Quite a while back I cast aspersions on the ability of a southerner to write a book about northern gardening. I take it back. Felder Rushing has done an excellent job writing Tough Plants for Northern Gardens: Low Care, No Care, Tried and True Winners. Mr. Rushing, sir, I apologize.
Turns out the man has done a lot of traveling, and what’s more, he was paying attention and taking notes the whole time, or, as he puts it, “While looking for real gardens in the older parts of town, I have spent more time backing up for a second look than going forward.” (p. 23) As you might expect from a man who also wrote Passalong Plants, Rushing is not interested in pushing the latest patented hybrids. He is writing a book for those who sorta think they might like to garden, but feel intimidated. He wants gardening to be as common sense and matter-of-fact for these people as it was for their grandparents or great-grandparents. And isn’t that where we all start, no matter when we started? We stuck a plant or seed in the ground; it grew, and we thought to ourselves, “Gosh, even I can do this.”
Rushing goes out of his way to avoid jargon, and is never patronizing, though he is often funny. He states that the book covers the Northeast and moister parts of the Midwest, roughly Zones 4 to 6. And in case you’re still not sure if he’s covering your region, he provides a list of “Other ways you can tell that you might be a Northern gardener”:
- Folks wait until after Memorial Day to plant tomatoes.
- You know what “heaving” is–and it ain’t about drinking too much.
- Fire hydrants in your town are wrapped for winter.
- Someone in your neighborhood has a large boulder as a lawn ornament.
- It’s easier to say “youse” or “youin” than “y’all”.
- Your lawn mower has a snowplow attachment.
- You worry about runoff from the driveway or street causing salt damage to plants.
- You have ever actually put snow chains on your personal vehicle.
- You can recognize a groundhog’s night work from the kitchen window.
- You know exactly how deep the average frost line is in your soil.
- An unusually warm winter kills plants because there’s not enough snow cover.
- You give away your first tomato, as a gift, because it is so special.
- There’s a Union soldier statue in the town square. (pp. 14-15)
This list did more than anything else to convince me that Rushing knew whereof he spoke, because every last one of them is true. Not only was I grinning, I was thinking, “Wait–you mean not everyone has to do that?” Only someone with one foot on each side of the Mason-Dixon line would know the little quirks that distinguish the two regions. And it’s clear he doesn’t hold that statue against us.
If you’re a veteran gardener, you’ll recognize his “Best for Beginners” plants as the ones you cut your gardening teeth on. They’re easy, hardy, and familiar, and I bet you’ve still got quite a few of them growing in your garden. So you don’t need this book for yourself, though if you need cheering up, it might be just the ticket. However, if you’ve ever have a friend or relative wander through your garden, sigh wistfully and say, “I wish I could grow plants like you do,” this is the book to put into their hands. Before you know it, they’ll be swapping seeds with you and asking for a piece of great-aunt Sarah’s favorite rose bush.