There are gardening books that are worth reading and others that end up collecting dust on a bookshelf, despite any initial enthusiasm when the book was purchased. I keep them all — the good ones and even the not so good ones that I never finished reading — perhaps as a reminder of all the not-so-useful gardening books out there or more likely as a trace of the meandering path it took to get where I am today.
Regardless of the reason, I can’t part with them, so those books remain dusty on the shelf while the good ones are always near my work area, relevant pages marked with scribbled-on pieces of coloured post-it-notes.
Still, it would have been helpful to get a nudge in the right direction. Had I known, for instance, that advice offered in many English-language gardening books is not always written with consideration to our unique, north-eastern Canadian climate — meaning horticultural or landscaping advice therein should be taken with caution — I might have saved myself a little money. After all, one can’t expect the plant care advice in a book about gardening in California to apply to the gardens in Quebec.
So with another gardening year coming to a close, you may be considering a good Canadian read that won’t end up collecting dust on your bookshelf, now that the autumn leaves are finally composting with the Halloween pumpkin.
Here are three favourite gardening books you may enjoy delving into during the long, off-season — the first two are on food gardening, since this topic is still quite popular nowadays and the last is a gardening manual:
Incredible Edibles: 43 Fun Things to Grow in the City — By Sonia Day
The great thing about this book is that, just like the author’s weekly column, it’s fun to read and a cinch to finish — unlike those overly detailed, encyclopedia-type books that you fall asleep reading and end up in ‘to read’ piles.
Despite its slim size, it is packed with no-nonsense, straight to the point advice on the ‘incredible edibles’ the author deems suitable for growing in urban gardens, where space and other resources are often limited.
And according to Day, there’s plenty to grow, including some unusual foods like melons, tomatillos and ground cherries along with the expected herbs and beans.
Her ‘ten commandments’ of growing food in the city will help you pick a proper container as well as keep critters away from your produce. She also throws in a few of her own simple, taste-tested recipes. A handy side panel on each page gives a glimpse of the who, what, where, when and why of each vegetable. Read it on the metro ride back from work or on a rainy weekend then try growing a few of her suggestions.
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener — by Niki Jabbour
If you want to harvest your own home-grown leafy greens, carrots, kale and many other vegetables 365 days a year — even when there is snow piled in your yard — or grow food without having to wait for the soil to warm up in spring, then this book is for you. Niki Jabbour, a Halifax-based food gardener, garden writer and host of a call-in radio show in Nova Scotia, doesn’t let hardiness zones or a long Canadian cold season prevent her from growing veggies in the dead of winter in this unprecedented, treasure of a book that no serious food-gardener should be without. In it, she shares how to work with not just one, but three growing seasons by selecting the most cold-tolerant varieties of vegetables at the right time of year and by using season-extending devices like cold frames, mini-hoop tunnels and row covers, or a combination of these as protective microclimates so you can garden in months you never thought possible.
There are even detailed instructions on how to build the season-extending devices she uses. Veggies suitable for container growing are suggested throughout the book. However, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is a book meant for food gardeners, like the author, with space (and time) to grow.
Canadian Gardener’s Guide, 2nd edition-editor — by Lorraine Johnson
This handy, comprehensive guide takes the reader from the plant basics to just about everything you can think of in between, such as designing your garden, controlling weeds, seasonal plant maintenance and so much more. Aside from the complementary photos, what I like about this extensive reference book is that each topic is concise enough to read in one sitting, like an ongoing gardening course that you can pick up where you left off. The inside cover also features a Canadian Plant Hardiness Zone Map (which has since been updated). New gardeners in particular will find it useful.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com