From the long line of 2008 gardening books, several stand out as unique and worthy, including "Gardens: A Literary Companion" and "The Complete Book of Garlic."
One compensation to be found in shorter, chillier days is that after months of outdoor work, we finally have a minute to settle in and read.
“Gardens: A Literary Companion” (Greystone Books, $24.95). It may be a small book, but it’s filled with the words of inspired gardeners, past and present. The best pieces, as in those by Germaine Greer and Stanley Kunitz, have the pleasant feel of a conversation with an especially articulate gardening friend.
It’s comforting to find that ever since Pliny the Elder in the 1st century A.D. and on up through contemporary gardeners like humorist Des Kennedy, we’ve all pondered the same things: soil, flowers, trees and how best to deal with them. As Gertrude Jekyll writes in “A Gardener’s Credo,” one of the sweetest pieces in the book, “Let no one be discouraged by the thought of how much there is to learn. Looking back upon nearly 30 years of gardening . . . I can remember no part of it that was not full of pleasure and encouragement.”
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“Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest: The Essential Reference for Western Oregon and Washington, British Columbia and Northern California” by Carol W. Hall and Norman E. Hall (Timber Press, $29.95). I’m not so sure about that subtitle. Claiming “essential reference” puts this new book into direct competition with that granddaddy of regional references, “The Sunset Western Garden Book,” the most thumbed-over tome on many of our bookshelves.
The authors live on British Columbia’s Denman Island, and are clearly experienced gardeners. They’ve included valuable information on what to do when, as well as on weather, soils, pests and diseases. The book has an engaging personal tone, and I appreciate that the recommended plants are just that — the best for our climate, not an exhaustive list. Which, of course, leads to a quibble over choices. (Where’s the gorgeous Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy,’ or any sedums at all in the ground cover chapter?) Such frustrations are nearly made up for by the welcome inclusion of so many current cultivars, plus a synopsis of all those confusing new kinds of trademarked roses. While this is an excellent overview for newer gardeners, or those new to our climate, I’d keep the easier-to-access, comprehensive Sunset book on hand.
“The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks” by Ted Jordan Meredith (Timber Press, $39.95). The aroma of garlic nearly wafts from the pages of this delectable book. I finally learned what garlic scapes are (the curly stem sent up by bolting garlic bulbs) and discovered the relative merits of 150 kinds of garlic, many of which have been used medicinally and in cookery for centuries. Which is why I have to laugh at the marketing phrase used for this book, “A comprehensive guide to the next gourmet frontier.” Hasn’t garlic been a vital ingredient in peasant cooking, as well as in gourmet cooking for as long as it’s been around? Where this book breaks ground is in the idea of growing garlic ornamentally (the scapes come in here) as well as in its precise information on how to harvest and store this most pungent of bulbs. I wish it were chattier and more thoroughly indexed, but if you’re not put off by a scientific tone, this book’s for you. And the photos are stunning. Who knew that weirdly twisting stalks and cloves bursting through paper-thin sheaves could be so beautiful?
Also worthy of mention:
“The Gardens of Russell Page” by Marina Schinz and Gabrielle van Zuylen (Frances Lincoln Ltd., $65). Russell Page was arguably the most famous garden designer of the 20th century. This new edition of a classic book sumptuously captures the feel of the gardens he designed around the world, while each chapter tells the story of one amazing creation after another.
“400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces: How to Grow the Right Plant in the Right Place” by Diana M. Miller (Timber Press, $29.95). Because woody plants do nothing but grow bigger over the years (if they don’t die), this book could serve as a first step toward choosing trees and shrubs that won’t result in future pruning disasters or an overly gloomy garden.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com.