Dummy, how does your garden grow? The writers of the Dummies series of garden books are modest folks. They label the series for beginners, but these helpful books are also for those who have come back to gardening after a long absence and need a review of the basics. Even the experienced gardener isn't knowledgeable about every facet of gardening the field is too vast. These books offer all gardeners an introduction to any unfamiliar area of gardening by using an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand format that is both instructive and entertaining. Gardening for Dummies by Michael MacCaskey and the Editors of the National Gardening Association is a gardening encyclopedia in miniature. It's fully illustrated and covers the most current tips, techniques, and resources in major areas such as annuals, perennials, vines, trees, shrubs, lawns, soil, pruning, propagation, weeding, and pest control. For those who don't know a Cape Cod Weeder from a dibber, there is even a section on tools. The appendix lists books and magazines that will broaden your gardening knowledge while the section on gardening Web sites will answer questions and provide further information. Vegetable Gardening for Dummies (IDG Books, $19.99, 0764551299) by Charles Nardozzi and the Editors of the National Gardening Association teaches the fundamentals of vegetable gardening. If you think store-bought tomatoes taste the way tomatoes are supposed to taste, you're in for a surprise. The basics of soil, climate, and water are covered as well as cool season and warm season vegetables, legumes, vine crops, salad crops, herbs, fruits, and many other edibles. Disease identification and prevention for each vegetable is included, and there's a bonus delicious recipes. Vegetable Gardening for Dummies is an excellent reference for the first-time vegetable gardener.

Landscaping for Dummies (IDG Books, $16.99, 0764551280) by Philip Giroux, Bob Beckstrom, Lance Walheim, and the National Gardening Association takes the mystery out of landscaping and will convince you that there can be more to your backyard than just a fence and a lawn; you can customize your outdoor space to suit your needs. The book covers everything from planning to planting and also includes a chapter on problem situations accompanied by helpful diagrams. Chapters on patios, arbors, trellises, decks, walls, gates, and paths will show you how to create more visual beauty and interest while keeping costs down. If you don't know where to begin in designing your home landscape, this book will get you started.

No matter what your level of gardening expertise, 1,001 Ingenious Gardening Ideas (Rodale, $27.95, 0875968090) is another reference you should add to your gardening library. Edited by Deborah L. Martin, this book offers environmentally safe, non-toxic suggestions to make gardening easier, plants sturdier, and yields bountiful. There are chapters on creative garden care, season stretchers, seed-starting secrets, and solutions to garden problems. There are gardening ideas, tips, and suggestions about everything from vegetables and herbs to birds and butterflies. In addition, there are also sources for ingenious gardening supplies, a recommended reading list, and the latest USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Clear illustrations serve as helpful guides as the author takes you through each season with advice for making your garden less work intensive and more cost affective. There are tips for all gardeners here.

If there were no gardening references on your bookshelves, this selection of four would offer the best, basic advice covering the most general areas of horticulture. The topics they don't cover can be found in the sources listed at the end of each book. But the best part about these books is that most of the information is usable year-round not only during the growing season.

Pat Regel writes and gardens in Nashville.

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