Saturday, September 02, 2006

The very best gardening book

Dirt, by Dianne Benson, is my absolute favourite, indispensible book for gardening. Benson is not a typical gardening expert. She was a designer clothier in New York, until her business closed and she and her husband Irving decided to put their energies into upgrading a styleless 1950s house on Long Island. All of her gardening advice comes from her own personal experience, and she writes in a very humorous style, with lots of stories about what went wrong and how she figured out by trial and error what would work.

Most of the plants in my garden I only discovered through her book: I already knew about daylilies and roses, but she was the one who introduced me to beautiful blue Baptisia australis (and now Dominion Seed House is offering a purply-yellow variety!), Balloon Flower, Hostas of great diversity, Japanese Blood Grass, and the beautiful Tricyrtis (Toad Lily). (The 'Gilt Edge' Toad Lily I moved from the back to the front is going wild - I moved 4 stems in the spring, and it's already thrown up 4 more!) Long Island is Zone 7, but I was able to adapt her advice to my Zone 5 location, and by dint of avoiding the tropical plants she likes so much, I was able to come up with a good strong perennial garden.

My favourite quote from her book comes right near the beginning, and is perfectly illustrative of her no-nonsense practicality:
If your tendencies are toward cross-pollination or expertly having a hybrid named after you, then put down this book. Furthermore, my version of gardening most certainly does not include starting anything from an infinitesimal seed. A big proponent of what you can actually see, touch, and smell, I champion nurseries and catalogs to buy all the bountiful ingredients to create your garden image. Artists no longer mix their paint from minerals, they go out and buy them--sculptors don't sink into the quarry to hack their own stone. Why should we gardeners feel obligated to the revered seed method of starting everything from scratch to create our pictures?
Thank goodness! I remember painfully growing Shasta daisies from seed one year; it took 2 years before I got a single flower! Plus, it's now impossible for me to have any plants or pots in the house, especially during the winter, because James will just gleefully dump them out and use the dirt to run his trains through. I've only finally stopped him from bringing in dirt from the outdoors, but if I'm going to obliging enough to furnish it myself, well, there's no way this is going to end except badly.

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