Picks and Pans Main: Etc.
As ye read, so shall ye sow
Like cookbooks, gardening books can be viewed as chemistry-set directions, dictating how many 'seconds till the next teaspoonful—or, for gardeners, how deep to plant a bulb. Other readers, scorning mimicry, seek ideas to adapt to personal taste. A third group wants fantasy. Never cooking anything that won't fit in the toaster, never growing anything more long-term than a bean sprout, they still love a book that offers a vicarious experience. Instruction, inspiration, escapism—these are the reasons to read gardening books, and this spring's harvest has something for every taste.
From its title and its bulk, Ortho's Complete Guide to Successful Gardening (Ortho, $29.95) appears to offer instruction. In fact, it is short on practical advice and bloated with glossy photographs. Many of the plants in the pictures aren't even identified, as if the authors assumed that would-be cultivators wouldn't need such help. Those who would rather grow a turnip than admire an oversized close-up of one should consult instead the standard Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening (Reader's Digest, $23.50), which compensates for drab photos by providing a profusion of practical illustrations and well organized, detailed information. The Organic Gardener's Complete Guide to Vegetables and Fruits (Rodale, $21.95), which restricts itself to edibles, is another encyclopedia worth going back to. It's especially designed for the compost-conscious gardener who dislikes the Ortho ethos (Ortho is a subsidiary of the Chevron Chemical Company, which makes fertilizers). For advice on such matters as interplanting and companion planting (lettuce between corn, peas next to carrots), it's unbeatable. In the same spirit is Nancy Bubel's The Country Journal Book of Vegetable Gardening (Country Journal, $10), a beautifully designed collection of the author's magazine columns, which are filled with useful tips (when maple trees blossom, Swiss chard should be planted) and animated by the voice of an idiosyncratic gardener. "Living 11 miles on a beeline from Three Mile Island has made us painfully aware of the hidden costs of all the household power we take for granted," she writes, lauding squash that keeps without energy-gobbling freezing or canning.
Of course, there is much more to gardening than knowing when to plant the Swiss chard. A successful garden supplies refuge and beauty along with scallions and rhubarb. A good place to start thinking about shrub selections and color combinations is Hugh Johnson's thoroughly civilized (and thorough) The Principles of Gardening, to be reissued in paperback this June (Simon and Schuster, $14.95). With well-chosen photographs that show the bad along with the good, the book is a delight to read and a seedbed of ideas. Another source of inspiration is John Brookes' design-oriented The Garden Book (Crown, $22.50). Like Johnson, Brookes is an Englishman addressing primarily his own countrymen. However, for anyone building a garden, his book contains a wealth of suggestions that cope with all conceivable needs from cesspool covers to decorative hedges.
There is indeed a distinguished tradition of English garden writers, and one of today's leaders, Christopher Lloyd, has two new books this spring. The Well-Chosen Garden (Harper & Row, $18.95) is the one to start with. Filled with attractive color photographs and usefully organized into such chapters as "Contrasts of colour and form" and "Scents where you sit," the book mixes anecdotes concerning Lloyd's grand 15th-century East Sussex manor house with more mundane advice (reduce the fertility of your meadow to encourage the widest range of wildflowers). Lloyd aficionados might graduate to The Adventurous Gardener (Random House, $17.95), but they had best be experienced gardeners. Preferably, too, their garden will enjoy an English climate. Short pieces provide a specialist's data on a myriad of plants, whose Latin names litter the manuscript in an intimidating way. Since the book has few illustrations (several photos in The Well-Chosen Garden are also reproduced here, in muddier colors), it is best to keep a botanical dictionary handy. One such reference guide with a twist is Nicola Ferguson's Right Plant, Right Place (Summit, $14.95). Like a reverse telephone book, it arranges plants according to where they live, rather than by name. Organized into 27 categories based on soil and sun conditions and decorative function, the book helps you locate a bush with aromatic leaves or a ground cover that will grow well in acid soil. Because most plants fall into several categories, the cross-referencing can become a bit unwieldy. Also, the scheme of ordering plants within a chapter according to height is observed too rigidly. Despite that, this is a handsome, valuable book.
George Schenk's The Complete Shade Gardener (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95) is more narrowly focused. Rather pricey for its size, the book makes up in the color of its writing for its dearth of photographs. Who could plant a Paulownia tomentosa, or Empress tree, after reading, "Something close to a total mess: Coarse and fast in habit, it drops squishy flowers and smothering leaves. The roots are robbers, the shade a tar pit." Writing for Americans, Schenk includes climate zones.
A garden contains more than flora, a fact that Gene Logsdon celebrates in Wildlife in Your Garden (Rodale, S14.95), devoting much more attention to the lovely butterfly than to the infuriating caterpillar. If you can overlook the cloying device of such recurring Captain Kangarooish characters as "Dumb Farmer," you will learn to avoid planting Canada thistle in your wildlife meadow (it blots out everything else), and discover which frogs are right for your pond. If birds are the only wildlife that appeal to you, How to Attract Birds (Ortho, $5.95) should help lure some to your garden. The book is admirably straightforward; and the photographs of birds are so attractive you will want to rush right out and hang up your feeders. The power to propel you from your living-room chair into the outdoors is, in the end, the hallmark of a successful gardening book.
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