CAROLE McCRAY: Great reads for gardeners
November 24, 2013 1:39 AM

Books make great gifts. These gardening books, new releases in 2013, are a sampling of what you might add to your holiday shopping list for a favorite gardener or to treat yourself for a winter read till it’s time to garden again.

Spring may be far off, but “America’s Romance with the English Garden” and its colorful photographs and reproductions of original catalog artwork could have you thinking about what the author Thomas J. Mickey said, “Americans were practically ‘seduced’ by the rich imagery and lush writing found in catalogs.”

Seed companies and nurseries were selling more than seeds and plants, Mickey discovered during his research. They were selling how to plant and landscape.

Readers will learn how the lawn became a prominent feature of the American landscape. English garden writers inspired 19th-century seed company and nursery owners, and these companies taught Americans how to garden through their mass-marketed catalogs, magazines and books.

An obsession with new plant varieties was established.

So when gorgeous garden catalogs arrive in the mail this winter, you will understand how it came to be that gardeners are mesmerized by so many selections.


Read Bill Best’s “Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste” and you will realize why he has been dubbed “the dean of beans.” Since the 1960s he has been farming and collecting seeds from across Appalachia. Currently he is director of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center near Berea, Ky.

As a young gardener Best discovered commercial beans were a disappointment, not like the ones he knew growing up. He shared that thought with his Mother who gave him some of her saved varieties of beans. They were beginning to be termed heirlooms. “I have never looked back,” he said.

With a focus on beans, tomatoes, apples, corn, candy roasters and cucumbers, Best explains why it is important to keep these seeds in circulation, emphasizing superior taste and genetic diversity. He explains the culture of seed saving where readers meet seed savers that Best knows or ones he learned about.

He tells how the best-known Appalachia heirloom tomato is credited to Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter. Charlie, a West Virginia auto mechanic developed the tomato in the 1940s, took seven years to breed the tomato and sold the popular plants for a dollar each.

The story goes that Charlie’s venture enabled him to pay off his house mortgage in six years

Anecdotes about Best’s grandmother, humorous stories about seed savors, seeds and photos give a peek into American folklore and the value of the family farm that keeps seed saving alive season after season.


Pests, diseases, nutrients and environmental stresses are the most common problems gardeners encounter. Ed Rosenthal’s book, “Protect Your Garden,” addresses these issues with informative text and more than 100 full-color photographs identifying these problems and giving the reader solutions.

Divided into chapters — pests, diseases, nutrients and environmental stresses make an easy read. More than two-dozen pests are discussed from ants to whiteflies.

On diseases, Rosenthal blames either bacterial when the environment has been compromised, or a fungal disease has occurred. Regarding nutrient problems, it is deficiency or an overabundance, which can occur in container planting or planting in the ground. Rosenthal sights overwatering, winter injury, salt damage or room conditions as environmental stresses.

He recommends eco-friendly solutions.

Listed are commercial products, herbal oils, homemade recipes and minerals and beneficial biologicals such as bacteria, fungi and predatory insects.

Rosenthal believes if you protect your garden, your harvest will be safe for you, your family and the planet.


With Christy Wilhelmi’s “Gardening for Geeks,” you can skim the science and take what you need for growing your own organic produce, or you can go “full geek” and immerse yourself in the mathematics, biology and ecology of gardening. Either way, Wilhelmi speaks to the reader in accessible, user-friendly language and with an abundance of helpful colored photos.

Wilhelmi’s book has you examining your ecosystem so you can create the right environment for your plants. Learn about meteorological patterns to plan a productive harvest, how to achieve healthy soil and construct raised beds. Small space gardening, pest control and do-it-yourself tests, troubleshooting solutions, helpful charts and graphs are featured.

Wilhelmi noted the more we learn about gardening, the more there is to learn.

“America’s Romance with the English Garden,” Thomas J. Mickey, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, $26.95.

“Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste,” Bill Best, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, $22.95.

“Protect Your Garden,” Ed Rosenthal, Quick American Publishing, Oakland, California, $24.95.

“Gardening for Geeks,” Christy Wilhelmi, Adams Media, Avon, Massachusetts, $15.95.


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