Have you ever needed clear-cut, specific information on a gardening subject? You check your favorite gardening magazine and find more fluff than substance. The gardening books you've collected over the years have a little information, but don't address the subject in depth, and your local nurseries, garden centers, and radio garden show hosts haven't a clue. So, where do you go to get the answers?

You do what any serious gardener does. You begin building your reference library on the front end. This is particularly important for beginner gardeners. Beginners have a lot of general questions about everything horticultural, but as they start putting in years of hands-on experience, the tougher, more specific questions become the challenges, and particular interests develop. Every experienced gardener remembers graduating from the basic generalities to the in-depth specifics. Building a good reference library takes time, but there's no guesswork about what sources to begin with. The American Horticultural Society (AHS) has long been recognized for providing gardeners with usable, specific information. Their references, encyclopedias, and guides are affordable, and the topics are extensive and instructive. Below are some of their recent references published by Dorling Kindersley.

Gardening in Shade by Linden Hawthorne offers more choices for sunless gardens than you can imagine. This small text explains the advantages of shade gardening and offers not only flowering and foliage plant lists, but planting plans for shady borders, shady city gardens, planting under trees, planting in damp shade, and special plant collections. Gardening in the shade comes with its own requirements and problems, and this guide explains how to care for shade plants when preparing the bed for planting, giving routine plant care, and keeping shade plants healthy and disease-free. Because shade is not just shade, the guide also discusses plants for light, partial, dappled, and deep shade. A handy calendar of seasonal reminders is included as well as an A-Z plant directory.

Herb Gardens by Richard Rosenfeld is crammed with encyclopedic information about creating formal herb gardens, growing herbs in gravel, brick and paving stone, growing herbs in containers, using herbs in Mediterranean plantings and in mixed borders. Along with extensive plant lists and directory, there are projects for drying and storing herbs, culinary and craft usage, as well as simple herbal remedies. Plant care is discussed, from raising seedlings to harvesting, and the same instructive color photos appear in this guide as in all of the other guides in this series.

Perennials by Ray Edwards is a good introductory primer to perennials. Over the past 20 years, these plants have become more popular in the U. S. than annuals because they don't need to be planted each year, they multiply quickly, and therefore they are cheaper in the long run. This AHS guide introduces beginners to flowering and foliage perennials, offers garden plans to suit any garden site, soil, and style, and discusses designing beds for color. There are instructions for preparing the soil, care of plants throughout the year, and raising new plants from seed, cuttings, or division. Several garden projects show how to create the traditional herbaceous border, manage difficult sites, and grow perennials in containers. There is also a helpful color photo plant directory. If clematis or roses become your passion after being introduced to perennials, you'll also find informative AHS guides on them as well.

Containers by Peter Robinson will convince you that you don't have to have a garden plot to enjoy growing plants. This guide is particularly helpful to apartment, condominium, or small property dwellers. Robinson discusses choosing the right container for the right plant and how to site and group them for an overall pleasing effect. He also offers several projects that allow the container gardener to make painted, stenciled, and mosaic pots, construct wooden windowboxes, planters, and faux stone troughs. He explains plant care from choosing various soil mixes and planting to caring for potted plants throughout the year. A colorful plant directory gives the mature size of plants, and a section on edible plants for container growing will broaden any beginner's gardening skills and enjoyment.

Ponds & Water Features, also by Peter Robinson, shows you how to create both small and large ponds and water features. Again, those who live in apartments or small dwellings will be interested in this guide, because Robinson proves that you don't need a lot of space to enjoy the sound of water. His guide shows you how to choose a water feature that suits the style of your garden, taking into consideration traditional, contemporary, and multicultural influences. He demonstrates how to make a simple lined pond, add beaches and bog gardens, cascades and canals, create bubble fountains and wall fountains. There is also an important section on choosing and planting water plants and maintaining them throughout the year. A color plant directory for water environments waterlilies, lotuses, marginal plants, and moisture-loving plants is at the end of the book.

Plant Propagation, edited by Alan Toogood, is a larger comprehensive reference for dealing with all methods of propagation for more than 1,500 plants. It is beginner-friendly and offers easy-to-follow, step-by-step explanations. Each entry in the A-Z section tells you which method of propagation to use for which plant, when to propagate, and what degree of skill each method requires. The book explains which seeds need special treatment before sowing, how to provide the conditions to ensure good germination, the yield you can expect, and length of time to maturity. If you haven't a clue about taking cuttings from specific plants and insuring successful rooting, Toogood simplifies things for you. His resource is so comprehensive that this is the only plant propagation reference you'll ever need. AHS offers many more references, encyclopedias, and guides than are discussed here, and each provides the same concise, informative material and color photo entries. Beginners should be choosy about the references that form the core of their garden library. Other books written with a European or English bent may tempt beginners with colorful pictures of lush gardens and seemingly easy-to-grow plants accompanied by copious instructions, but it would be wise to leave them for later enjoyment.

Beginners will soon realize that growing conditions in American are not the same as growing conditions in other countries. Growing anything here is far more difficult than growing plants in other countries. America is a country of extremes, and each of our many regions has its own particular problems. Other countries don't have to put up with annual drought, blizzards, tornadoes, hail storms, floods, high humidity, plunging frigid temperatures, torrential rains, occasional volcanic cloud cover, and 115-degree heat waves. The goal of the AHS is to educate people of all ages in becoming successful and environmentally responsible gardeners. By advancing the art and science of horticulture, they hope to make this goal a reality. To find out more about the Society, beginners can find them online at www.ahs.org.

Pat Regel writes and gardens in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

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