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Classic “Illustrated Guide to Gardening” Goes Fully Organic


Spring is in the air — it’s the vernal equinox today. That means it’s also time to start considering the gardening season.

If you’ve never contemplated gardening, now is the time to try it. Do your bit for the planet by greening your patch.

It’s a great way to grow local food (following the example of First Lady Michelle Obama, who is starting an organic vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House), landscape your surroundings for aesthetic appeal and tranquility, and provide refuge for many small animals, from earthworms and friendly bugs to birds and toads.

Gardening is also therapeutic: Researchers at Kansas State University determined that gardening could offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older adults in shape.

I have written previously about the rewards of attracting butterflies, bees, birds and other animals to our backyard.

So it was with appreciation that I received from FSB Associates for review “The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening,” a bible for gardeners crammed with 2,500 photos and illustrations of over 700 plants.

This classic Reader’s Digest book has been a best-seller for decades — but now it is 100 percent organic and in full color, the cover informs us. (See side bar below for examples and benefits of organic gardening.)


The book begins with garden planning and focuses in detail on the most popular types of plants.

I was drawn right away to the pages about wildflowers, rain gardens, and xeriscaping — three ways to make and maintain gardens in harmony with the environment. I have already had success directing rain water from the roof to a rain garden and planting native flowers and trees.

But I also enjoy many exotic plants, some for their colorful blooms and others for their interesting textures and leaves. And I’m increasingly drawn to low-maintenance perennials that fill shady corners.

In “The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening” I found in-depth sections about all these particular interests. I also found four full pages on peonies, a magnificent ornamental that has never done all that well for me. I now know a lot more about where, when, and how to plant them, and also what to do when things go wrong with them.

I have a passion for hostas and have shared with friends and neighbors a number of varieties. I knew they came originally from China and Japan, but had no idea, until I read it in this book, that it was Thomas Hogg, sent to Japan by President Lincoln to fill the post of U.S. Marshall, who collected and shipped hostas to his family’s nursery in Manhattan. “From there they went to gardens across the nation,” according to the book. It’s a great story to tell visitors when I next take them for a stroll in my garden.

Like all gardening books, there is a section on growing fruit and vegetables. And this book also has a guide to preserving herbs.

There is a hefty section about soil and improving soil quality and, sadly, an even bigger section on plant disorders (and how to remedy them). In keeping with the ethos of the book, the remedies are organic, including tips to recruit “little helpers,” insects that can take up the fight against pests.

I also enjoyed the many pages on “weeds,” which really are opportunistic and robust plants, sometimes species that properly belong to the local native habitat. For every weed identified there is advice on how to control or eliminate it –organically.

There is enjoyment to be found in the book simply reading about so many different plants and the art of gardening. Landscape that is pleasing to the eye is only part of the great pleasure of gardening. Knowing about the origins and habits and lifecycles of the green denizens of our yards doubles the joy.

I’ll be out tomorrow, mulling plans for this spring and summer. I have a lot of new ideas for the garden.


The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening

Edited by, Fern Marshall Bradley and Trevor Cole

Published by Reader’s Digest

February 2009; $35.00 USA; 978-0-7621-0999-9