Books take time.
An author gets a hot idea, perfect for the market at the moment. But then the book has to be written, edited, designed, published and delivered. And maybe the idea isn’t as hot anymore.
That probably explains why the mailbox this year has been filled with books about growing food — fruits, vegetables and herbs in containers, raised beds and the old-fashioned garden plot. Last year, with the down economy and string of food scares, was the year that everyone was going to return to the victory garden. This is the year the books sprouted.
All may not be lost for these writers, however. The weather last year was cold, rainy and really rotten even for experienced gardeners. Beginning gardeners probably will want to try again, and they could be looking for more knowledge from some other source — like a book.
Don’t consider what follows book reviews. I read only two of these cover-to-cover, but I did spend at least half an hour with each of them.
“Small-plot, high-yield gardening” by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan (Ten Speed Press, $18) was my favorite of the group. Gilbertie is the third-generation owner of Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens in Westport, Conn., and Sheehan is the professional writer who made Gilbertie’s vegetable-garden ideas clear, concise and coherent.
Gilbertie is an organic gardener, and the 248-page large-format paperback includes plans for a dozen different gardens, information about vegetable families, buying seeds, planting and production techniques, compost and more.
There is one Gilbertie suggestion, however, that Nancy and I will not try. Gilbertie thinks rabbit manure is the best garden fertilizer in the universe. He raises rabbits simply to harvest their manure. That, to me, seems like an awful lot of work.
“Starter Vegetable Gardens” by Barbara Pleasant (Storey, $19.95) tries to do basically the same thing as Gilbertie’s book. The larger-format paperback offers “24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens” and opens with a three-year plan to create a 120-square-foot, attractive and productive garden. Her year-one plan involves putting plastic bags of commercial topsoil on the lawn and planting in the bagged soil. In the second year, the lawn below the bags is dead, and the garden grows.
She also has three-year plans for a bountiful border and a front yard food factory. She lost me a bit, however, when she recommended double digging, a labor-intensive shoveling exercise that most gardening experts have abandoned.
“Grow Your Own Vegetables” by Carol Klein (Mitchell Beazly, $19.99) has an excellent format. It gives a bit of an introduction to vegetable gardening, followed by a listing and descriptions of vegetables, with excellent photographs. The downside is that it was written originally for gardeners in England, a much milder climate than we have in Maine, and I don’t think it translates particularly well.
“Raised-bed Vegetable Gardening made simple” by Raymond Jones (The Countryman Press in Vermont, $15.95) might be trying to give too much detail. In one section, he spends three pages telling you how to make your own yardstick. There is a lot of good information there, but it is a bit dry and reads like a textbook.
“Easy Container Combos:Vegetables and Flowers” (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95) is the third in a series of container gardening books by Pamela Crawford. The photography is excellent, and many of the ideas are original. It combines the trends of growing vegetables and growing in containers.
“The Vegetable Gardener’s Book of Building Projects,” from the editors of Storey Publishing, is an excellent book if you want to build things. The plans seem easy to follow, with photos, good cutting diagrams, measurements and simple instructions.
Projects include cold frames, raised beds, containers, garden furniture, a solar dryer, compost bins, trellises and other supports and harvesting and storage aids. If you were to build just one of the items, it would be worth the $18.95 price for the book.
“A Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs” by Charles W.G. Smith (Storey, $12.95) underestimates itself in the title. This would be an excellent book for even seasoned gardeners to keep as a reference. It gives growing instructions for 26 herbs, along with recipes for juices, teas, sauces, condiments (we could make our own ketchup) and main dishes, along with storage instructions. It’s a small-format paperback and only 148 pages but packed with information.
“Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener” (The Taunton Press, $29.95) is more about cooking than gardening, and I can’t really judge it. But Nancy said she thought it was a good book.
“Native Plants for Your Maine Garden” by Maureen Heffernan (Down East Books, $24.95) is another book you want to put on your shelf as a reference. Heffernan is executive director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and a couple weeks ago I reported on her talk (based largely on the book) at the Portland Flower Show.
The book opens with a couple dozen pages of generic gardening information but then divides the native plants into groundcovers, perennials, grasses, ferns, shrubs and trees and provides excellent photographs and concise descriptions of each plant. At the end it has specialized plant lists — for soil types, for amount of light, that attract animals or are resistant to deer.
With “Deer-Resistant Landscaping” by Neil Soderstrom (Rodale, $23.95), I’m breaking with the theme. The book is not new, and it didn’t come across my desk. It’s from 2008, and Nancy bought it, but I like it so much I’m mentioning it anyway.
The first 55-page section, which I found fascinating (Nancy disagreed), was called “Outwitting Deer” but really was about the biology of deer. It includes a lot of ways to keep deer out of your garden, explaining in wonderful detail why these methods might work.
The next 160 pages give advice on dealing with 20 other mammals, from bear to woodchucks, dogs to voles. Soderstrom does not approve of poisons, but there are plenty of other lethal and nonlethal methods.
Finally, it has 115 pages with a list, descriptions and photos of more than 1,000 deer-resistant plants. This is another book to keep on hand as a reference.
Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: