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Gardening

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack is the latest graphic novel from Ben Hatke, author of the Zita the Spacegirl series and Little Robot among other works. When I brought this home from the library, my girls sat and examined every page in detail for a looooong time and then demanded I read it to them. So perhaps it goes without saying that Hatke has once again created a beautiful and magical story. Jack is dreading summer break from school because it means he has to look after his younger sister Maddy who is nonverbal. There is an homage to Jack and the Beanstalk when Maddy suddenly miraculously speaks and instructs Jack to trade his mother's car for some cool looking seed packets. Jack and Maddy then forge a connection as they grow a magical garden in their own backyard, helped by a fierce, cool, and possibly untrustworthy neighbor girl. The garden's magic is unpredictable: sometimes it is fun but many times it seems determined to hurt them and when an enormous dragon appears, Jack feels like things have gone too far. The ending leaves us hanging, waiting impatiently for the next installment!

Number of Pages: 
203

Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People : how to use native Midwestern plants to beautify your property and benefit wildlife by Dave Tylka

Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People : how to use native Midwestern plants to beautify your property and benefit wildlife by Dave Tylka

This is a nice guide to native Midwestern plants for landscape purposes. After some basics on why native plants are a good choice and how to guide your design choices, Tylka has some useful information and charts on the best plants for different sun conditions and to attract different wildlife. Filled with beautiful photography and great charts, this is a great reference for anyone looking to add some native plants to their garden.

Number of Pages: 
181

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

This is a fun memoir about one man's obsession with his very large vegetable garden.  From his battles with groundhogs and bugs to the joys of feeding his family truly fresh fruit and vegetables, Alexander tells tales that any home gardener can relate to and will enjoy.  There are some interesting bits of information and history thrown in as well to inform his personal experiences.  Overall, a quick and good read.

Number of Pages: 
270

Farm City by Novella Carpenter

Farm City by Novella Carpenter

This is a memoir of an urban homesteader's experiences establishing a garden and farm in an empty lot in Oakland, California.  Novella Carpenter and her boyfriend rent an apartment in a rough neighborhood largely because they are attracted to the large empty plot adjoining their backyard.  Without permission or consent, they simply start building gardens and growing food.  Soon, Novella decides it is time to raise animals to eat and the book is structured into three sections based on those animals: turkey, rabbit, pig.  Accordingly, this book is not for the squeamish as she does eventually "harvest" her animals, in addition to losing many along the way to various predators.  However, I loved reading about her garden, her passion for growing her own food, and although I don't think I could ever "harvest" my own meat, I appreciate that she wanted to feel close to her food and respectful of the animals.  This also is simply a well written memoir with many memorable characters and stories that make for a good read.

Number of Pages: 
276

Bringing nature home : how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy

Bringing nature home : how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy

I first became interested in gardening with native plants because of the ease involved.  Plants that evolved in our ecosystem and climate thrive here, regardless of weather.  Whether we have harsh winters, wet springs, or dry summers, it's all no problem for my Purple Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, and Butterfly Weed.  My interest in native plants led me to this book by scientist and insect expert Tallamy. 

Tallamy's book is full of fascinating and alarming information.  I had no idea how important native plants are to preserving our native insects and thus our native birds.  What Tallamy explains is that insects are not able to eat alien plants.  For thousands of years, native insects have eaten native plants and then been eaten by native birds.  By wiping out almost all of North America's natural forests and prairies for farms, cities, and suburbs, we have drastically impacted the species that depend on those natural habitats.  Gardeners have long sought out a picture perfect garden, sterile and free of bugs, full of exotic ornamental plants from Europe and Asia.  What many people don't realize is that by creating sterile, insect-free gardens, we are eliminating food sources for our native birds and wildlife. 

Amid all this worrying information, Tallamy offers a simple solution: plant native plants in your garden!  It's too late to undo the damage to and fragmentation of our native habitats.  But if people work on restoring some of the native plants in their own small spaces, one backyard at a time, we can create food and homes for the insects, butterflies, and birds that we enjoy so much.  So next time one of your non-native plants succumbs to a harsh winter or a summer drought, consider replacing it with something native.  Or maybe replace some high-maintenance lawn with some low-maintenance flowers.  If we all do a little bit with our own small spaces, we can make a difference.

Number of Pages: 
288

Vertical Vegetable Gardening by Chris McLaughlin

Vertical Vegetable Gardening by Chris McLaughlin

This is a great general guide to vegetable gardening in addition to a guide to vertical gardening.  Vertical gardening is all about taking advantage of small spaces and maximizing your harvest by guiding plants up instead of letting them sprawl.  McLaughlin covers which plants are naturally inclined to grow up and which will need help achieving height.  My favorite part of the book was the section on how to build vertical supports or repurpose other materials.  Her fun ideas have me looking at all kinds of curbside "trash" items and imagining how I could get my tomatoes or beans to grow up them.  But even more than covering vertical gardening, McLaughlin offers a good overview of vegetable gardening which makes this a nice book for the beginning gardener.

Number of Pages: 
272

Native Plant Gardening Books

Native Plant Gardening Books

In my effort to simplify our gardening, I've ended up interested in native plants because they are tough, built for our climate, and many come back each year.  I recently read a few books on the subject and thought I'd review them together. 

Easy Care Native Plants by Patricia A. Taylor, 325 pages

This book starts out with an interesting history of gardening in the United States and discusses why we have so many non native plants in our gardens.  It continues with discussions of the benefits and issues related to native gardening, showcases a few native gardens, and then proceeds to a wonderful guide to 500+ native plants.  Taylor's writing is good and often funny.  The book is well organized and very thorough and I'm considering adding it to my personal collection.

 

Great Natives for Tough PlacesGreat Natives for Tough Places, edited by Niall Dunne, 119 pages

This is a slim little book that is more of an overview of gardening with native plants than a comprehensive guide.  It covers some difficult gardening situations, such as areas with low moisture or deep shade, and has some sample gardens for a few different situations.  The section that profiles about 120 selected plants, trees, and shrubs is beautifully done but quite selective.  Still, a nice little book for someone who is just getting interested in gardening with native plants.

 

The Midwestern Native Garden by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. SchwartzThe Midwestern Native Garden by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz, 268 pages

Of the three books, this one is the only one specific to native plant gardening in the Midwest and so I was the most interested in it from the start.  However, the organization is nonintuitive and frustrating.  The subtitle reads "native alternatives to nonnative flowers and plants" and this is how the book is organized.  First it is organized by season, then alphabetically by nonnative plant.  Each nonnative plant is described and then native alternatives are offered.  This means that one native may be referenced at several different points in the book but it is hard to find the primary reference with the most information.  I found myself searching using the index rather than just browsing because the layout was so confusing.  I suppose this could work well for someone who has been gardening with nonnatives for a long time and is looking to replace them with native plants.  It's a shame the organization is so odd because the information itself is quite good and includes great information about different species of birds and butterflies that are attracted to different plants.

Number of Pages: 
712

Square Foot Gardening answer book by Mel Bartholomew

Square Foot Gardening answer book by Mel Bartholomew

When I first got into vegetable gardening, I got into square foot gardening.  Read my review of the original book for details on the premise and what is covered.  I still use a lot of the basic principles but I don't follow the "rules" as closely as I once did.  For instance, I still use raised beds for my vegetables and follow Bartholomew's guidelines for how closely to space my seeds/plants, but I no longer use an actual grid (mine fell apart) or grow all of my vine plants on trellises (I grow lots of tomatoes and squash and don't have enough trellises).  I've also opted to amend my existing soil with compost rather than buying the materials to mix my own new soil according to Bartholomew's specifications.  Still, I follow most of the principles and this new "Answer Book" was a nice refresher.  The format is questions Barthlomew often is asked and his answers.  It covers how to to do SFG in some unusual settings, how to deal with specific pests, and a variety of other odds and ends.  I enjoyed reading this and found some good ideas and reminders for my garden but I'd still recommend that people who are new to SFG start with the basic book first.

Number of Pages: 
192

Fine gardening beds & borders : design ideas for gardens large and small, from the editors and contributors of Fine gardening

Fine gardening beds & borders : design ideas for gardens large and small, from the editors and contributors of Fine gardening

When we bought our house five years ago I knew nothing about gardening and was overwhelmed by the amount of landscaping and garden beds to maintain.  Slowly over time I've learned more and now gardening is one of my absolute favorite things to do.  I think I finally know what all of our plants are and I've made changes and additions based on my own preferences and figuring out what does well in certain areas.  This book was great to read in little chunks of time.  Each section is written by a different author so a variety of styles are represented.  There are lots of different ideas for different settings and preferences so you're sure to find something that applies to you.  My favorite sections dealt with gardens in the shade, how to create clean looking edges to borders, and good perennials for borders.  Lots of color pictures and examples of gardens the authors have designed really made this book a great garden idea resource.

Number of Pages: 
217

Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy

Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy

Sharon Lovejoy founded the "Teaching Garden" in Cambria, California.  Through her work with this educational garden center and experiences with her own son, she decided to write this helpful guide to gardening with children.  In Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots, Lovejoy shares her knowledge of flowers and fruit and vegetable plants popular with children and detailed outlines for nine different themed gardens that both children and adults will love.  She provides organic methods to stimulate growth and production in the garden, which is important not just for the earth, but for all those who plan on sampling the bounty produced.  RSBB stimulates creativity, ecological awareness, and a green thumb for those who peruse its pages.

Number of Pages: 
159