One of the new books goes into great detail on how to successfully grow vegetables right here.

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THIS SPRING we have new books to drool over, others to read for pleasure, and practical volumes that’ll end up dirty and dog-eared.

You’d expect “Backyard Roots: Lessons on Living Local from 35 Urban Farmers” (by Lori Eanes, Skipstone Books, $21.95) to be one of the latter, but I read it cover-to-cover for its inspired stories. Sure, you’ll learn how to forage healthy weeds to feed your goats, the two best kinds of ducks for egg production, and where Portland’s Noble Rot restaurant buys the seeds for its rooftop garden. There’s plenty of practicality here. But it’s the stories of these mostly young people’s dedication to local food, to their animals, to health and the land that’ll transfix you. Author Lori Eanes traveled the West Coast, tracking down innovative urban farmers, and I love how she brings their work, their ideals and all they’ve learned alive.

Jim Fox’s book looks exactly like what it is: a handy little guide to gardening smarter. Pay attention to the wisdom in “How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools and Garden Supplies” (Timber Press, $14.95) and you’ll save money and your back, make fewer mistakes and end up with a more beautiful garden. Learn which mulches to use where, the art of watering and how to decode a plant tag. Fox is both researcher and dirt gardener, a longtime nurseryman who shares decades of knowledge in his first book.

Here’s the book to drool over: the latest title from Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury is “Planting: A New Perspective” (Timber Press, $39.95). No one does ecology-based plant harmonies better than these two, and it’s just so sweepingly, stunningly beautiful. Oudolf combines woody plants and perennials in richly textural, season-spanning compositions that appear naturalistic. Plants mingle, blend, ebb and flow but (theoretically, anyway) don’t crowd each other out. My favorite chapter is full of diagrams and photos explaining Oudolf’s planting of the High Line in Chelsea, the raised walkway/urban garden that has turned into one of the biggest tourist draws in New York City.

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Two books on growing edibles, out of dozens of new ones, stand out this spring. The very local “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening” (Timber Press, $19.95) is by Lorene Edwards Forkner, who lives and gardens in West Seattle. Arranged month-by-month, the book goes into great detail on how to successfully grow vegetables right here. Edwards gives advice on the vagaries of weather and the specifics of soil, companion plantings and when to harvest. Turn to the month of May and you’ll learn that now is the time to plant leeks and pumpkins, parsnips and fava beans, and your last chance to put lettuces into the ground before it gets too warm (we hope). Then flip back to the dictionary section to learn which varieties do best in our climate. I’d like some photos, but the book is straightforward, clear and packed with information.

“The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook” by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman (Workman Publishing, $22.95) is a bargain, laden with color photos, recipes and food-gardening how-to. The authors are longtime organic gardeners, and they lay out nitty-gritty basics of crop rotation, composting, vegetable-garden layout — this is an encyclopedia on organic growing, really. The second half of the book has fabulous food photos, tips and recipes, from corn soufflé to chilled raspberry pie. Grow what you eat, cook what you grow.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at

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