Grow Organic: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews

The subtitle of Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies, Lawns and More by Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser reads “for first-timers and old-timers alike,” but I think it excels at helping veteran gardeners who have been using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to make the transition to an organic approach.

Friendly and Non-Judgmental

The writing style is friendly and non-judgmental. I’ve never heard the Sirius radio program “The Organic Gardeners,” which the two authors co-host, but I imagine they sound pretty much the way they read in their book. Botanical nomenclature is kept to a minimum, and unfamiliar terms are explained. Though the book starts out detailing the reasons why a switch to organic gardening is desirable, there’s no finger wagging or scolding. There’s also not a whiff of “granola-eating hippie speak” or “earth-mother spirituality,” which a lot of people mistakenly believe they have to embrace in order to garden organically. In other words, it appeals to the broadest possible audience. (And no slight intended to hippies or earth mothers!)

Reasonable Approach

The authors are reasonable in their approach. The two of them quit “cold-turkey,” but they don’t expect their readers to do the same. Instead they outline a multi-year approach that gradually weans the gardener off chemical solutions, but more importantly, focuses on the attitude changes that are necessary for organic gardening to succeed. Too many people think organic gardening just means “stop using chemicals,” but you also have to start building the soil, monitoring for pests, and, in general, thinking and observing more. For most people, I’m sure that’s the hardest part.

I like how Oster and Walliser play off each other. Each chapter has sidebars that highlight one or the other author’s approach or experience. It’s not quite “he says/she says,” but it brings home the idea that organic gardening is not a monolithic endeavor. I also enjoyed the charts in the vegetable and fruit chapters that showed Oster’s and Walliser’s favorites side by side. There’s not much overlap!

Suits Veteran Gardeners Best

While this is a great book for an experienced gardener who wants to switch to organic gardening, I have to say it’s the kind of book that would have driven me nuts as a beginner. Just as my son gets annoyed with recipes that say, “Cook until done,” I had issues with books that said “grow varieties that do well in your area” or “keep soil evenly moist.” To a certain extent, it can’t be helped, because experience is the best teacher. But because this book aims to be a general overview for the widest possible audience, it doesn’t go into the kind of detail that a beginning gardener would appreciate.

But if you have a friend or relative who gardens with Super Feed in one hand and Bug-B-Gone in the other, this is a good book to introduce them to a healthier and more sustainable kind of gardening, without putting them off.

Next: Interview with author Jessica Walliser

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Elegant rain barrels July 11, 2008, 4:13 pm

Always be sure to find rain barrels which offer mesh mosquito guards, and also look for barrels which have overflow valves-allowing the excess water to flow out of the rain barrels and away from your foundation. Hooking a drip hose to this valve is a great way to give your garden or flower bed a constant source of moisture.

Kathy Purdy December 14, 2007, 6:57 am

Steve, organic indoor gardening was not addressed as a separate topic.

Steve December 13, 2007, 1:46 pm

I’m curious, would this book help the people who are interested in organic indoor gardening?
Or is it purely for outside gardening?
Either way I may purchase it just to catch up on some of the latest organic gardening tips. I love learning anything new about organic gardening ;o)

wldrnss December 9, 2007, 7:40 pm

In response to the question about whether or not this book would be a good book for someone who gardens 99% organically, I would say yes. I am one of those people and found the book to be very helpful and interesting. Doug and Jess both have “tell all” sections, be it Jess talking about rain barrels from the pierogie maker or Doug talking about his excess cucumbers once he found out how to plant around the life cycle of the cucumber beetle. The appendix has a source list for the organic gardener. The book isn’t preachy but does offer lots of helpful tips even to those of us who have been doing this for a long time. The information is up to date (guess I needed some new information).
This was a very nice review and interview Kathy.

Curtis December 7, 2007, 4:35 am

Lets see, I know a few people like you mentioned above. Maybe this book will kelp them come over to the organic side.

Kathy Purdy December 5, 2007, 6:33 pm

For an experienced gardener who is 99% organic, it would be like preaching to the converted. It wouldn’t be worth buying for such a gardener. There are a lot of tips in each chapter, so if such a gardener bought it for someone else, they might benefit from reading it before giving it to someone else, because we can always pick up a few new tips, or be reminded of ones we’ve forgotten.

Carol December 5, 2007, 5:14 pm

Would you recommend this book to an experienced gardener who is 99% organic?