||A Sense Of Humus
by Brian Fawcett
possibilities for those who
like to hoe, hoe, hoe
GARDENING is rapidly increasing both in popularity and range of applications, so one would expect to find gardening books proliferating almost as fast as fruit flies. Maybe I`m missing something, or Canada`s publishers are, because we received just eight new books for review, three of them from a single publisher. I can see three possible solutions to this mystery. One is that publishers aren`t getting books out early in the season, or, two (and less likely), the books just aren`t being published. The third possibility is that over the last several years I`ve made rather mischievous fun of some titles, and the publishers are afraid of laughter. Publishers who release books late or out of season are common enough in this country, although publishers who don`t publish at all are as rare as hen`s teeth. I`m personally a little more concerned about the possibility that there are gardening-book publishers without a sense of humour - a phenomenon almost as deadly as gardeners without laughter.
On reflection, I`m sure this mystery has the same source as all the other strange goings-on across the country: Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative government, who seem to think that consumers and good citizens all grow on trees - untended and with pockets full of money. Certainly the PM has been cultivating the national garden that way since 1984.
This year also seems to have brought with it a slightly less disturbing development: gardening-book titles that are confusing. Take Gardening with Gusto (Doubleday, 192 pages, $15 paper), by Carlotta Hacker. Its subtitle, A Handbook & Cookbook for Canadian Gardeners, lets you know that it can`t quite decide whether to be a gardening book or a cookbook. At 20 cm by 22 cm, it`s only a handbook for those who have extremely large hands, and quite frankly, I can`t see why it couldn`t be a gardening book for Americans as well. Since the book was printed and bound in the United States - a practice our larger presses seem to be engaged in with increasing regularity these days - it may well be a little confused about just who Canadians are. In any case, the gardening tips, brief as they are, are better than the recipes, which seem aimed at middle-class Canadians as they were in about 1975. 1 had some trouble finding the gusto in Gardening with Gusto, but it does have several virtues worth noting: it is well designed and illustrated, and the directions - whether for cooking or gardening - are easy to follow.
The No-Garden Garden: Container Gardening on Balconies, Decks, Patios and Porches (Random House, 242 pages, $15 paper), by Edwinna von Baeyer and Dinah Shields, has, along with a silly title, pretty well the opposite virtues. This is a quite well written and informative book on a gardening zone of increasing importance. But the typeface used by the publisher is so small and squashed-looking that the text is almost unreadable, the illustrations are uninformative doodles and decorations, and the format seems designed to make you toss it across the room in frustration rather than take it out to the garden. Too bad, because it could have been a useful book.
Easy Longlife Gardening: A Practical Guide for Seniors (Key Porter, 243 pages, $18.95 paper), by John Pierce and Roland Barnsley, is another book with a confusing title. I tried very hard to like this book, because it addresses the important and largely ignored issue of how to handle the often heavy labour involved in gardening. Where the authors stick to gardening they do just fine, providing a wealth of tips on how to manage the sometimes arduous labour a serious
garden requires. Unfortunately, too little of the text sticks to the subject, and far too much of it is merely a lifestyle guide for seniors in which the authors treat their targeted readers as if they`ve lost most of their mental agility along with their ability to lift heavy loads and perform back-flips. The book`s cartoon-like illustrations and too-large type do nothing to alleviate this rather unfortunate tone.
My 86-year-old father is still an avid gardener, and there are some tricks in this book he`d probably find useful. But since, like most older gardeners, he has all his faculties and a keen sense of his own dignity, I`d hesitate to purchase this book for him for fear of insulting his considerable intelligence. And incidentally, there`s a small note on the back cover that suggests that this book has a special binding designed to make it stay open. I opened it to 10 different places, and it flipped shut just like any other paperback. Back to the drawing board on that invention....
Henry Jaworski`s Orchids Simplified (Chapters, 160 pages, $24.95 cloth) has an oxymoron for its title. Growing orchids, to be blunt, just isn`t simple, and anyone with a small budget or a short attention span is well advised to steer clear of them. Happily, Jaworski has filled his book with technical information that will make the cultivation of orchids less frustrating for that brave minority of gardeners who just can`t resist these beautiful and delicate flowers. The book is beautifully illustrated, and filled with appropriately lush colour photographs. If you are interested in this complicated indoor specialty, Orchids Simplified is a bargain.
The Harrowsmith Northern Gardener (Camden House, 208 pages, $19.95 paper), by Jennifer Bennett, is a revision of the original 1982 publication. It`s beautiful and useful, but it isn`t quite what it seems. By "northern" Bennett means the northerly sector of North America, not the northern portions of Canada. Personally, I have a hard time thinking of Victoria, B.C., and Toronto as northerly gardening sites, and I`d advise anyone gardening above the 54th parallel or within dreaming distance of Hudson`s Bay to pay attention to the fine print. It`s strictly a book for vegetable gardeners, and I`d probably argue to the death with Bennett over some of the techniques she suggests, but with the plethora of new coldresistant varietals that have been introduced over the last decade, this is a welcome update and a necessary addition to any Canadian vegetable gardener`s library.
I might as well admit that Designing a Garden: A Guide to Planning and Planting Through the Seasons (Camden House, 157 pages, $19.95 cloth), from Allen Paterson, is one of those books that cause my eyes to glaze over. This is, of course, my personal weakness, and shouldn`t reflect on the competence and beauty of this book, both of which are considerable. I`ve always been an advocate of plant now, plan later, possibly because I come from a treed (until recently) area of the country where the governments don`t plan or plant much of anything, but do spend vast amounts of time planning to plan, and greater amounts of money telling everyone that they`re planning to plan to plant. The danger in planning a garden is that carefully planned gardens are generally more expensive than the higgledy-piggledy kind, and the result of careful garden planning is too often no garden at all. Still, Paterson`s book will be eminently useful to well-heeled gardeners with a sizeable plot to arrange. It`s a little weak on small gardens, and the section on vegetable planting is a titch utopian. If you follow it to the limit, you`ll end up with a vegetable patch that will look good in colour photos, which is sometimes not quite what vegetable gardeners are after.
Shade Gardens: A Harrowsmith Gardener`s Guide (Camden House, 96 pages, $12.95 paper), edited by Brenda Cole, is the latest addition to Camden House`s specialty gardening series, and like the others, it is well written and intelligently illustrated. This one is among the best of the series, and given the increased incentives that ozone depletion has given us to stay in the shade, it is quite timely. I particularly appreciated the appendices of shade-loving plants, which include specific comments on each plant listed by five experts, each from a different part of the country. That the book devotes less than a page to lobelia and says nothing about spooks bothers me a little, but the rest of the volume is so good that these minor shortcomings can be overlooked.
Last but not least, there is one book that is accurately titled and sensationally apt in the bargain. It is Wendy Thomas`s The Ontario Gardener`s Resource Guide (Whitecap, 260 pages, $17.95 paper), a source of indispensable information for those who garden in Ontario. It lists the province`s commercial nurseries and garden centres, tells you where to obtain garden equipment and furniture, lists public and private gardens along with practically everything else you`d want to know, and includes concise and useful annotations with each entry. It`s the kind of gardening resource book every province in Canada ought to have (and almost certainly won`t get). I could say a lot of nice things about this book. It`s clearly organized and written, coherently designed and printed. Perhaps the nicest thing I can say about it is that every Ontario gardener ought to own a copy of this book. So if you`re living in Ontario, put down the magazine and go directly to your local bookstore. If you live elsewhere in the country, you`ll just have to remember that Ontario has been having a tough time of it lately, and dream -and garden - on.