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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lessons in Gardening Pressed Between These Pages

Some social analysts say that the ever-increasing interest in gardening stems from the need to connect with nature in a technological world. But in taking a look at some favorite books, it seems to me that the common denominator is failure.

If you've ever tried to start tomatoes from seed or grow hostas in the sun or have healthy roses in our hot, humid summers, you know what I mean.What makes a gardener is the ability to learn from the failures and the desire to keep trying.

Here's an assortment of ways gardeners found to "keep on keepin' on." For some hands-on help, join Master Gardeners Debbie Goedde and Judy Schneider-Kron at Central Library Saturday.

The Undaunted Garden by Lauren Springer (Fulcrum Publishing, 1994).

If you think growing things in the Ohio River Valley is frustrating, this book will make you count your blessings. When this book was written, Springer lived and gardened in Colorado and learned to cope with summer drought, low-nutrient soils, spring hailstorms and cold, dry winters. Her rule of thumb is "Never give up on a plant until you've killed it at least three times," which is useful advice even in our more temperate climate. Her encouraging style and extremely useful plant lists make this a staple in my gardening collection. If it lived for Lauren in Colorado, it has a good shot in Evansville.

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden by William Alexander (Algonquin Books, 2006).

Well, yes, the tomato did cost $64, but it was a perfect tomato -- the last heirloom Brandywine, warmed by the late fall sun. The author is a computer nerd by trade, but a gardener in his heart. After he and his wife bought and renovated a house in New York's Hudson Valley, they turned their attention to the garden.

This is the story of 10 years of harsh lessons:

Roses equal Japanese beetles; edible apples can't exist without chemicals; and the deer -- "Just shoot them," snarls his normally life-affirming wife.

On the positive side are canning a bountiful peach harvest, savoring ultrafresh corn, snipping fresh thyme in a winter snow, and many other gardening intangibles.In the end, Alexander understands that no garden is perfect, but any is infinitely better than none.

Slug Tossing and Other Adventures of a Reluctant Gardener by Meg Des-Camp (Sasquatch Books, 1998).

A dedicated nongardener, the author slipped unwittingly into the plant world when she and her husband took possession of a house that needed help indoors and out. From her first attempt at a lawn, through a growing interest in spring bulbs, to a final admission that she's become a gardener, the author describes her journey with wit and humor.

Many of those gorgeous garden photographs that fill glossy gardening books were taken in the Pacific Northwest, where low temperatures and ample rainfall equal lush greenery. This book is a refreshing look at the problems all that rain can cause. If for no other reason, read it to feel better about your own garden.

Beautiful Madness: One Man's Journey Through Other People's Gardens by James Dobson (Dutton, 2006).

The author, like many of us, came to gardening in midlife and threw himself wholeheartedly into his new pastime as he worked to transform his wooded property in Maine.

An award-winning golf writer, he visited the venerable Philadelphia Flower Show and hit upon the idea of spending a year visiting gardens and gardeners with an eye to writing a book. His stories begin and end at the "Super Bowl of gardening." In between, he visits the lost gardens of his youth and spends considerable time investigating Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello. He travels to England for the Chelsea Flower Show and accompanies four internationally acclaimed plant collectors on a trip to South Africa.

By the time he returns to the Philadelphia show, he's realized that gardening is defined by learning.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.