March is an ideal time to dream about the garden. In my area, we’ve been pummeled by more snow and ice and bitter rain than we’ve seen in many a year, so cultivating a little plot of ground sounds delectable, in every sense of the word.
More people than ever are growing food at home: The National Gardening Association estimates home food gardening increased by almost 20 percent from 2008 to 2009. But gardening is not without challenges, so to heighten the odds of a winning season—even for the, um, greenest newcomer—veteran garden writer Barbara Pleasant gives us Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens. The book begins with three basic plans so foolproof they include three-year schedules for future expansion. The first, Easy-Care Bag Garden, is a gem. No digging required: Just lay a bag of topsoil flat on the ground, slit it open and insert seeds—runner beans here, basil seeds there, add two tomato seedlings and so forth, as per the handy color diagram. Like every plan, this one gives a list of plants and materials, instructions on how to prepare for planting and tips for precisely what to do during each season. Other plans include a border garden, a front-yard garden, Family Food Factory Gardens, herb gardens and specialty themes. The book also includes a guide to choosing varieties of vegetables and herbs.
Meadow gardens might sound dauntingly difficult or even dangerous to those wishing to avoid “neglected yard” complaints from the neighbors. However, John Greenlee makes a compelling case in The American Meadow Garden that the transformation from an ordinary lawn to an extraordinary meadow garden is both desirable and doable. Maintaining a traditional lawn can have ugly consequences: pollution, fossil fuel consumption, the destruction of beneficial insects and more environmental ills. Plus, lawns can cost a fortune. Meadow gardens, however, are environmentally sustainable, welcoming to wildlife, comparatively easy and cheap to maintain and far more beautiful. Grasses, grass-like plants and flowering perennials can replace lawn turf in endless combinations. Do you need running grasses or clumping grasses? Grasses to border a path, or to be the path itself? How about a place for the kids to play, or an area dedicated to entertaining? Greenlee, aka the Grass Guru, provides ample information, ideas and resources to accommodate any need. Recommended plants are minutely described and tagged according to function: groundcover, filler, background, accent or lawn. And award-winning garden photographer Saxon Holt provides the book’s many exquisite photographs—each one an argument in itself for converting lawn to meadow.
Grow your own
The Kitchen Garden, by Alan Buckingham, approaches food gardening in a handy monthly format, telling gardeners exactly what to do each month and why: what pests and diseases to look for, when to prune, what to plant, when to feed and weed, etc. Thankfully, these directions are paired with plenty of color photos, so we see what is expected of us and how it might look when we actually do it. The calendrical tips are somewhat generalized for a large country with many different temperate zones and micro-climates, but can easily be adjusted to fit local needs. The book’s cover promises “a complete practical guide to planting, cultivating, and harvesting fruits and vegetables,” so the monthly guide is not a stand-alone manual. It also includes the basics of site assessment, layout, rotation, tools and materials, a troubleshooting guide and a crop planner with details and tips on the most popular fruits, herbs and vegetables. Along the way are pictorial how-tos for all sorts of tasks and tricks, from making a compost bin to planting peas in plastic guttering. The Kitchen Garden is a compact, picture-packed guide for the casual gardener hoping to grow a thing or two, as well as the more ambitious gardener hoping to provide a family with homegrown food year-round.
Joanna Brichetto has elaborate spring plans for her Nashville garden.