Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl: book review + giveaway

2021 is off to a great start: Loree “danger garden” Bohl's long awaited first book, Fearless Gardening: Be Bold, Break the Rules, and Grow What You Love, is officially being released today. 

I posted a preview in November; now I can finally post an expanded review.

It gets even better: The publisher, Timber Press, is generously sponsoring a giveaway to celebrate the publication of Fearless Gardening. One lucky winner will receive not only a copy of Loree's book, but also a copy of The Bold Dry Garden, Johanna Silver's award-winning book about Ruth Bancroft, a major source of inspiration for Loree (click here to read my review). More details about this giveaway at the end of this post.

Loree Bohl needs no introduction. Her blog, the danger garden, has chronicled the evolution of her Portland, Oregon garden since 2009. Loree is probably best known for her love of spiky plants, above all agaves, but she has incorporated a truly global plant palette into her garden—stout yuccas coexisting harmoniously with delicate ferns, manzanitas from California with mondo grass from Japan. The juxtapositions are often surprising, sometimes even startling, but they consistently express Loree's vision. 

Fearless Gardening is the perfect title for Loree's first book: Doing what you love instead of following what others think you should do may sound easy, but it takes guts. That's why Loree has dedicated Fearless Gardening “[t]o every gardener who has ever thought, but I can’t or I shouldn’t, yes you can and yes you should.”

This rallying cry sets the tone for the entire book. Garden the way you like, plant what you love, and be proud of what you achieve. There's only one person you need to please: yourself.

Fearless Gardening is divided into six main sections: “Introduction,“ “There Is No Right Way to Garden,” “Create a Garden You Love,” “Explore the Possibilities,” “Expand Your Options with Containers,” “Grow the Unexpected,” “Hardy Plant Choices & Fool-The-Eye Alternatives,” and “Inspiring Garden Profiles.” This gives you a good idea of the journey Loree wants to take you on.

In the introduction, Loree summarizes her own gardening history and reveals that fear and uncertainty have been frequent companions for her as well. So many of us are seemingly programmed to be afraid of failure, even what it comes to something as benign as gardening, and therefore seek out the comfort afforded by rules—what Loree calls the “Gardening Commandments”. Being fearless doesn't mean blindly ignoring what has worked for others; rather, it means asking questions, trying new things, and learning, always learning.

This quote by author Luvvie Ajayi sums it up perfectly:
People think about the word ‘fearless’ to mean ‘without fear,’ but I see it to actually mean with fear but you did it anyway. 

In the first chapter of the book, “There Is No Right Way to Garden,” Loree shares what she's learned from two fearless women who, over the space of decades, followed their own unique vision to create gardens that now draw visitors from all over the world: Ruth Bancroft (Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California) and Ganna Walska (Lotusland, Montecito, California). Loree calls them “my gardening mentors, if only in spirit.”

Loree then debunks eight common “Gardening Commandments,” giving gardeners license to throw off the mental shackles that prevent them from creating the garden they really want. 

The advice that resonates with me the most because it took me so long to adopt is this: 
[I]t’s okay to get rid of perfectly healthy plants when they don’t match your vision. Gardeners are nurturers, and as a plant lover, this may be hard for you to swallow. However, once you do, you’ll never look back, I promise. If the plant isn’t making you happy, get rid of it!

The second chapter, “Create a Garden You Love,” is the core of the book. “If your garden doesn’t bring you joy, what’s the point?,” Loree asks. “It sounds so simple, but sometimes we forget that pleasing ourselves is reason enough to do something.”

This is the main message of Fearless Gardening: It's your garden. You can do whatever makes you happy. You don't need to justify your choices to anybody else. Or, as Loree puts it: “When you garden for yourself, creating your own personal vision of paradise, you’re free to plant petunias in old tires and surround your cactus with white gravel.”

The section headings—“The Best Gardens Reflect the Taste of the Gardener,” “Successful Gardeners Kill Plants and So Will You,” “Your Garden Will Evolve,” “Not Every Garden Needs to Be a Flower Garden,” “Cramscaping: Leave No Ground Bare,” and “Finding Your Own Style: Inspiration”—are a roadmap to what you'll learn in this chapter.

For me, this is one of the most important takeaways of this chapter: “[P]art of gardening fearlessly is accepting that not everyone is going to like what you create.” It's not easy to get to this place in your head, but once you do, you'll feel a sense of freedom you might not have experienced before.

The next chapter, “Explore the Possibilities,” presents a number of ideas that help you make your vision come to life. Sections entitled “Grow It as an Annual,” “Coppicing and Pollarding,” “Turning an Obstacle into an Advantage,” “Vertical Gardening,” “Crevice Gardening,” “Vignettes: Gardens within Gardens Pack a Punch,” and “Bringing the Garden Indoors” provide inspiration for your own garden—for the one you already have, or the one you're dreaming of creating.

Throughout the book, “Garden Visit” interludes showcase gardens that reinforce the message described in a given section.

The next chapters, “Expand Your Options with Containers,” “Grow the Unexpected,” and “Hardy Plant Choices & Fool-the-Eye Alternatives,” expand on the ideas outlined in “Explore the Possibilities” and help you make the kind of garden you've always wanted but weren't sure was realistic. Practical tips solve common problems, for instance how to protect plants in the winter.

In the last chapter, “Inspiring Garden Profiles,” Loree shows us seven gardens, public and private, that “demonstrate the concepts discussed on the previous pages. Taken together, they’re meant to challenge assumptions, while inspiring you and your approach to gardening.” 

The last of these six gardens is Loree's own, the very aptly titled “danger garden” (in lower-case, Loree points out, “so as not to be too threatening”). The ”danger” part refers to the spiky plants Loree is so fond of and the related potential for physical injury, but in my mind, it means something else: This garden is dangerous because after you've seen it, you might rethink everything you've done in your own garden. Before you know it, you're on a journey that transforms how you look at gardens and gardening.

There are many garden and gardening books that contain pretty pictures of pretty places. But that is simply eye candy. While Fearless Gardening has its own share of beautiful photos, it feeds more than just your eyes, it feeds your soul: It helps you realize that your garden is about you, and only you. And if you're still fearful, remember what Luvvie Ajayi said:

Fearless Gardening was published by Timber Press on January 5, 2021. It's available at all the usual places, including your local bookstore. If you prefer Amazon, here's the direct link.


Timber Press giveaway

Timber Press is generously sponsoring a giveaway to celebrate the publication of Fearless Gardening: The lucky winner will receive both a copy of Fearless Gardening and a copy of The Bold Dry Garden by Johanna Silver, published by Timber Press in 2016. 

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below. Since Fearless Gardening is all about doing what you love, please share one thing you love about your own garden. 

I'll draw a winner from all entries on January 18. The books will be sent out by Timber Press; please allow two weeks for shipping.

Unfortunately, this giveaway is only open to readers with a valid United States shipping address.


All photos and content from Fearless Gardening shown in this blog post is © 2021 by Loree Bohl and/or other copyright holders. All rights reserved.

© Gerhard Bock, 2021. All rights reserved. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. I would love to add this book to my collection! Looks like it has a lot of great idea's that I can use in my yard..

  2. I love that my garden is finally mature. The years of planting, moving plants, amending soil, etc. have finally paid off.

  3. It's my birthday, this book would be a grand present.

  4. I remember getting in touch with you back when I first heard from Timber Press—you've been part of this from the beginning and your support has been invaluable, thank you! I am still somewhat amazed that a book I wrote can be mentioned in the same sentence with Johanna's book on the Ruth Bancroft Garden...

  5. Loree's book is wonderful! My own post will be out tomorrow.

  6. I love all the progress I have made in my yard in the past 5 years. I started with a boring dandelion filled suburban lot and am slowly cramming more plants in to create plant and wildlife diversity. I now have a family of hummingbirds that live nearby and visit my yard daily.

  7. I love all of the self-seeding huckleberries in my garden. Beautiful and delicious!

  8. Loree speaks to my soul and I find my soul everyday in my garden. This year it gave me peace, a busy place where I also find stillness.

  9. I love the seasonal rhythms that my garden has acquired as it has aged. I love the Stellar's Jays that hang out in winter and the sheets of little bulbs just beginning to stick their noses up. I love that it changes and that I have a hand, but not always a controlling one in what is happening so why worry too much about it? Having a garden, even an imperfect one, is a wonderful gift. And I would love a copy of Loree's book!

  10. I love all the plants I have been given over the years and so enjoy watching them grow. Now since we have been home since 3/13 it really gives me something to look forward to each day, taking care of them . I'm so happy we have them and glad I bought some right before we could not go out anymore. A friend just brought me Orchid bark and cactus soil and dropped it off in my driveway . I would love to read some more about plants so I could work more on my yard and my potted plants to help them grow even better.

  11. Gerhard, Loree's blog as well as yours have been a tremendous inspiration these last few years as I convert my SW Texas 'yard' (as we say in Texas) over to beautiful succulents, including lots of spiky plants, rather than the thirsty plants I started with. Thank you!

  12. I live in Phoenix and have followed Loree's Blog Danger Garden for years. Believe me, I need her book AND blog in my cactus garden here!

  13. I love that my new garden is almost like a blank slate. I can shape it any way I want to. I'd love to have Loree's book for inspiration, but it looks like it would be so much more than that. I've followed her blog (and many of the garden blogs, including yours) for years. ~Suepip

  14. My garden is literally part of my personal wellness plan. Especially during this pandemic! My day is not complete without some time out there, and I have mainly cacti and succulents. I want to use these books to take my garden to the next level! My garden keeps me sane. :)

  15. Thank you, everybody! Keep the comments coming if you'd like to be entered in the two-book giveaway.

  16. My garden brings me such comfort. Strife within the family, chaos in the capitol, widespread disease, it all seems a bit more tolerable after a 15 minute walkthrough. Like I can breathe again.

  17. My neighbors all have green lawns, I wanted to xeriscape because of our rainfall/water issues. I also have to get along with the wildlife that was here before we were. I'm always looking for suggestions to help.

  18. I love that my garden now includes beautiful cedar boxes in the front yard, where the purple mustard has been a star this winter.

  19. I love planting for the hummingbirds and being rewarded by their visits.

  20. I love how my garden keeps evolving! My favorite time of day is strolling the yard in the morning, with my cup of coffee, deciding where to make changes with my newfound obsession with succulents, aloes & agaves!

  21. Great review, Gerhard! I really enjoyed Loree's book too and am happy to be giving away a copy at Digging as well. Pam/Digging: penick.net

  22. I love eating just picked organic vegetables all summer!


Post a Comment