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Best Gardening How-To Books
My Vegetable Gardening Recs
Gardening books are a great source of information and inspiration for beginning and experienced gardeners alike.
How to... Grow an Organic Vegetable Garden
Growing your own food is a great way to reduce your grocery bill, but that's not it's only benefit! A vegetable garden ensures that your family eats the freshest, healthiest food, free of harmful pesticide residues. Many backyard vegetable gardeners also contribute to the preservation of unique locally-developed or heirloom vegetable varieties that are unsuited to commercial cultivation, such as the fabulous Brandywine tomato, one of the most delicious cultivars ever created.
The best basic organic vegetable gardening book I know is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible: Discover Ed's High Yield W-O-R-D System For All North American Gardening Regions, by Ed Smith. This book includes thorough information about planning, preparing, and planting your vegetable garden, as well as detailed information about how to grow many individual vegetables and herbs. The text is illustrated with many step-by-step illustrations and photos from the Smith family's beautiful garden.
Although Ed focuses on organic methods, his advice can be adapted to suit a conventional gardener. However, I think you will find if you follow his suggestions for proper planting and care, you will find your need for fertilizers and pesticides greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated!
Three more excellent vegetable gardening books I recommend are Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza, an excellent system for people without a lot of time or effort to put into gardening, Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholemew, which is especially useful for people who want to grow a lot of food in very little space, and Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long, which is a slightly more advanced book for gardeners who really want to maximize their harvest.
Get Inspired to Grow Your Own Food
My Lawn Recs
How To ... Get Your Lawn Off Drugs
Honestly, I am not a big fan of lawns. I think they're boring, and keeping them green all summer in my Midwestern climate is more effort and money than I'm willing to put in to such an uninteresting landscape feature. However, I do have young kids who enjoy soccer and other sports, so I'm not ready to get rid of my lawn entirely and I don't want it to look completely awful.
The Organic Lawn Care Manual, by Paul Tukey, has been a huge help for me. In clear, non-technical language, Paul explains how to heal the underlying conditions that are leaving your lawn vulnerable to pests, weeds, diseases, and water problems - without the use of expensive and dangerous chemicals. Not only that, there's a very good chance that his methods will reduce your water bills and the amount of time you need to spend mowing and performing other lawn chores!
Although he focuses mainly on traditional Bermuda grass or Kentucky Bluegrass turfs, Paul also includes information about alternative turf grasses such as Buffalograss and Zoysia.
My Landscaping Recs
How To ... Become a Master Landscaper
Like, I said, lawns bore me, and I've been steadily murdering mine ever since I moved into my house. Killing your lawn is only the first step, though. You have to know what you want to replace it with!
A great basic introduction to the art of landscape design is Taylor's Master Guide to Landscaping, by Rita Buchanan. Rita offers a comprehensive overview of home garden design in clear and readable language, liberally illustrated with photos beautiful enough to make any gardener drool. She covers plant selection and placing as well as garden features such as walkways, trellises, water features, and walls.
Once you've got the basics of beautiful garden design down, you can start looking for books that are more specific to your individual needs. My kids play ball in our big, level, fenced backyard. The front yard is small, close to the street, and has nothing to prevent a stray ball from flying into a neighbor's yard or, God forbid, window. Plus, as you know by now, I hate lawns. My mom, who is my mentor in all things gardening, recommended I check out Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass, by Liz Primeau. This inspiring little book is packed with gorgeous pictures of real people's front yards, and design tips for making the most of yours.
Sometimes pictures are all you need. Choosing Plant Combinations: 501 Beautiful Ways to Mix and Match Color and Shape in the Garden, by Better Homes and Gardens, is short on information and long on inspiration thanks to its massive, full-page color pictures of hundreds of different plant combinations. Gardener beware! Your favorite combinations may be totally unsuited to your yard, but if you're design-challenged like me, it's a great book to get ideas about what you'd like your garden to look like, and the nice thing is, you can almost always find a suitable substitute if a combination you like isn't suited to your climate or conditions.
More Specialty Landscape Books I Recommend
How To ... Go Native!
I've been interested in native plants since I was a preteen plotting to turn my parents' aged alfalfa field into a tallgrass prairie restoration. For more about that (and my recommendations for books on the subject), please visit my Squidoo lens Tallgrass Prairie Restoration.
Native plants are not only beautiful, they're also hardy and water-wise. It's important to look for native plants from your local region to get maximum benefits from them. The beautiful Colorado Blue Spruce may be "native" to the United States but that doesn't mean it will grow well in Florida!
A few of my favorite general books on the subject include:
Native plants also attract wildlife, especially butterflies, who may depend on them in their larval stages. For more information and book recommendations about gardening to attract wildlife, please visit my wildlife gardening articles:
My Permaculture Recs
How To ... Get Started With Permaculture
We've talked about gardening to grow food and provide beauty for people. We've talked about gardening with native plants that benefit the environment and provide food and shelter for wildlife.
Permacutlure puts it all together in a truly ecological garden design that benefits humans, wildlife, and the environment. The best introduction I know to the principles of permaculture is Gaia's Garden: a Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway, editor of the popular permaculture magazine The Permaculture Activist.
Quite honestly, this is one of the most inspiring gardening books I've ever read. Although I couldn't really argue that it contains any new information, Hemenway organizes and synthesizes existing information in a way that set off light bulbs in my head on nearly every page. I don't agree with all of his suggestions, but his book is a brilliant introduction to the art of designing and planting a garden that works with, not against, Mother Nature.