Books for the New Year

  • Post published:01/13/2009
  • Post comments:3 Comments

            Going into a new year I have resolutions  about making my gardens more beautiful, more productive, and greener.  The term sustainability is a companion to organic in the gardening world these days. As usual, books, and now online sites, old and new will travel with me in my labors throughout the new year.

            My 1978 edition of Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening has been a loyal companion by my side ever since it was published. New editions appear periodically, with more and brighter illustrations, and now the Rodale Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener ($24.95) will be in bookstores in early February. It continues to be a comprehensive guide to gardening and landscaping, but now with additional and new information about water management, gardening in the face of climate changes, managing invasive plants and conserving energy.

            Lawns account for an astonishing amount of fertilizer use that seeps into groundwater, and runs off into streams. Paul Tukey sees no reason for all these fertilizers and wrote The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful Safe Lawn (Storey Publishing $19.95). Tukey had a successful lawn care company but found that the chemicals he was using were making him ill. He found a new way of caring for lawns, his health and his business.  All that he learned, about the soil, grass varieties, watering, bugs and creatures, has been included in this book which will be useful to those who are fanatic about the state of their lawns as well as those who just want to keep it green. 

            Eliminating or downsizing lawns is one of the movements of sustainable gardening dear to my husband’s heart.  We do not fertilize our lawn, otherwise known as a flowery mead filled with hawkweeds, dandelions, ground ivy and clover, so it is not the dangers of over-fertilizing that we worry about, it is the labor involved in keeping a lawn mowed.

            This past spring I dug up a section of the lawn and planted three pots of barrenwort (Waldenstenia) from the New England Wildflower Society’s  Nasami Farm in Whately. Barrenwort is a low groundcover with strawberry-ish leaves and flowers. These three plants have already spread substantially. My plan is to dig up more sod this spring and plant even more, ultimately eliminating a whole swath of lawn that will not need mowing.

            Covering Ground: Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping and Colorful Low-Maintenance Ground Covers by Barbara Ellis (Storey $19.95) will remind the reader of all the places that are better suited to groundcovers than lawns, such as hard to mow slopes, the many types of groundcovers from mosses for the shade to flowers for the sun and which plants are most suited to particular needs and sites. The photographs will be helpful and inspiring.

            The books I’ve mentioned give a lot of serious information about soil and all sorts of plants but if we want to have some extra fun dip into Don’t Throw It, Grow It: 68 Windowsill Plants from Kitchen Scraps by Deborah Peterson (Storey Publishing $10.95).

            How many of us have stuck toothpicks into an avocado pit and rested it in a jar of water so that roots would form and shoots appear?  When I moved to Greenfield in 1971 I turned a corner of my living room with its south and west windows into a jungle. I had two large avocado trees growing there along with a variety of other plants.  Of course, I did not ever expect to harvest any avocados, but these big plants made quite a statement in my room and made me feel very clever to have grown such a big indoor plant from seed.

            Deborah Peterson who has been gardening for 40 years lets us all in on the secrets of growing plants from the pits, seeds and shoots left after dinner or a snack including oranges and other citrus, beans, mangos, papaya, peanuts, turnips, almonds, and the classic avocado, as well as dozens of other vegetables, fruits and spices.  This is great fun if you have kids, or if you want to experience some garden magic for yourself.


            I am, and have always been, a reader.  There is nothing I like better than settling down with a good book, a novel, or a tome on some interesting subject. But one has to move with the times. Now I am also reading online.

            Ever since I started my commonweeder blog a year ago I have discovered a whole community of gardeners from around the world who are sharing their experiences growing things of all sorts, their tips, and their opinions on all gardening/farming/eating topics. My window into this world of gardeners was written by four women, Susan Harris in Maryland, Michele Owens and Elizabeth Licata in New York State, and Amy Stewart in California, all of whom have a lot to rant about. The wonder of a blog is that we readers can rant back.

            Each of the ladies has her own personal blog. My favorite is Susan Harris’ blog at  That’s an easy name to remember. This blog includes more than two years’ worth of monthly entries with how to garden in a way that maintains the health of the garden and the gardeners, along with links to many other blogs, news stories, and websites that inform and amuse.

Happy reading and happy gardening.   

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Candylei

    Books are right in there with seed catalogs. We can’t seem to get enough of them. The good reading and the pictures stir up more gardening imagination when the outside weather doesn’t. I will be checking back on your nice blog!

  2. Frances

    Hi Pat, well done. You have given us some good suggestions to learn more about sustainability, although I have to say that that word is being overused by the media in ways that don’t make much sense, much like the terms *green* and *organic* a year or so ago. I think Susan’s blog and Susan herself are quite extraordinary. It was her blog, Takoma Gardener and Michele’s Sign of the Shovel that were the first real blogs I ever read. It was an epiphany!

  3. commonweeder

    Frances, I could not agree with you more, and I have to say that Susan Harris is my hero. Garden Rant was the first blog I found and Susan’s Sustainable Gardening Blog is a mine of information.

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