. When you look at popular blogs about cooking, for instance, they have photographs of the steps in the recipe. That concept should transfer well to your book! A lot of the text in gardening books feels disjointed from the pictures. It will be more work but I think it will pay off. I know I would want to buy it.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thanks so much Jennifer and welcome! I’ll do my best to not disappoint, ha.

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