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Gardening Recommendations – Books Part 1

May 25, 2012
by Erin B

I would like to take a post or two to talk about gardening.

My garden is on the south side of my house.  Unfortunately, this means it is in our front yard.  I spend a lot of years struggling to find the right garden for our location.  The backyard was not a viable option.  I tried, really, I tried but it was not a good location.  Our back yard is small and fenced in and gets a lot of shade from the tall trees and houses around us.  That makes it a great yard for Little Girl to play in, but veg just doesn’t grow well there.  Especially carrots, after years of complete crop failure of my carrots and extremely low yield of cucumbers and beans and peas I had to give up on our back yard as a garden location.

If I had to move our veg garden to the front yard, I was darn well going to put some thought into what I was doing.  I’m sure the neighbours thought I was nuts.  Our yard has looking terrible for a lot of year, but it has ALWAYS been working towards the master plan.

Actually, the sentence describes most of our house, but that’s another post.

I started with a patio and a lot of planters.  It was like that for a few years while I researched gardening and learned what grew in our microclimate.  I took a couple of workshops and read a lot of books.  I ended up with two clear favourites for people without a lot of skills (me) and limited space (also me).  My front yard is HUGE, (for this city) and I didn’t want to convert the whole thing to garden.  Even if I did, it wouldn’t have matched my mother in laws garden in terms of square footage.   What I’m trying to say is that big garden/small garden definitions really depend on the person using them.

If you are starting from square one, I would recommend starting with planters and getting a copy of The Girl’s Guide to Growing Your Own by Alex Mitchell.

It is a good, straight forward book that does a nice job of sorting plants by seasons and when you need to plant them.  It is also interspersed with helpful tips and cute drawings so that you aren’t facing a huge textbook style gardening encyclopedia.

One of the things I really like about this book (although I wish it had more) is that it includes recipes for the fruit and veg it talks about.  That is a big thing for me.  The first year I actually had a bumper crop (the first year I moved the garden to the front yard) I had more veg than I knew what to do with.  Unfortunately, even after we ate ourselves sick and I gave away a bunch, there was STILL more left to rot because I couldn’t keep a head of picking it all.

The author also does a nice job of helping you set realistic expectations of which plants will do well and which ones are harder to grow.  Mitchell uses a one to four shovel rating for plant difficulty and is honest enough to say which plants (like fig) may not ever have much yield.

The down side ….  well, I don’t think I can call it that….  This book has a sense of humour.  There are cute titles like “Do my carrots go with my shoes?” which I have taken to be playful and go with the fun attitude of the book.  However, I understand how (if you haven’t read along to that point) if you randomly opened to that page in the books store it could seem patronizing. When I was reading the book, I didn’t get that feeling when such things are taken in context.  But be warned.  The cartoon of the woman in her night dress picking strawberries for breakfast….  well, since I have actually done that, I don’t get to criticize.

Based on the information and slightly on the fun format, this is a book that I bought instead of having it as a repeat loaner from the library.  I am still going to suggest that you see if you can preview it from your local library before you order it, but that is my standard recommendation.

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