A Good Book for Beginners
When I was in high school, I wanted to know more about gardening than I was able to learn. My gardening grandmother lived hundreds of miles away. The library had a set of Time-Life books on gardening that made me feel I needed a greenhouse, or at least a potting shed, before I could hope to succeed. Not only was there no internet, but there was no Fine Gardening, Garden Gate, or Martha Stewart Living. My mother would buy one bag of peat moss and a couple of six-packs of whatever flower I chose, and after that I was on my own.
I would have been thrilled to have had a copy of Burpee Complete Flower Gardener to pore over and learn from. Not only would I have better understood how my soil needed to be improved, but I could have done the math and justified to my mother the expense of several bags of amendments. “See, Mom, it says right here . . .”
I remember in my senior year, I was talking to the mother of one of my friends, who told me of her dream to plant a perennial border along the driveway. Seeing my puzzled expression, she pulled out the Wayside Gardens catalog and showed me what she meant. Perennials! They looked like the illustrations in English fairytale books. With a sense of wonder and regret I realized those flowers weren’t make-believe; I could have grown them, if only I had known. That is why I was happy to see that a book designed for beginners covered all sorts of flowers: annuals, perennials, biennials, bulbs, and vines. None of these are any more difficult than the others, so why not familiarize the novice with a wide range of possibilities? I confess I didn’t notice until Susan Harris pointed it out that shrubs were missing: yes, no roses. But even though all the experts say you should start with shrubs and trees, that you should start with the backbone, really, most of us start with plants that require less financial commitment. Because, in the beginning, we’re not sure if this is just a passing fancy or a long term relationship, and we don’t want to commit to something we’ll regret later. So, I don’t think it’s such a crime that shrubs were left out.
Ha! What I do consider a “crime” (but only because they are my own little obsession) is that they lumped colchicums in with crocuses. Okay, so technically they were in a sidebar labeled “Other Choices,” but still, they called them autumn crocuses. They are not. autumn. crocuses! This would not be such a big deal except that there are bona fide crocuses blooming in autumn. If we can call delphiniums by their Latin name, why can’t we do the same with colchicums? All right. End of pet peeve.
No Soapboxes Here
The subtitle of this book is: The Comprehensive Guide to Growing Flowers Organically. Thankfully, you will find no drawn out diatribe on the evils of chemicals. Instead, organic methods are matter-of-factly presented as the standard, sensible way to do things. Their advice on everything from soil preparation to dealing with pests and diseases follows good organic practice–without using the word organic in every other sentence. There’s a lot of good information in the front section, but let’s face it–the eye candy is in the back. The selection in the Plant Portraits is broad but familiar. I don’t think any of the plants are hard to find or hard to grow. The entries are detailed enough to ensure success, but not so detailed as to make one’s eyes glaze over. And the appendix has a number of ways to point you to more information. I particularly like that they include not only a hardiness map, but a fairly extensive table of first and last frost dates for the U.S. and Canada.
Veteran Gardeners Will Enjoy It, Too
It may date me, but Bugs Bunny cartoons weren’t re-runs when I was a kid. Watching them as an adult, I catch a lot of wisecracks and puns that went right over my head as a youngster. The Complete Flower Gardener has garden quotations galore, which the novice may hardly notice, while the veteran recognizes the source as an old friend or a new writer to explore. Not only does every chapter start with a quotation, but garden writers and others (even Dave Barry) are quoted in the text to emphasize the point being made. With decades of flower growing under my belt, there wasn’t too much new information in the book for me, but the many literary allusions brought pleasure to every page.
You could win this book!
It just so happens I have a copy to give away. Tell me your most frustrating experience growing flowers. What confusion, disaster, or aggravation could this book have prevented, had you owned it? Relate the most convincing tale of woe (or humor) in the comments and this book will be yours. Contest is over on June 30, 2007 at midnight.The decision of the judge is final, and the winner must provide her or his mailing address so I can mail them the book. Deadline extended: Someone suggested that many blog readers are away from their computers because of the Fourth of July holiday, so I am extending the deadline to July 5th at midnight, in order to give more of you an opportunity to win this book.