Books that soothe the itch to get back in the dirtAnybody who loves to garden is having a hard time right now. Here in the mid-South, March gives up a few days so mild that I can't help but get outside and dig something. The last frost doesn't come until mid-April, but that never stops me from putting some little thing out that would have preferred to stay inside. I am very, very impatient. This year a number of books are helping me take a breath, step back, and find patience in waiting for the seasons to change. I have enjoyed the work of Ken Druse for many years. His first book, The Nat-ural Garden, was a revelation, filled with pictures of places that hardly looked like "gardens" at all. Artful jungles is more like it. Druse is not trimming topiary; he is creating subtle, elegant gardens that feel like they were planted by Mother Nature herself. He is all about staying close to the place you are gardening: use native plants, be sensitive to the microclimate of your property, remember nature. Each book he writes is an occasion for joy, and his new book, The Passion for Gardening: Inspiration for a Lifetime (Clarkson Potter, $50, 256 pages, ISBN 0517707888) is his most joyful yet.
Druse has covered a lot of technical ground in his previous books, the "what" of gardening. Here he focuses on the ineffable "why": what is it that draws people to the garden? He introduces us to gardeners who share his passion for gardening as a lifelong pursuit. A varied group of gardens (one with a topiary, even!) is at the heart of this book, each photographed in a beautiful, careful way. At the core of these gardens is a lot of knowledge and talent and vision. But most of all, there is a passion an infectious kind of love that will inspire all of us who love to make gardens.
Dutch treatCousins to Ken Druse might be Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen, a renowned pair of gardeners from the Netherlands who are getting a lot of attention for their idea of the natural garden. For the past 20 years, they have scoured Europe and the United States for plants that are sturdy and low maintenance, but have the beautiful appearance of familiar cultivated perennials and annuals. Their gardens have the same looseness and unmanicured appearance that Ken Druse's have. Planting the Natural Garden is their magnum opus of plants a Hall of Fame listing of their time-tested favorites. Included are cultivation details and photographs of each plant, along with suggested combinations and planting diagrams. Anyone who longs to move beyond the basics will marvel at this book for its fresh notion of a natural garden that holds up without looking weedy.
The basics? Begin hereI am a Taylor's junkie. When I first got serious about gardening 10 years ago, Taylor's Master Guide to Gardening was my bible. If Taylor's liked a plant, so did I. If it wasn't in Taylor's, it wasn't in my garden.
The latest Taylor's Guide a whopper as big as the Master Guide continues the same concise, clear format that has helped me so much. Taylor's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (Houghton Mifflin, $45, 447 pages, ISBN 0618226443) is filled with more than 1,200 plants: perennials, annuals, grasses, trees, shrubs. It's not every plant ever propagated; it's every plant that the Taylor's Guide experts feel is a good choice for North American gardens. A plant encyclopedia can be many things: a reference, a wish book, a troubleshooter. Taylor's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is all these, produced in the most straightforward, lovely way possible.
One small note: Taylor's gives the pronunciation of each plant, which is a merciful thing when you are trying to sound all smart and name that little blue flower but can't figure out how to say "platycodon." (It's "plat-ee-KOE-don.") Getting the yard you wantThe only television channels safe to watch anymore are the Food Network and HGTV. The worst beating you'll see on Emeril Live is a meringue in process; the most violent act on Landscapers Challenge is the brutal ripping-out of a crummy deck. The landscaping shows on HGTV are mesmerizing, the sort of armchair gardening that is perfect for those evenings when you have had it with your own plot of land. Those enterprising HGTVers have now turned to books, and there's much to absorb in Landscape Makeovers: 50 Projects for a Picture-Perfect Yard (Meredith, $19.95, 224 pages, ISBN 0696217643), edited by Marilyn Rogers.
This book gives the details of projects you may have seen on HGTV programs. Curb appeal, privacy, overcoming problem areas there are tons of ideas in here to help make your landscape beautiful. Each project is rated in difficulty, time, cost and skills required. Landscape Makeovers is as satisfying as a night watching HGTV. Unlike the shows, however, this book explains exactly how to achieve the results you want. In this book, all seems possible.
The ultimate in patienceSometimes, impatience is bad for the environment. Terrible, in fact. Now that I have read The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla (Storey, $22.95, 484 pages, ISBN 1580173705), I promise I will never spray my roses again with that toxic, brain-eating stuff. It only takes a few minutes to pick off those Japanese beetles, and all the good bugs in my garden will thank me.
Denckla is such a gentle advocate for organic gardening that you can't help but want to try it, too. There is nothing shrill or dogmatic about the way she explains her subject. She debunks all the myths of organic gardening (it's expensive/difficult/time consuming) with sensible truths, and the result is this manifesto of how to grow food that is in tune with nature.
In the book, Denckla reveals her own evolution as an organic gardener. Wanting to learn about the old ways, she began collecting information, and after four years, she discovered she had a book. A wonderful one, in fact. She explains how to grow every imaginable vegetable, nut and fruit, explaining the importance of rotating crops, planting a diverse garden and growing certain plant allies near each other. There's a rogues' gallery of evil pests, with non-toxic remedies; a list of plants that grow well together allies; and appendices full of organic gardening standards and resources. You will learn a lot with this book, and it may change the way you treat your garden.
A soggy epilogueAt the end of Ken Druse's Passion for Gardening is a stunning photograph of his garden, his beloved garden, flooded by the river that runs beside it. However traumatic this was for him (it had to be akin to Hemingway losing a manuscript), he writes about it with equanimity. I am taking to heart his conclusion: "I am indeed the junior partner in this collaboration with nature" a partnership that requires nothing but patience. Ann Shayne is a former editor of BookPage. She tends her garden in Nashville.