Let blooms, and edibles, abound!

Books On Gardening

April 30, 2000|By Dan Kasper and Rob Kasper | Dan Kasper and Rob Kasper,Special to the Sun; Sun Staff

Gardening, the passion to dig, plant and hope, is in full flower. As soon as the tulips bloom and the first spinach pokes up from the ground, a crop of gardening books arrives. As two brothers who like to get down in dirt -- one to grow something beautiful, the other to grow something to eat -- we teamed up on the current yield of gardening books.

Every gardener's library should include a book outlining the basics -- everything from sensible garden planning and layout, topsoil preparation, through plant selection and garden maintenance. One such work is "Reader's Digest New Illustrated Guide to Gardening" (Reader's Digest Association, 544 pages, $35).

Working on the assumption that the beginning gardener knows nothing -- an assumption one of us finds reassuring -- this book tackles soil-improvement, double-digging and crop rotation with easy-to-understand graphics. For example, the illustration showing how to divide a garden into three sections -- one for peas, one for root vegetables and one for broccoli -- and how to rotate these sections in a three year cycle, is a classic. It is the equivalent of a career plan for a vegetable garden.

The book gives most of the well- known vegetables a full-color spread. The accompanying text answers, in quick order, the two most important questions. Namely how to grow something, carrots for instance, and what can go wrong with carrots.

Since a lot of things can go wrong in a garden, the book's section on plant disorders is especially valuable. Here you first locate a picture of your problem, leaves with holes. Next you view a mug shot of the problem-maker, caterpillars. Then you choose from remedies ranging from picking the critters off the plants to spraying them with rotenone. There is a similar name-that- nemesis section for weeds.

One drawback to this work, and other one-volume tomes aimed at the hoe-carrying masses, is heft. This book is so heavy you could hammer down tomatoes stakes with it.

More advanced gardeners might consider "The American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Gardening" (Dorling Kindersley, 648 pages, $59.95), perhaps the most comprehensive gardening volume in print. It contains detailed information on garden planning and design, including such specialties as fruit and indoor gardening.

This volume also covers the use and care of various garden tools, provides clear and comprehensive instructions -- with numerous pictures and illustrations for a wide range of construction projects including sidewalks and patios, fences and arbors, and water features.

For gardeners hungering for specific information on what type of plants prosper in specific garden conditions, the "Sunset National Garden Book" (Sunset Books, 656 pages, $25) is an excellent choice. Produced by the publishers of Sunset magazine, it offers comprehensive coverage of more than 6,000 plants. For example, it has descriptions of 50 different varieties of the magnolia and more than 2,500 photos and illustrations. When you get tired of working in your own garden, "Sunset" also contains a directory of major botanical gardens, arboretums and estate gardens in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a listing of mail-order garden suppliers.

"The Complete Guide to Water Gardens" (Creative Homeowner Press, 208 pages, $19.95) provides cogent information on all aspects of water gardening, from selecting the right spot to what type of pump to use. Water gardeners with a keen interest in aesthetics might choose "Gardening with Water" (Random House, 205 pages, $40) by well-known American landscape designers James Van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme. It contains color pictures and illustrations from gardens the authors have designed.

Flower people interested in specific plants such as roses, peonies, hostas, ferns, etc., are certain to find something of interest at the Timber Press (www.timberpress.com). Dan's personal favorite is "The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book" (472 pages, $39.95), but it is virtually impossible not to find something of interest from this publisher. For the tree lover in the family, the seventh edition of "Pirone's Tree Maintenance" (Oxford University Press, 560 pages, $49.95) could be just the choice, although it is most likely to appeal to arborists who specialize in tree maintenance and the diagnosis and management of problems encountered by trees.

For gardeners willing to get cleaned up and see the sites, a good book is "The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Directory: The Guide to Visiting Hundreds of America's Best Private Gardens" (Harry Abrams, 464 pages, $14.95). It gives locations, directions and brief descriptions of private gardens throughout North America and the dates and times when they are open to the public.

Finally, one of the hottest books of the season is "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden" by Carolyn J. Male (Workman Publishing, 246 pages, $17.95). Written by a professor of microbiology and adorned with luscious photographs of multi-color tomatoes, this book makes tomato lovers pant as they page through it. Male, who raises heirloom tomatoes in her upstate New York garden, describes the quirks and taste characteristics of each type. She offers advice without sounding preachy. For instance, she says that even though there are many ways, some quite fashionable, to truss a tomato plant, it is also OK simply to let them sprawl.

Dan Kasper, managing director of LECG Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., gardens at his Wellesley, Mass., home, which has been chosen as a stop on the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Tour. Rob Kasper, a columnist for The Sun, grows tomatoes in a community garden in Druid Hill Park.

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