Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Essential Earthman

I was prepared to not like this book. It's just not my style. Come on, a collection of newspaper columns? We've all read the garden column in our local paper. It's horrible. Poorly written, pushing a lot of chemicals and all the newest plants. I'm an heirloom gardener. My interest is history. What were old gardens like? How did gardeners back then do things? What did they grow? Why? What worked for them and what didn't?

My favorite garden books are books about historical gardens and historical gardeners. I don't care for "modern" gardening and I absolutely loathe "how-to" books. They're a lot like those TV shows about home renovation. They make it look so easy, but when I actually try doing it myself, it's a heck of a lot more difficult. Or needs specialized tools. Or involves a lot of expensive materials. So I was prepared to dislike Mr. Mitchell and his book(s). Instead, I fell in love.

I was hooked from the first sentence: "As I write this, on June 29, it's about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces, though it may hold off until the phlox, tomatoes, daylilies, and zinnias are in full sway". A real gardener! With a sense of humor! And perspective! And he grows heirlooms! In fact, in many cases, he prefers the heirlooms to newer varieties. No perfect garden here. Instead, he willingly admits to mistakes and how he corrected them.

Much to my chagrin, this is the perfect "how-to" book. He gives complete instructions on many issues and even admits when the process is difficult. He names and describes both new and old plant varieties. And provides the kind of useful information that you won't find in catalogs or nurseries: how a plant performs (or doesn't perform) in the home garden. All with a wonderful sense of humor.

Like most of the other gardeners who have read this book, I have issues with some of his opinions, especially when it comes to invasives, but I think it's reasonable to say that any time you get two or more gardeners together, you will get differences of opinions. It's just that kind of a hobby. There is no "right way" or "wrong way". What works for one gardener may not work for another.

This book is perfect. It can be read and enjoyed by both experienced and novice gardeners. I'm so glad I bought it instead of just borrowing it from the library. I'm looking forward to buying and reading his other books.