Four books help beginners get started in the garden

  • Wed Jun 20th, 2012 6:44pm
  • Life

By Renee Enna Chicago Tribune

For gardeners, yes, there’s the Internet. But when you don’t know what you don’t know — and that’s especially true for beginners in any topic — it helps to have an author guide you along the learning curve.

Here are four gardening books that have plenty to offer beginners in their respective topics, but might also be useful for more experienced gardeners as well.

“Gardening Made Simple: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Gardening” ($24.99): This sizable primer (more than 350 pages) should be valued by everyone who wants their thumb to get a little greener.

The book is a series of quick hits on any of the myriad topics — sodding a new lawn, growing clematis, pruning topiaries, to name just three — that might puzzle a beginner.

But it also contains a lot of clever tips and interesting information for garden-grizzled veterans who think they know it all. Scads of color photographs clarify and expound upon the written text.

“Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Techniques to Help You Get Started” ($21.99): Author Katie Elzer-Peters, a horticulturist who has worked in botanic gardens across the U.S., takes an almost remedial approach, which is as valuable as it is unusual.

Many beginner books make assumptions; this one doesn’t take anything for granted. For newbies who are a little frightened, Elzer-Peters will hold your hand while showing you the ropes. How basic is it?

We love her thorough diagrams on how to read both a fertilizer label and plant label, and there’s a list that defines garden-center “lingo” for the uninitiated (examples include “Annuals: Plants that grow for one year or one season” and “$5 per six-pack: Price per cell-pack with six plants in it.”)

“The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables: The 100 Easiest-to-Grow, Tastiest Vegetables for Your Garden” ($19.95): Author Marie Iannotti, who used to own an heirloom seedling nursery, demystifies heirlooms (criteria are vague, she notes, but they include being open-pollinated and more than 50 years old). More important, she rightly does not place the entire category on a pedestal.

The book instead focuses on her tried-and-true favorites, including a Texas pole bean called “Kentucky Wonder,” “Cherokee Purple” tomato (she far prefers it to pop star Brandywine) and “Red Meat” globe radish (juicy and slightly sweet).

Not surprising, this is a great book for anybody who grows any sort of vegetable. Iannotti waxes poetic about these plants, and the gorgeous photos throughout the book back her up.

“Herbs: The Complete Gardener’s Guide” ($24.95): OK, there are not many gardeners who haven’t grown herbs — they’re the common ground between flower and vegetable gardeners, as well as a rewarding way for rookies to get started. Surely there are some to add to your repertoire.

You’ll find what you need, and much more (including recipes), in this beautiful book.

In addition to exploring the uses and glories of dozens of herbs, Patrick Lima, an herbalist and author who gardens in Ontario, expounds on their uses, be it in your yard or your cup of tea.

The book is back in print after many years out of it, and we wonder at the lapse: Lima’s writing sparkles with wit, elegance and wheelbarrows full of practical information. One chapter is titled: “On Thyme: This herb, too, is of the essence.” See what I mean?