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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