I prefer to regard children as apprentice gardeners, gradually acquiring more skills as the years go by, working their way up (at their own pace and interest level) to journeyman and eventually master gardener. As much as possible, I like to let them choose their own projects, plan the execution of them, and solve their own problems. Here are three books, supposedly for adults, that do just that.
The Veggie Gardener’s Answer Book by Barbara J. Ellis serves apprentice gardeners well in several ways. It is small enough to be manageable in young hands, with a wipe-clean cover that can take visits to the garden without falling apart. The question-and-answer format makes it easy to zero in on a topic of burning interest or flip open to a random page and still grasp what’s being discussed. And it asks–and answers–lots of questions, everything from what are the easiest crops to grow to how can I make weeding go faster to how do I cope with a garden that got out of control? The first part of the book covers general gardening techniques and the second part gives advice on specific crops. There’s also a glossary, a bibliography, and a handy chart to help you determine how much to plant out of that generous seed packet. It truly is a “knowledegable gardening friend,” as the introduction suggests, a friend who doesn’t talk down to you, because the book was written for adults.
Wherever there’s plants, you know there’s going to be bugs, and Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser helps the novice garden determine friend from foe. The spiral-bound format of this book makes it easy to flip through, but it’s the index that makes it really useful. Look up the plant that has the bug on it, and it will give you all the pages that have bugs that frequent that plant. (By doing so I learned that sawflies were gobbling up my rose’s leaves.)
The bugs are easily identified by the photographs. Each bug gets a two-page spread that describes the damage it does and suggests preventive actions, live biological controls, organic product controls, and additional information when available. For example, adult cutworm moths are a favorite food of bats, so a good way to reduce cutworms in your garden is to encourage bats. Similar information is provided for the good bugs: who they control, and how to attract and keep them. All remedies are organic, but I especially like that the emphasis is placed on providing natural enemies of the pest and controlling environmental factors, before resorting to sprays and powders. If the bug in question isn’t in this book, it’s time to call in the grownups.
Don’t Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scrapsby Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam is a good remedy for boredom all year round, but especially in the northern winters when outdoor gardening is impossible. This book goes way beyond avocado pits and carrot tops, teaching you how to grow not only familiar vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but also branching into herbs and spices, and produce from Latin American and Asian cuisines. You could get an education just finding some of these. Oops. Did I say education? Fortunately, since this is a book for grownups, there is none of that didactic, it’s good-for-you tone that ruins many a juvenile trade book.
Grow enough of these groceries, and you’ll learn many seed germination and plant propagation techniques–and have fun doing it. Did you know fenugreek was a legume? Did you ever consider growing beets for a holiday centerpiece? Peterson tells some funny stories on herself as well; her spirit of experimentation is contagious. I can’t think of a better way to relieve the winter doldrums than to go shopping in the supermarket for a plant to grow. As the author advises: “Always buy two of each–one to grow and one to eat.”