Tiptoe through the tips

Just because you may creak a little more than you used to, don’t even think of hanging up the old rake, hoe or shears. Instead, get a copy of Joann Woy’s Accessible Gardening — Tips and Techniques for Seniors and the Disabled, distributed by Vanwell Publishing Limited, St. Catharines.

“The accessible garden nourishes both soul and body,” Woy promises in her introduction. And for the next 189 pages, fingernails itch like crazy for one more touch of the good earth.

“In the garden the world and the entire cycle of life are captured in miniature,” she rhapsodizes, “it’s here we are given some control, some mastery over fate.”

In addition to the mental and spiritual benefits of gardening, Woy documents the physical pluses: “Better circulation, better respiratory health, lower blood pressure and reduced stress are all positive side effects of a daily workout in the garden,” she writes.

From there, she walks you through planning and layout, garden construction, raised beds, containers and trellises, soil testing and preparation, tools for accessibility, lawn care and a host of other chapter headings. It’s recommended reading to prime you for tiptoeing through your lips next spring.

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In her new epic, Lord Strathcona — A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith (Dundurn Press), Canadian Donna McDonald writes of Louis Riel, the French-Canadian Metis separatist who stormed up the controversial rebellion, “He was a difficult and complex man, prone to extreme behaviour.”

On November 15, 1885, Donald Alexander Smith and his fellow CPR founders pulled into Winnipeg from Canada’s first transcontinental train trip. “The only thing to mar the day,” McDonald writes, “was news from Regina that Louis Riel had been hanged that morning.”

Her cryptic reference to Riel’s terminal denouement leads one to note Lucien Bouchard’s good luck for not having been born in that era.

Strathcona is a prodigious 600-page volume of detailed Canadiana including appendices, notes and index. Smith, a Scot, apprenticed in the Hudson’s Bay Company in mid-19th century. At the peak of his Bay career, he quit to energize entrepreneurial Britons and Yankees into risking fortunes — his own included — to build the CPR. McDonald makes you believe that, without the CPR, Canada may have languished as a fur-trading backwater well into the 20th century.

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My friend, Steven Havill, the New Mexico, U.S., professor and story-teller, scores again with his new Undersheriff Bill Gastner whodunit Privileged to Kill (St Martin’s Press, New York).

This is crime-writing at its crispest, set amidst the richly colored backdrop of Havill’s make-believe Posadas County. (By the way, he didn’t send me a complimentary copy — I bought one from my bookseller, so my plug is legit.

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The Economist Magazine’s mid-summer special on Russia’s agonizing post-Stalin recovery coincides with the Folio Society’s timely new release of Lost Splendor. This 225-page hardcover is Prince Felix Youssoupoff’s classic, witty and gossipy record of what got the Bolsheviks started in the first place.

In his introduction, Count Nikolai Tolstoy writes about Felix’s “unself-conscious allusions to a panoply of wealth… the Youssoupoff’s estates were distributed across Russia in such profusion that their proprietor was unable to visit them all.”

Reading it, you wonder if you, under the circumstances, might not have become one of Lenin’s bomb-throwers, too.