Winter Reading

Phillip Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

The beauty of winter is hardly lost on the avid gardener. This is the time to sit back and contemplate the successes of last year and plan for the new one. What better way to keep the gardening ideas flowing than to pick up a good book and read what other gardeners are doing? Here are some titles that are sure to stimulate your thought processes and invigorate your gardening spirits.

Art Wolk's book, Garden Lunacy, (AAB Book Publishing LLC, 2005) is great way to brighten a dreary winter night. And, if your plans include competitive gardening, this book shows you the way.

Focusing on the gardener, the person at the "wooden end" of the shovel, not the plant at the "metal pointy end," Art has a light-hearted humor that brings a chuckle with every page, while introducing us to the dead serious world of the high-stakes gardening that wins prizes at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Travel with Art as he takes you on the roller-coaster ride from the novice gardener (one who hasn't yet "killed 100 plants") of 1978, to the prize-winning author (one who "has killed 100,000 plants in fewer than 25 years"). From the euphoria of his first blue ribbon through the tense and occasionally hilarious times that follow, he makes us feel the tensions, frustrations & exhilaration of his career as a garden lecturer, photographer, TV show host and horticultural competitor, in short, a hortiholic.

Are you curious about how they take those outstanding photos in the garden magazines? Or how the exhibitors at the PFS get their plants ready and whether you have what it takes to join their ranks? Art gleefully takes you behind the scenes and reveals all.

For the vegetable gardener two books recommend themselves. The $64Tomato (Algonquin Books, 2007) by William Alexander. Here is another story of a man who has been bitten by the gardening bug and lived to tell the tale. Odd how a person gets into gardening thinking it is a hobby and finds that it is really a pool of quicksand. Learn what happens when an English major turned computer tech manager and his physician wife try to turn their 3 acre plot into a productive organic garden with meadow and small orchard (4 apple trees). Any homeowner will relate to his ordeals: dealing with procrastinating contractors, staving off rampaging groundhogs and deer, sallying forth alone to do battle with voracious tent caterpillars intent on laying waste to his trees, and establishing fertile gardens for his precious heirloom Brandywine tomatoes that are constantly beset by weeds and critters.

Along the way, Alexander dispenses a good deal of interesting facts and garden know-how. He acknowledges the problems of using Integrated Pest Management to garden organically while weighing the pros and cons of chemical usage, Havahart traps and electric fencing.

The end of the book finds him tallying up the money spent to create his garden paradise and he realizes that each Brandywine tomato has cost him $64! This is a fun read; and you will learn a lot along the way. As a bonus you also get as a supplement Alexander's recipes for preparing these tomatoes and other garden produce.

Then there is Spade, Skirret and Parsnip The Curious History of Vegetables (Sutton Publishing Limited, 2004) by Bill Laws. I must admit I was drawn to this book because I had no idea what a skirret was.

This is a serious treatment of its subject. It looks at how the vegetables we enjoy came into the garden, where they originated and how the kitchen garden itself has developed and changed over the centuries. Improvements made in the construction of tools and glass houses are also considered. While the emphasis is on British gardens, the author does not overlook contributions from this side of the "pond."

There are many interesting tidbits in this volume. Did you know Irish gardeners used to dig with their right foot, while British gardeners used the left one. Tool makers used to take this into consideration when producing forks and spades. Or that the rabbit was brought to England by the Romans?

So, what's a skirret? It is a plant (Sium Sisarum) with fleshy white roots. Originating in China it was cultivated up until the 1880s. Shakespeare mentioned it in Merry Wives of Windsor.

And the one you have got to have: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales along with Stephanie Donaldson has written The Elements of Organic Gardening (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007.) This coffee table book is a beautiful addition to every gardening home. Prince Charles takes us through the development and creation of the gardens and grounds at his estates with particular concentration on Highgrove not far from London. This is not only a great introduction to how to garden organically in a step-by-step manner, but the photography and layout makes it an artistic experience all its own. The prince goes through all the steps needed to create everything from the formal garden, to the vegetable garden, the meadow, the compost area and hardscaping. He traces his own steps to become an organic gardener and illustrates it as he moves through the various gardens. This book is a gift that the whole family will enjoy.

So spend the winter gardening in your armchair with a good book from the library.

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