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Gardening for the Earth and Soul: A Practical Guide for Family and Community Gardening
Heather Dean and Tom Benevento, Brethren Press, 2004; 180 pages, $18.99.
Useful and beautiful, inspiring and down-to-earth, The Church of the Brethren has published one of the best gardening books of 2004. If you’d like to pursue organic gardening as a family activity or dream of starting a community garden in your area, this book will gently and lovingly guide you.
In the most "religious" section of the book, Julie Garber, editor at The Brethren Press, explains: "Why is a religious press publishing a book on gardening? Because gardening, both metaphorically and practically, figures centrally in our faith. The biblical account, after all, begins and ends in a garden, and contained in the primordial garden of beginnings and the eschatological paradise of the end is the essential story of faith and how to live it in the present . . .Since gardening is a metaphor for life, this book on gardening is really a book about a way of living."
(The Church of the Brethren, the Amish and the Mennonites are the three Anabaptist Protestant immigrant traditions from 18th century Germany who are often referred to as the "Pennsylvania Dutch." For more about "Another Way of Living," go to www.brethren.org. Full Disclosure: My maternal grandfather belonged to the Brethren and my mother and I have found that almost all of our thoughts about gardening, caring for the earth and making up our own minds go right back to him – and the Brethren.)
Garber then hands the book off to Heather Dean, a community gardener in Washington, D.C., who narrates the "how-to" gardening sections of this book with practicality and affection, and to Tom Benevento, the General Board’s Latin America specialist, who penned both the sidebars on spirituality and the lovely line drawings that brighten the cover and every other page of the book.
Dean and Benevento want the book to be useful: Each chapter contains a "Just for Kids" activity, a profile of a nonprofit organization whose goal mirrors that of the chapter, and a resource section of books and Web sites. The chapters themselves cover site design/planning, soil care, seed starting and saving, plant care, food storage (with recipes), flower/herbs, overviews of the major vegetable families and creating and maintaining a community garden. Through Benevento’s drawings and Dean’s text, the authors squeeze in extra charts and tables packed with information, yet the pages never look or feel crowded.
Dean and Benevento want the book to be inspiring: Both authors draw from personal experience and conversations with other gardeners to simply, yet poetically, explain what working with the earth means to them. Following 300+ years of Anabaptist tradition, sidebars include relevant passages from the Bible as well as thoughts about peace from relevant thinkers. Throughout the pages, Benevento’s drawings illustrate, illuminate and uplift.
Don’t overlook this book because it comes from a small press that is not listed on Amazon. It is remarkably complete on its subject for only 180 pages, and while inspired by its authors’ Christian faith, Dean and Benevento simply share their thoughts and experiences to inspire others to share (or dream) their own. Order the book directly from the Brethren Press at www.brethrenpress.com/ or call 1-800-441-3712. Those who want to bring their families and/or their communities closer to the earth through gardening will find both a kindred spirit and a practical guide.--copyright 2004 by Dorene Pasekoff, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; for information on reproducing this review, please contact the author.
The Grand Masters of Maine Gardening and Some of Their Disciples
Jane Lamb, 2004, Down East Books, www.downeast.com, 800-685-7962, 144 pages, 69 color illustrations, hardcover, $30
A doctor who hybridized irises, a homemaker who stopped traffic with the breathtaking color of her roadside gardens, a former electron-microscopist who identified the best heathers for Maine gardens: These are just three of the many subjects of Jane Lamb’s book, The Grand Masters of Maine Gardening and Some of Their Disciples. The book is an updated collection of feature stories that Lamb, now more or less retired and living in northern California, wrote for Down East magazine from 1982 to 2003. (Readers of The MOF&G know Lamb for her informative and highly readable features for this paper over the years.)
The book is more than a collection of features, though; it is 26 tremendously pleasant, inspirational chapters in Maine garden history. Each morning for a couple of weeks, I’d settle in with my coffee and read about two or three of The Grand Masters, then head out to my own imperfect gardens, idealizing what they could look like in time.
Not only does Lamb describe the intriguing personalities who created some of the greatest gardens or most beautiful plants in Maine, she also gleans specific gardening tips from each. Bernard McLaughlin, for instance, always told people to plant ferns close to a rock "and they’ll never lose them. Your rock keeps the soil cool and retains the moisture."
We learn not only about the fascinating life of the late Roger Luce, but also his observation that "magnolias can’t stand water at their roots." Thomas Hall of the Island Foundation, which maintains The Asticou Azalea Garden, notes that azaleas should be sheared immediately after blooming to allow buds time to form for the following year.
Landscape designer Patrick Chassé, an Aroostook County native who has traveled around the world and lectured on landscape design, provides a list of 36 perennials that are Maine-hardy, pest resistant, and provide a good return in relation to the effort used in planting them. He even shows how to combine them in a 25-foot-long border.
The chapter about reclaiming the Asticou Azalea Garden reminds us that a landscape is not static, but is a growing, changing entity--one that requires flexibility on the part of the landscaper and gardener. Plants grow as they were intended, then continue to grow, and the gardener must then decide how to amend the original plan to maintain a pleasing, workable landscape.
We learn that Celia Thaxter, lacking flats and peat pots, used eggshells set in sand, with holes in their bottoms, to grow poppies and other plants that are difficult to transplant; that Maine has 50 native species of ferns (45 of them grown by Bernard Etzel of Farmington); that ‘Heirloom Lace’ daylily tolerates shade in Corinne Mann’s garden; that a bed containing one-third peat moss, one-third old manure and one-third well-drained topsoil will grow good roses; that Rick Sawyer of Fernwood in Swanville has identified hostas that slugs don’t attack.
Former Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Bucky Owen tells how to create a home landscape that attracts wildlife. As a result, I have a new interest in hawthorn, which feeds migrating robins in early spring snowstorms. These same birds, says Owen, nest first in softwoods, then raise their second brood in hardwoods.
The quality of Lamb’s writing is sure to please Maine garden readers and those who aspire to live in this wondrous state. She describes Bernard McLaughlin’s collection of hens and chickens in this way: "Like a colony of spiky sea urchins and anemones on a coral reef, hens and chickens of amazing diversity bask in the rippling shade of maples and beeches...[on a rock that] is a bizarre natural sculpture of miniature crags and cave-like planting pockets." She calls wild roses "an apt metaphor for Maine: rugged, beautiful, sensible, adaptable."
Even if you didn’t read a word of this book, the photos alone would have you running off to the garden center, looking for a neat little pot of hens and chickens to establish on your own favorite, lichen-decorated rock, or a ‘Dear Dianne’ iris with its very fine white border.
Some of the gardeners in The Grand Masters do not adhere to strict organic methods, and some even recommend using sewage sludge--a good idea, ideally, but I don’t think our society has reached the point of separating toxic from nontoxic ingredients going into sludge to permit its use in home gardens. This is not a criticism of the book or the author; just a personal note.
When your back has had enough of harvesting this fall, take a welcome break and read a chapter or two of The Grand Masters. You’ll become rested and inspired at the same time.
© 2004 by Jean English; for information on reproducing this review, please contact the author.E
Plucked and Burned
Sylvia Tomlinson, Redbud Publishing, PO Box 4402, Victoria, Texas 77903, $19.95. paperback, 237 pgs.
Recent news that some arsenic, used as a feed supplement in factory-farmed chickens, remains in birds on dining room tables and at fast food restaurants, gave consumers pause to think: Maybe it’s a good idea to know who raises the chicken you eat, and how it’s raised.
Sylvia Tomlinson enlightens readers about another aspect of this practice in Plucked and Burned, a fictional account (and remember: Truth is stranger than fiction) of several Texas families who raise factory-farmed chickens and try to make ends meet--or even to just stay alive. It’s a story of the unsustainable economics (for the grower) of vertically integrated farming, and of health and personal safety risks to these farmers.
So, for example, if only some arsenic remains in the chickens that consumers eat, where does the rest go? Tomlinson alludes to other factions: Some is inhaled by workers who unload the dusty chicken feed at farms; more is in the litter in the barn, which is collected (another dusty operation) and spread, repeatedly, onto agricultural fields. No wonder the farmers in her story have so many health concerns.
Tomlinson tells also about labor disputes, about feed that’s manipulated to ensure that troublesome farmers go out of business, and more--all in an entertaining story. This murder mystery is a very well written page turner (not something that can be said for the increasing number of self-published books on the market), and despite its topic, it does not leave the reader in despair. Its protagonist works for change, and the final page is a plea for readers to support the National Contract Poultry Growers Association (1592 Haw Branch, Sanford NC 27330), and to ask legislators to support bills and bargaining rights that help contract farmers.
Buying free-range, organic or natural, local meat is the best way to go, but Tomlinson makes readers more aware of the system of farming that feeds most people in the United States. She helps us see these farmers as hard working, honest folks who are trying to maintain a rural way of life, but are at the mercy of powerful integrators. They deserve our attention.
© 2004 by Jean English; for information on reproducing this review, please contact the author.
Maddie, nearly 12 years old, lives on a family farm in Oklahoma, where her parents raise cattle. The family appreciates native flora and fauna, but their pastures are weedy, and Maddie’s father is considering using herbicides for the first time. Maddie objects, but doesn’t have an alternative to offer...until she mentions her problem to a classmate, Emiliano, whose family raises goats. Emiliano and his father tell Maddie that integrating goat and cattle farming would take care of the weed problem, and Maddie learns first-hand how to care for goats by working on Emiliano’s farm. But can she convince her father of the value of adding goats to his operation?
This endearing book will appeal to preadolescent girls who appreciate farming and animal husbandry. It includes some of the trials that 12-year-old girls suffer, such as a snooty rich girl who competes with Maddie for Emiliano’s attention; but don’t worry: justice prevails.
© 2004; for information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
Safe Sex in the Garden – and Other Propositions for an Allergy-Free World
Thomas Leo Ogren, Ten Speed Press, 2003. $14.95.
As young teens, my female friends and I would sneak into our parents’ libraries and read the books on sex out loud to each other. While the spine on this book says only "Safe Sex in the Garden," hopeful teenagers won’t find much to help them navigate human intimacies; however, if they suffer from allergies, they (and their parents) will want to refer to the book often.
Ogren’s wife, mother and sisters all suffer from hay fever and asthma. When he reviewed the literature, he found little guidance, so he began serious horticultural research into the relationship between flowering plants and human (ill) health. His first efforts resulted in the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALSTM), the first plant-allergy ranking system, now used by USDA to develop allergy rankings for major urban areas. His first book, Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping, listed commonly used plants on a scale from (1) least allergenic to (10) highest allergy-causing potential.
In Safe Sex in the Garden, Ogren broadens his approach to include techniques, observations and environmental modifications that home and apartment dwellers can make easily to reduce allergens (and thus allergy symptoms) for both people and pets. And it all starts by knowing how your plants have sex.
Most urban allergies are based on too many positively charged pollen grains (male) invisibly clogging the air in search of a negatively charged surface with which to meld. In nature, where the male and female of a species are usually in balance, these pollen grains are lured into negatively charged pistils (female) to produce seeds. Unfortunately, for the last 50 years, landscapers, urban planners and home gardeners have been planting "seed-free/litter free" versions (i.e., males) of popular plants and not planting females to scoop up the males’ pollen. When the pollen can’t find a pistil, it tries to meld instead with the most ubiquitous negatively charged surface – the moist membranes of the human nose, eyes and mouth.
Ogren wants you to figure out whether you’re surrounded by male plants--either indoor potted plants or outdoor plantings--so he spends several chapters describing plant sexual characteristics in such an engaging manner that you’re sure that if only you had had him as your high school botany teacher, you’d never have forgotten anything, including how to pronounce "monoecious." Once you know the sex of your plants, he tells how to balance the male/female ratio so that the pollen makes seeds, rather than playing havoc with your nose.
While most allergies are from pollen, Ogren wants to reduce all plant-based suffering. Therefore, he has two excellent chapters on indoor houseplant and outdoor tree care (sickly plants are breeding grounds for mold and insect dander, which also aggravate allergies), strong recommendations for organic lawn and garden care (no chemical residues that can also trigger allergies), a chapter on plants that cause skin rashes, another on poisonous plants and poisonous pollen (not always the same species) and pointers on both preventing allergies in your pets and observations to make before deciding that a cat or dog is the source of someone’s allergies. (Often, an allergy is a delayed reaction to a nasty strain of pollen on the animal, rather than to the animal itself.)
Ogren’s style can be glib at times, and his examples are weighted toward California (where he lives and, apparently, where the gaudiest trees, like birds, are male.). In compiling his lists, he errs on the side of caution, but if one suffers from allergies, one wants** such an author! These quibbles aside, if you have allergies and want clean air both inside and out, buy this book and consult its lists before buying any new (preferably female) plants.
© 2004 by Dorene Pasekoff, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. For information on reproducing this review, please contact the author.
Resource for Vermont’s New and Aspiring FarmersA new Web site, "Resource Guide for Vermont’s New and Aspiring Farmers" (www.vermontagriculture.com/newfarm.htm), makes resources more available to new farmers and increases communication in the agricultural world. The site was designed by the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the University of Vermont Extension to put users in touch with organizations that can assist them in a successful farming venture and to address four common barriers to new farmers: access to capital, to production knowledge, to land and markets. Users are introduced to some of Vermont's colleges and educational programs that bring young people into modern agriculture, including Vermont Technical College and the Farms 2+2 program. A printed version of information available on the site is available by calling (802) 656-5459.
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