Nothing makes me crazier than feeling like a garden dummy, unable to answer even the most basic questions: What exposure and soil are best for this plant? When and how should it be pruned? And, most embarrassing of all, what


this thing?

It's amazing how many of us have stuff in our gardens that we can't identify, let alone take care of properly. But it's no wonder. New plants often come with only rudimentary instructions.

So I glommed onto

Time-Saving Gardener: Tips and Essential Tasks, Season by Season

, a new book by Carolyn Hutchinson (Firefly Books, $19.95). Finally, a book to tell me, in plain English, how and when to plant, mulch, prune, stake, root, feed, deadhead and mow beds, borders, ponds, containers, lawns and kitchen gardens.

Time-Saving Gardener

has illustrations showing how to do all this and photos of the finished job, estimates of how long each task should take, and how critical it is, along with lists of what needs to be done when in the growing season.

Pruning clematis, for example.

Hutchinson, a Brit who's written three other gardening books, explains that early-blooming, large-flowered clematis, like the popular 'Nelly Moser,' should be trimmed in early summer, right after flowering. And she tells how, bing-bing-bing.

If you've ever tried to extract pruning information from an expert or figure it out online, you'll understand why Hutchinson's simple prescriptions practically cry out for a group hug.

Two things are missing from this book, which the publisher says was "North Americanized": U.S. plant-hardiness zones, which suggest which plants will grow in different regions, and warnings about invasives like Japanese honeysuckle.

But as a guide to working more efficiently in the garden,

Time-Saving Gardener

is good reading for recovering garden dummies. Knowing what you're doing is the best time-saver out there.

- Virginia A. Smith