Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gardening Book Review #3: Advanced Home Gardening

Advanced Home Gardening: Cutting-Edge Growing Techniques for Gardeners by Miranda Smith (Creative Homeowner series)

All the down-and-dirty, basic techniques for gardening are covered in this book. The information is broken down into color-coded chapters, making it easy to get around and find what you need. For a beginning gardener or for someone who just wants an all-purpose manual, this is a highly useful reference. A substantial chapter on vegetables is sandwiched between other chapters covering flowers, herbs, fruit trees, shrubs, and the like. It’s a smorgasbord of everything a home gardener needs.

The really good stuff, from the vegetable gardener’s point of view, is in the first two chapters, which tell you about layout, digging, soil, cover crops, and how to buy, germinate, propagate, and tend plants. There are maps of heat and hardiness zones, a list of cover crops and green manures that tells you when to plant them and when to turn them under, and some very nice how-to illustrations. The clear, attractive illustration of the steps involved in propagating cuttings is one instance of how the book makes it easy to follow the processes it describes.

I was underwhelmed, at first, by the section on vegetable gardens. When I first looked at this book, I had a specific question in mind—probably about my nemesis, the squash vine borer. But because this manual is so broad in scope, its depth is limited. Considering the amount of information it must impart about vegetable gardening in a single chapter, its reach is quite impressive. It offers good advice on principles of companion planting and succession planting, a chard of how much to plant of certain vegetables (based on your needs), illustrations of crop rotation plans, and a fairly detailed description of how to plant and care for your vegetables.

The directory section, containing descriptions of particular vegetables, is somewhat less useful, because it has room for only so much information about each plant. If you want to seek out information about particular varieties (for instance, about techniques for growing sweet onions), you’ll have to seek it elsewhere. Altogether, though, this is one of the better, more comprehensive gardening books I’ve seen, and it’s a valuable addition to the shelf, particularly if you’re interested in growing flowers and fruit alongside your zucchini and beans.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gardening Book Review #2: New Kitchen Garden

New Kitchen Garden by Adam Caplin (photography by Caroline Hughes)

The premise of this book—that you can grow vegetables among your ornamental plants—makes for lovely pictures. As a result, paging through it is a delight, though the book is of little use as a reference. The text, though appearing in copious swaths alongside the photographs, provides a few neat insights and tips on organic gardening, but the small, sans-serif font makes it hard to read, and the information isn’t organized in a very user-friendly fashion. This is strictly coffee-table territory, where words exist mainly as anchors for pictures.

That said, the pictures themselves, and occasionally the words, give forth abundant ideas for what one might accomplish in a mixed flower and vegetable garden. Anchored to a tall pole, runner beans with gorgeous, orange-red blossoms rise high above the ferns, demonstrating how a sun-loving plant can sometimes thrive with its roots anchored in a shady spot. Fennel waves its feathery fronds beside a drift of brilliant poppies. Zucchini leaves loom large beside a starry sea holly.

For the experienced gardener, some of the suggestions on planting out seedlings and descriptions of individual vegetables may be of some use, or at least provide amusement. Looking through the section on organic gardening is like comparing notes with a fellow gardener across the fence (keeping in mind that your neighbor is presenting his experiences in the best possible light, entirely free of blemishes).

Some of the information is basic (veggies need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow; crop rotation is important; tomatoes are diverse in variety). But some of it is more particular to the mixed decorative and culinary garden (intensive planting can make small infections into potentially larger problems; eggplant works well in gardens with grays, blues, and purples; you can prevent slugs from entering plant pots by rubbing petroleum jelly on the outer rim). This is the type of book that helps you generate ideas, even if it will solve few, if any, of your pre-existing problems.

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