A Gardener's Bookshelf

Phillip Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

Ah, winter! What better time to curl up by the fire with a good book. And what better subject for a gardener on a cold winter's day than a book about gardening. Part of the joy of gardening is that it has many different facets. Among these are the reading and research about how to lay out the garden and to find the right plant or the best way to care for it. Go to any bookstore and you will be overwhelmed by the number of books available. Here are a few of the books I keep on hand to answer gardening questions and to give me ideas. I've chosen them because they are not overly expensive and they provide a tremendous amount of information. Any one of them will be a valued addition to your collection.

The Green Thumb Garden Handbook (Borders Books, 1999) by Doc & Katy Abraham is my most consulted book. Its sub-title is 'An Encyclopedia of Garden Know-How,' and it lives up to its name. When I need to know about a particular plant or to answer a garden-related question, this is the resource I turn to. It is a compact paperback crammed full of information on all aspects of gardening. Its chapters give detailed coverage of everything: landscaping the suburban lot, choosing plants, perennials, indoor plants, fruit and vegetable gardening, home greenhouses, and pest control. The appendix is filled with useful conversion charts and tables that make it easy to use different measures and compare products.

Along the same line, but with a different organization is Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (Rodale Press, Inc., 1997) edited by Fern Marshall Bradley & Barbara W. Ellis. Topics are arranged alphabetically. You don't have to go to the index, even though there is an excellent one, to find your topic. The hundreds of entries contain a wealth of information on all aspects of the garden. Since the emphasis is on organic gardening, articles show how to enjoy the garden with minimum recourse to chemical products. The entries are illustrated with excellent drawings that convey the information in a clear, straight-forward manner. This is so well written it is a great book to leaf through and read at leisure.

One of my wiser investments is another Rodale book, The Frugal Gardener (Rodale Press, Inc. 1999) by Catriona Tudor Erler. There are only seven chapters, but talk about ideas and money-wise tips! Every page is packed with them. Lists of Smart Tips & money saving pointers abound. Clear illustrations take you through everything from building an arbor or planter bench to composting, taking cuttings and more. Shopping lists show how to get the most bang for your buck. Recipes help you make your own organic bug sprays, fungicides, etc. The book has a resource guide to companies and nurseries that supply garden products that give top quality for your money. I wouldn't be without this book.

If you are a transplant, blown across the state line as I am, Liz Ball's Month-by-Month Gardening in Pennsylvania (Cool Springs Press, 2001) is a must have. The chapters cover annuals, bulbs, vegetables, houseplants, lawns, shrubs, trees, and more. Each of the eleven chapters is arranged according to the calendar. They begin with a general introduction to the chapter subject followed by a Pennsylvania-specific Planting Chart. Liz then takes you through the calendar year, telling you just what to do each month for each type of planting. Numerous appendices help with pest identification and control, state gardening societies and Extension Offices, local resources and Pennsylvania gardening facts. This book belongs on every Pennsylvania gardener's bookshelf.

Another book that I keep handy is Roger B. Swain's The Practical Gardener: Mastering the Elements of Good Growing (Galahad Books, 1998). This book is an excellent beginner's guide, but it is not intended to be an exhaustive coverage of the field. Still, Roger conveys a lot of useful information on a wide variety of topics in a very readable style. He has a way of taking the reader down into the garden and walking through every step of getting started with successful gardening practices. If you appreciate having one of America's most authoritative gardeners at your side, you will enjoy this garden tour. I like to re-read it in the winter to keep the gardening fires burning and to stoke the old mental furnace with ideas and inspiration for the next season. When you have read this book, you know your next garden is bound to be better yet.

All of these books are eminently useful and cover virtually every aspect of gardening in considerable detail. They can be purchased without a great expense. Indeed, you may find them in the local discount stores at a terrific savings. Garden frugally, remember? Of course, you can also check the local library and get all these and more for the cost of a library card. If you want to spend big bucks, look for the American Horticultural Society' s Encyclopedia of Gardening (DK Publishing, Inc., 1993), Christopher Brickell, editor-in-chief. When supplemented with the Society's A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (DK Publishing, Inc., 1997) Christopher Brickell & Judith D. Zuk, editors-in-chief, you will have so much gardening information at your fingertips you will be the envy of your fellow gardeners. You will also have to get a heavy-duty bookshelf to hold them!

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