Flowers and Herbs in Early America – Lawrence D. Griffith


This is an interesting book, based on the author’s trials at Colonial Williamsburg of various plants that were thought to be available for Colonial era gardeners. He talks about where they were found in sources, reasons that they might have been brought over, and even why some of those plants are probably problematic if you’re trying for absolute authenticity. He also includes tips from his trials and what he grew them with.

I did really enjoy the book, but if you want to put it into practical application, you definitely want to live closer to the Mason-Dixon line – there are some lovely plants in here that my zone 5 garden would eat for dinner over the winter.


In a Unicorn’s Garden – Judyth McLeod

1921208570-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_This is theoretically a book about medieval gardens, and while it does talk about a few specific gardens, and has some interesting plant lists, it’s really more of a historical wrap up of the kinds of gardens that would have existed in that time, with a somewhat modern garden plan to go with each idea. The plans are fairly basic – I’ll admit I was hoping for something a little more substantial. However, the plant listing in several chapters, as well as some specific plant highlights, are very useful.

I think this would also be interesting for anyone wanting an overview of history that happens to potentially touch gardening. The author goes out on some tangents that may only seem peripherally related to gardening, but they are interesting. It’s a pleasant book, just a little hard to classify.

The Shakespearean Botanical – Margaret Willes

1851244379-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I picked this up for myself as a souvenir from the Bodleian Library. I don’t normally buy books in England (it’s one thing where the prices are usually far better in the US), but this was unique, and actually published by the Bodleian Library press, so I jumped on it.

It’s a cool little book, using illustrations from John Gerard’s Herball of 1597, which Shakespeare would probably have known, and tying them in with passages from his plays and the longer narrative poems. It’s a nice addition to my gardening book collection.


Tender – Nigel Slater

1607740370-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_After plowing through Slater’s Ripe, I had to go back and get the book he wrote before that, which dealt with vegetables, instead of fruit. And I again found this to be one of the rare cookbooks I can read from cover to cover. However, it’s a little less useful to me than Ripe was, because the way that vegetables behave through a British winter is very different than how they behave in a Maine winter. In other words, short of buying a heated greenhouse, I will never have a winter crop of anything. So my seasonality is not the seasonality of this book – therefore, the gardening tips are not so useful to me. (Fruit seasons are more similar, so Ripe was still seasonally familiar to me.)

Still, the gardening was evocative and inspirational on some levels, and I still enjoyed the recipes. So it’s still a worthwhile book for my collection, even if Ripe is a better fit.

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education – Michael Pollan

Any American gardener should read this book – it’s the story of Pollan’s evolution as a gardener at his New England farmhouse, but within this evolution, he explores quite a bit of what makes gardening here in America both the same as other places, and also very unique.

One of the things he brings up, that I had never thought about, but could instantly see, is that the American garden (and by garden, we’re often speaking about larger grounds of a home), abhors fences.    If you look at the front lawns of suburbia, they flow into the next perfectly manicured lawn, and if you put up any sort of substantial fence or hedge, you’re absenting yourself from this landscape, and even if only subconsciously, your neighbors will look down on this rebellion.    I’ve always had a thing against hedges in the city, and I think I understand part of why now.    But he also points out that this lack of fencing can be traced back to the Puritans, who believed that this land was given to us by God, and you can’t fence that off.    And it’s that viewpoint that has governed a lot of how Americans relate to land up to the present day.

There are a number of other really interesting chapters, but my other particular favorite was one about the variety of seed catalogs you can find in America.    It’s now a bit dated (the book was published in 1991), but even with what was out there then (which I remember looking at from what my mother received), there’s a lot of things I had never thought about that you find out about regional identity and class viewpoints from these catalogs.    I’d actually be really interested to see what he’d say about the catalogs out there today – in the book, Johnny’s Select Seeds is a relative newcomer, and they’ve been around for a while now.

I really enjoyed this book.    I don’t think I was expecting to have a gardening book make me think this much – there’s a lot of information to chew over in here, though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, coming from the author of The Botany of Desire.

Easy Growing – Gayla Trail

I’ve been torturing myself with gardening books again.

After enjoying Grow Great Grub, I decided to pick up the author’s new book, which focuses on herbs and edible flowers. I like it for the same reasons I liked Grow Great Grub – she’s in more or less my climate zone, so focuses on plants I can actually grow, and breaks them down with useful information for the same garden.

I wouldn’t have minded some more plants, though she did provide a list of extra plants that she couldn’t fit in the book, so I do have more to look up and continue the fun.

Garden Notes

It’s January in Maine, so what’s a girl to do? Read gardening books, and lust after activities I cannot possible for several more months. Sigh…

The Edible Front Yard – Ivette Soler

This book is all about changing your front yard from a typical lawn into an edible plant garden, but doing it in such a way that you won’t look like the kooky hippy neighbors.

There are lots of pictures of other gardens enclosed, with many examples of planting combinations. Unfortunately for me, it’s very west coast centric, which I can’t really blame them for, since most of that coast has really great gardening conditions. I lust after some of the plants they can have at my latitude there that I could never manage here in Maine.

So, for me, the most valuable section was the chapter on ornamental edibles. Some of these are plants you’ve probably never heard of, and some are different varieties of plants that you may not have previously thought could be ornamental. I have a number of sticky tabs in that section.

So, for a New England garden, this book is probably more inspirational than truly aspirational.

Grow Great Grub – Gayla Trail

This gardening book is about making do with whatever space you have, no matter how small, to be able to grow some sort of food in your own space. There are a number of DIY projects for various containers and raised beds, and there are ways to use your harvest.

What I liked best about this book was the plant section, where it talked about the best plants to use in small spaces. It also had specific information about growing each plant in containers, which was what convinced me to buy this book. The author is also out of Toronto, so it gave me much more suitable information for my gardening zone than the other book I bought this winter.

There’s also a section on compost, and about the best ways to prep your beds or containers for the best yields. It’s about organic gardening, so there’s also a section on organic pest control.

I think this book would be a great primer for a city dweller that’s never gardened and would like to get their feet wet. I was already familiar with the fundamentals, but still got a lot out of this book.