Monday, May 16, 2011

Gardening Books (book reviews)

A knowledge-hungry greenmom visits the library and finds some really good stuff...

In my recent zeal for getting my newly landscaped garden happy and producing, I have been borrowing books from the library at a fairly alarming rate. (And unlike most of the books I get from the library, I’m actually reading these!)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m interested in the whole idea of “permaculture,” basically an approach to gardening which seeks to keep plants and humans in healthy mutually beneficial relationship to one another, looking at the garden as a self-maintaning ecosystem of which humans are a part. I am currently reading Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden, a really excellent introduction to permaculture on a home-garden scale. This book not only gives specific techniques for how to “do” permaculture, but more importantly (to me) it gives a really good explanation of the philosophy behind permaculture and eco-gardens, so that after a bit one is able to envision ideas on one’s own. I really like it—this may be one I go out and buy once I have to return it.

Another interesting book, though one I probably won’t go out and buy now that I’ve read it, is Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. It gives pretty good detail on what looks like a really cool and easy way to garden, if you have access to enough organic materials like leaves and manure and grass clippings and peat—you just layer them one on top of the other in autumn, let them “cook” over the winter (during which time the 18-24 inches of Stuff you put down in layers decayed down to a lovely rich 6-8 inches of composted goodness), and then just plant right in there. The author has had a lot of really good experience with the method, and it’s sort of like what we did in our yard last fall. From my perspective the weakness of the method is that it really does assume one has a huge enough yard to generate a whole lot of grass clippings, access to lots of compost and/or manure, and so forth. Here in the burbs, it's more of a challenge, although we've persuaded most of our neighbors to give us their autumn leaves and there's a horse stable nearby where the manure is free.

And finally, the one I just grabbed off the shelf at the library, Rodale’s Low-Maintenance Gardening Techniques. The title appealed to this very lazy gardener, and I'm really glad I impulsively grabbed it. This is another one I may have to buy, just because it’s such a good basic reference book for growing all kinds of things without doing any more work than absolutely necessary. And like Gaia’s Garden, it explains why certain techniques and methods work better than others, which makes the principles fairly easy to apply across the board.

So, out to you—does anyone have any other favorite gardening references? I’m jumping into the pool with both feet, into the deep end. I’d love to avoid as much of the “error” portion of “trial and error” as possible, so any additional information I can acquire would be awesome!

--Jenn the Greenmom

6 comments:

Andrea @ The Greenbacks Gal said...

Commenting because I could have written this post. Only when we redid our yard recently, I envisioned Urban Homestead - not permaculture (need to get that book) I wanted fruit trees and bushes plus gardens and put in 4 huge raised beds - and I've never done more than several pots on the patio. I keep wondering why are fruit trees not more popular when relandscaping? Anyway, can't wait to compare notes as the season goes on.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Hi Andrea!

From what I can tell, fruit trees take more work and maintenance than lots of other plants. My parents just gave us an apple tree, and I'm researching ways to use permaculture and companion gardening to discourage most problems before they start, but it does sound like a challenge. We are putting in a bunch of berry bushes this year, though (blueberry, elderberry, raspberry, and bush cherry), and we'll see how they do...

I love the permaculture idea--the premise seems to be, out in wild natural plantings, no one is coming in with fertilizer, no one is tilling the ground, no one is doing ANYTHING, and yet most of the diseases we home gardeners fight so hard just don't show up there, or if they do they are quickly contained. So the idea is to try to figure out what in these natural growths makes it work so well, and emulate that. Very cool!

With your new beds, TOTALLY try the lasagna thing this fall once the season is done--just toss whatever compostable stuff you can find, and put chopped or already small leaves on top of it all, and by spring it is all yummy and plantable...

Reggiemonster said...

I'm partial to the book Square Foot Gardening. It does require making raised beds, but the theory is that you can create the soil you need/want in the garden (instant organic!). It also teaches you how to maximize the use of the space you've got and has a handy little guide about when and how to space different types of plants. I grow so much more in my small beds then I did when I was trying to use a traditional garden. He explains things very well so even new gardeners can have a lot of success.

Rosa said...

I really love Noah's Garden, and have given away several copies of it - it's great for traditional flower-and-some-annual gardeners, who just want to not be killing all the frogs and bees. She has really easy and practical design ideas for a traditional-looking suburban lot, but welcoming for nonhumans. I've been gradually making minor changes (like leaving a gap at the bottom of our privacy fence, so snakes & frogs can go through) as we fix and replace the built parts of our yard.

Dea-chan said...

I got a lot of ideas from The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. I've also gleaned a bit from Four Season Gardening, but I don't really have a catch-all gardening book as of yet -- still a beginner!

(my turing test word is: heronsub and I find it hilarious)

Green Bean said...

I own Gaia's Garden and LOVE that book. It is my bible and what I used for planning my last yard - which is a tiny little postage stamp. My current yard is bigger and all the open space is in the back so I'm not using it for design purposes as much but still the plant selection, information on water saving (I'm going to build water swales!), and stuff like building a guild around your fruit trees are invaluable.

I've never read the Lasagna Gardening book but Gaia's Gardening covers it too - just calls it Sheet Mulch. I did that in my last year in 2 places and it was SO worth it. We got manure from a horse stable, leaves from neighbors, newspaper from another neighbor, and compost from the city. I'm SO doing it here next fall.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin