Our Gardener's Favorite Books

by Ken Greene

One thing we learned from this contest: Gardeners are readers! But why?

IMG_4102 (480x640)This week I did something unprecedented, I took a day off! Somehow, I promise myself that I'll take time off from working every week, and always wind up putting it off. After months of traveling, weekend events, and the busyness of the seed selling season, I finally forced myself to stop, step back, and not work for one day. So what did I do? I gardened.

When Doug and I started the seed farm and library, we didn't realize that one of the casualties of starting our own seedy business would be our garden. It sounds strange to miss having a garden when we have a farm. But the farm is about growing seeds, not food for us. It's a bit of a walk from our cabin, and sometimes we can't grow what we'd like to because of space, cross-pollination, and efficiency. I miss having kitchen herbs and tasty veggies right next to the house for those moments we just need a handful of fresh cilantro to brighten some soup or a few patty pan squash to toss in a stir fry.

Also, because we've neglected our "yard" for so long, everything was a mess around the cabin. Since I had just finished Margaret Roach's new book (had to finish it before I give it away!) her words were on my mind as I surveyed our overgrown surroundings. Where to begin? I took inspiration and lessons from The Backyard Parables to begin rediscovering home gardening. Here are a few of Margaret's many lessons that helped me:

plate terrace (480x640)Work With What You Have:

We have an abandoned Catskill camp, trash ridden, black walnut infused, part shady, steep hill of a back yard. I'm using dishes from the caving in kitchen building to terrace the hill and experimenting with what will grow in our conditions. As I was pulling out crushed beer cans, shards of vodka bottles, tar shingles, wire, and thinking about everything that might not grow around black walnuts I uncovered, with a reckless scrape of my rake, a solitary morel. Plants are miraculous.

Put In Plants:

When I'm overwhelmed I over-plan. Margaret inspired me to just jump in and get planting and do a little at a time. Her garden has changed and developed over time, it wasn't a grand scheme laid out by an architect. I'm going to balance planning with doing.

Start With What You See:

Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, I took Margaret's advice and went inside, to look outside. I'm starting with the area I see the most when I look outside.

Garden for Yourself:

I'm planting what interests me, what I want to eat, and what I want to see bloom without over-thinking what goes well together. Of course I'll keep in mind the basics, like plant spacing, being careful not to shade out  shorted plants with taller ones and the like. But for now, especially at the beginning, I growing what I love.

Garden for Others:

Yes, me garden is about me, but it's also many parables about the world I live in. Of course my garden will be organic, and this is one way of gardening with the health of others in mind. But another garden moment happened which reminded me of the way Margaret approaches gardening. As I was cleaning around a black walnut stump and wondering if there was any large machinery I could rent to rip it out, a slender head peeked out from a nook followed by a long slow ribbon. The quiet way the garden snake traveled moved me. This stump was its home. I realized that I wasn't just gardening, but getting to know this place better in a way my busyness usually blinds me to. I'm leaving the stump and incorporating it as a visual element and habitat for good garden companions.

The-Backyard-Parables-revised-coverRead and Write:

Margaret's new book is full of great practical gardening advice, but it's not only about how we garden but why we garden. Reading cultivates our knowledge and skills but also connects us to the emotional and spiritual experience of growing. Writing about the weather, what worked and didn't helps us become better gardeners, and journaling about all the other elements of gardening helps us understand ourselves, the place we live, and what it means to put down roots.

Thanks for all the great book recommendations. The random winner of Margaret's book and a waterproof garden journal is.... Cindy P.!

I've put together a list of the book recommendations from Seed Library gardeners who entered our book giveaway contest. I'm sure that once you read The Backyard Parables you'll add it to your list of favorite garden reads.

The Edible Balcony, by Alex Mitchell

Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew

Food, Not Lawns, by Heather Flores

Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York City

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Year Round Gardening , by Eliot Coleman

As We Remember Mother, by Ruth Stout

The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method , by Ruth Stout

Second Nature, by Michael Pollan

Gardening Through the Year, by I. Spence.

Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales…Flavors from the griddles, pots, and streetside kitchens of Mexico, by Robert Santibanez

VB6: eat Vegan before 6:00, by Mark Bittman

Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison

The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide, by Janet Marinelli

The Color Encyclopedia of Daylilies, by Ted L. Petit and John P. Peat

Herbs, Recipes, Crafts, and Gifts from Grand Shire Farms, by Connie Hanson

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard, by Jessi Bloom

The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe

Canning and Preserving with Ashley English, by Ashley English

You Can Farm, by Joel Salatin

The Cook’s Garden, by Ellen Ecker Ogden

Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World, by Wendy Johnson