The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Reader's Digest, by Trevor Cole Fern Marshall Bradley (Hardcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This visually stunning book weighs about five pounds. Its 557 pages contain over 2,500 full-color photos, over 200 tables, and over 800 diagrams. Even the inside cover is a two-page spread color graphic. The plant directory covers over 700 plants.
I come from a family of gardeners, and have been gardening all of my life. I've grown some pretty impressive produce, using organic methods. And yet, I found myself learning new things as I read
The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening.
This book defines "garden" to include the yard and general landscaping of a home, rather than just the vegetable garden out back. So it also addresses how to have a healthy lawn, keep trees strong, obtain the best shade, provide shelter for birds, and create peaceful areas within even a small back yard. And how to do all of that in a manner that is sustainable and affordable.
This book consists of twenty-seven chapters, each of which addresses a specific type of plant (except there are two topical chapters). It has an introduction and an extensive index. The two topical chapters "book end" the other chapters, and are:
- Planning your garden.
- Lawns and ground covers.
The chapters on plant types include:
- Lawns and ground covers.
- Ones on various types of flowers. For
example, there are chapters on irises, peonies, and roses.
- Shrubs and vines.
The book has a big yellow "sticker" looking graphic on its cover. The "sticker" says, "Now All Organic" and that may put some people off. There is nothing weird about organic gardening. Most people use a mix of organic methods and chemical gardening. While you often get faster results from chemical gardening, you do not get better results.
Organic gardening has several benefits:
- Food smells and tastes better. There simply
is no comparison. My organic tomatoes and peppers are bigger,
darker, more aromatic, and tastier than those of chemical gardeners
in this same locale. My plants are bigger, also.
- Food is better. It's got more nutrients and
fewer toxins than chemically grown food.
- It's sustainable. Chemical gardening destroys
the soil, creating dependency and then ultimately failure. Organic
methods build the soil.
- It costs less money out of pocket. Sure, you
are going to do more work than simply spraying chemicals on your
garden. But you don't have to buy those chemicals in the first
- It's earth-friendly. You recycle kitchen
scraps and yard waste, thereby reducing landfill requirements. If
you need to use pesticides or fungicides, the recommended ones break
down quickly and thus don't load our streams and soil with
- It's harmonious. Animals love an organic
garden. Each spring, robins perch on my garden borders while I work
the soil. They sing to me, as I dig up the worms they love to eat.
Many kinds of birds visit my garden, eating many kinds of pests
while there. Toads perch under the kale leaves, and consume massive
numbers of insect pests. I have a clover patch for a rabbit that
lives in an evergreen in my backyard (for some reason, the robins
keep the rabbit out of the vegetable garden). Bees visit me while I am
tending my basil, and alight on my arms (they never sting, as I give
them no reason to). Who needs a prescription
tranquilizer, when you have this kind of peace and harmony?
Even when you follow organic gardening methods, you do have problems--up to, and including, crop failure. That's a risk you take. The information in this book helps reduce the risk. For example, you prepare the soil properly, plant a variety of crops (if one fails, you have others), rotate crops, watch for problems and catch them early, and so forth.
With organic methods, you don't try for perfection. You reduce risk factors and thus bring problems down to a tolerable level. In so doing, you eliminate the "cure is worse than the disease" problem that inflicts so many chemical-dependent gardeners. This book reminded me of my own laxity in practicing crop rotation. It's something I need to improve on ("It's the rotation, stupid.").
Planning, prevention, and focused attention are the "secrets" to successful organic gardening. These prevent you from needing to throw chemicals at a problem that shouldn't have occurred in the first place. Follow the practices recommended in this book, and the garden just about takes care of itself. In the event it doesn't, this book provides a wealth of advice on remediation.
Even if you already enjoy success as an organic gardener, you will no doubt find much value in this book. And, you could use it to teach people who ask why your flowers are so bright or your tomatoes taste so good.
Another benefit of reading a book like this is that understanding this information can help when you seek professional advice. When I visit my garden shop with a problem, the fact that I am generally following recommended practices means something to the experts. (I suppose it doesn't hurt to give a 9 lb honeydew melon to the resident expert, either....). When you don't grasp the fundamentals, it's discouraging to those who could help you. This book clearly explains the fundamentals, and then takes you beyond them.
For a book of this size, there are surprisingly few editing errors. The writing was clear, requiring no mental gymnastics to understand what was being said. Typos are almost nonexistent, and the grammar is correct throughout. I have found correct grammar to be the exception, not the rule, in publishing today--kudos to those who care enough about readers to respect our language.
The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening should be on every serious gardener's bookshelf or coffee table. Read it through once as a tutorial, and refer to it often. Its organization and arrangement make it easy to find answers to just about any gardening problem. Reviewing the applicable sections in winter before planning spring gardening activities is also a wise investment of time.
The one sad thing about this book is it's so useful that you're going to end up leaving its beautiful pages soiled and dog-eared. At least, I know that's what'll happen with my copy. Whether you want a great coffee table book or a practical guide to healthy gardening practices, this book is for you.