Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
December, 2007
Regional Report

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Enjoy the holidays with a cup of tea, a snack, a fire, and some thoughtful reading.

A Reading List for Gardeners

Sooner or later a certain lull settles over the holidays. A quietness that invites sitting by the fire, or at least whispers to us to read and reflect. For many of us, there is no more delightful winter occupation than relaxing with a good read. For gardeners, that may simply mean seed and plant catalogs, but there are certainly other options for us. In fact, there are more books than there is money to buy or time to read. You'll find lots to explore at your library and local or online bookstore, and here are a few of my suggestions for inspiration this winter.

It seems like every year there are books that particularly capture our attention with their message about some aspect of our environment and food system. In the past year, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 2007; $26.95), about the novelist's year of eating locally produced food stood out. Of course, it's nothing that we vegetable and fruit gardener's didn't already know.

A Whole New Way of Looking at Bugs
This year the book that so far seems to stand out is Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, by Douglas Tallamy (Timber Press, 2007; $27.95). What sets this book apart is Tallamy's occupation as a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. I'm not aware of any other book that approaches the subject of the need for greater use of native plants based on the importance of wildlife, and, especially, insects to the long-term health and existence of our environment as we know it.

The basic premise is that all life on earth (with very few exceptions) depends on energy from the sun that plants convert into food via photosynthesis, with most of that solar energy made available to higher life forms up the food chain through insects that eat plants. As cities and suburbs spread, the loss of forest and natural areas will cause mass extinctions of insects, birds, and other forms of life. Tallamy believes that by turning lawns and yards of alien plants into gardens filled with native trees, shrubs, and perennials (lists for different areas of the country are included), each of us can make a difference.

If all this sounds a little too serious for holiday reading, one reviewer has written, "Tallamy writes with grace and humor. He makes it easy to follow his arguments, uses copious examples to relate his ideas to the natural world we know, and uses down-to-earth anecdotes to illustrate his points clearly."

Looking at Food One Way
Michael Pollan is, perhaps, the most important voice today about our food system. Coming out soon is his latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Penguin Press, 2008). Not privy to advanced review copies, I am dependent on others. My understanding is that Pollan proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat, a perspective that is informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach. The two notable quotes from Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," and "Don't eat anything that your great-great-grandmother would not recognize as food." I, for one, am well aware that there is very little "real food" in a grocery.

Real Food, From Another Angle
So you want to eat more vegetables and fruits, but you're running out of recipes? Try Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (Herald Press, 2005; $13.99). Organized by season, these recipes celebrate fresh, local, and fairly traded in a straightforward, yet delicious way. Commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee, this book is a partner to the long-lived cookbook, More-With-Less, and includes short, inspiring passages about food, farmers, and farming.

Inspiration and Humor
GreenPrints, the Weeder's Digest, lives up to its billing as "the garden magazine that shares the human side: the joy, humor, frustrations, and heart of gardening in fine prose and art." A wonderfully quirky and personal read, GreenPrints is an 80-page quarterly publication, available for $19.97 a year, that is produced by Pat Stone and his family "right between Tater Mountain and Butterow Creek in lovely Fairview, North Carolina." Visit their Web site ( to read some sample stories and subscribe. New subscribers get the 64-page Weeder's Reader as a bonus.

Finally, Some Serious Frivolity
Just looking for a diversion that's still linked to gardening? The English gardening novels of Beverly Nichols, such as Down the Garden Path, never fail to entertain. Or, for those who want a bit of mystery in their lives, look to the mystery series from Anthony Elgin, Susan Wittig Albert (for both China Bayles and Beatrix Potter mysteries), and Ann Ripley. Like a meringue, total fluff and nonfattening. Perfectly delicious. Here's to the holidays!

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