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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Gardening Book Good Enough to Eat

One of the best things about these bleak, midwinter days is that I'm finding a little time now to catch up on the stack of garden books I've been wanting to read. For my before-bed reading, I've been enjoying Garden Open Today by the late British writer Beverley Nichols, a cleverly written and beautifully descriptive distillation of Nichols' gardening experiences. For dog-walking and long drives, I'm listening to the audiobook version of something that's long been on my reading list, Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. It tells the story of how plants and people have co-evolved, focusing on the examples of the apple, the tulip, the potato, and the cannabis plants.

But the book that is really exciting me is a less lyrical, but no less engrossing tome by Rosalind Creasy, the grand dame of edible gardening. Her hefty new work, Edible Landscaping, which came out at the end of last year, is a book that every urban gardener who wants to grow edibles should be consulting. Creasy's mission is to take vegetables out of the vegetable garden and spread them throughout the landscape, not only to maximize the potential harvest, but also to take advantage of the natural beauty of edible plants. For her, "edible" and "ornamental" are not at all exclusive terms and with this comprehensive book, she shows us how to turn our home gardens into landscapes that are both beautiful and bountiful.

What I have often found frustrating in books on vegetable gardening is the lack of detail regarding harvesting and using, not to mention how the plant will actually look in my garden. Edible Landscaping covers all of that and much more. Beginning with chapters on the evolution of landscaping and preparing the soil and hardscape, Creasy moves on to developing a landscape plan and design basics. She then covers designing with herbs; vegetables; and fruit, berries, and nuts. She pays special attention to designing for small spaces, a must for any book intended for use by modern urban gardeners. Along with all this information there are over 300 amazing color photos (including from Creasy's own gorgeous garden) and galleries of design ideas. This combination of hard, well-researched facts and inspiring visuals are what really make me love this book.

The clincher, however, is the second half of the book--an encyclopedia of edibles. There Creasy lays out everything you need to know about 65 edible plants, including an effort scale to tell you how difficult they are to grow, suggestions on how to use in the kitchen and in the landscape, information on growing and harvesting, and ideas for purchasing. Appendixes offer further information on plant lists, pests and diseases, resources, and more.

I love it when authors (and publishers) get it that a book can be both informative and beautiful. It's clear a lot of work went into the making of this book and it will have a well-deserved space on my bookshelf for years to come.

(Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, published by Sierra Club Books, paperback, 432 pp., $39.95)

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