A bumper crop of gardening books
This season's abundant crop of new gardening books offers an unusual combination of intelligent advice and good reading. Bookstore browsers can leaf through volumes devoted to everything from making a flower garden more attractive to stopping those pests that nibble on the broccoli, cultivating a roof garden, or planting the special hard-to-find vegetables and herbs needed for gourmet cooking. And even readers who never lift a hoe will be glad to see that some previously hard-to-find collections of gardening essays from England are now available in North America.
From the summer cornucopia, I've selected the best, most novel, and most useful to recommend here.
V. Sackville-West's Garden Book, a paperback edited by Philippa Nicolson (Atheneum, $9.95), contains delightful essays that chronicle the month-by-month process of tending a garden. They also give a sampling of the brilliant color combinations and original ideas for which the late British author and gardener Vita Sackville-West was famous.
Remembered for her distinguished novels and poems as well as the gardens she created at Sissinghurst, Sackville-West also wrote gardening columns for the (London) Observer. This book brings the most durable of these columns back into print so that new (and old) readers can enjoy her imaginative musings on failures as well as successes. The book has been well edited by Sackville-West's daughter-in-law, and it contains an excellent index and pictures.
Focusing on the techniques for getting the best yield from each plant in a vegetable garden, Dick Raymond has compiled Joy of Gardening (Garden Way Publishers, $17.95) to complement his popular TV series of the same name. One of America's foremost gardening experts, Raymond has experimented with plantings in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Vermont, and on the West Coast. His sound advice and explicit, direct text, illustrated by good color photos, make this paperback one of the very best basic teaching books for the home gardener.
Another paperback, Gardening for All Seasons: The Complete Guide to Producing Food at Home, 12 Months a Year (Brick House Publishing, $12.95), is a valuable primer on innovative techniques for raising all kinds of food, including fruit, vegetables, and even chickens in the backyard and fish in floating cages. The book was compiled by the staff of the New Alchemy Institute and was edited by Gary Hirshberg and Tracy Calvan.
Their well-tested methods emerged from 12 years of experimentation by New Alchemy staff members in growing things on window sills, apartment decks, and rooftops, as well as in back yards and solar greenhouses. The book provides useful charts, resource lists, and sketches that take readers a step beyond the bare fundamentals.
In Wildlife in Your Garden (Rodale Press, $14.95) all-natural gardener Gene Logsdon focuses on those annoying beasts and insects that are apt to sample your broccoli heads or take bites from ripening tomatoes. His purpose is to show that they aren't all bad. Many can be beneficial, and some are actually necessary for a healthy garden; Logsdon shows how to attract the creatures you want and how to eliminate pests by using barriers, traps, repellants, and guard devices instead of pesticides.
The person who exerted perhaps the greatest influence on English flower gardens in this century (and who personally designed several of them with the young architect Edwin Lutyns) was Gertrude Jekyll. Now her 1908 classic, Color Schemes for the Flower Garden (published by the Ayer Company and distributed by Merrimack Book Service at $22.50), is available to Americans in a newly imported edition.
For anyone who wants Jekyll's definitive statement on how to make a garden look its very best, this is the book. After studying to be an artist, she was prompted by failing eyesight to change her interest to gardening. She developed amazing ideas about colors and patterns. In this book she shows how to examine a piece of land and plan a garden thoughtfully. Her planting schemes are clear and practical; they make for the simplicity, peacefulness, and beauty that are her trademarks.
Cooks who can never find just the right ingredient for that special recipe will welcome a new book by Theodore James Jr. The Gourmet Garden: How to Grow Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today's Cuisine (E.P. Dutton, $15.95 in cloth, carrots, fingerling potatoes, leeks, celeriac, bok choy, and arugula. Raising them yourself insures not only availability but also freshness and economy that can't always be matched at the greengrocer's. James also lists excellent sources for French and other European seeds and seedlings, and he provides cooking ideas to help you make the most of your produce.
During 25 years of writing for Country Journal, columnist Nancy Bubel has gained a wealth of insight and sensible ideas on planting, caring for, and making best use of garden space and yields. Her new paperback, The Country Journal Book of Vegetable Gardening (Country Journal Publishing, $10), gives straightforward information on when it saves money to grow your own produce (and when it doesn't), on the common mistakes beginners can learn to avoid, on how to solve the problems of weekend gardening, on techniques for transplanting, and on recognizing and controlling weeds. This is a very useful book for beginners.
The Observer Good Gardening Guide (Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, $25.95) was originally published in England, and it will be useful to readers anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Authors Joy Larcom, Arthur Hellyer, and Peter Dodd have produced a prize reference book, based on an Observer (London) magazine series. It has dozens of practical tips on subjects from basic planting techniques to exotic and unusual plant breeding, all covered in a scholarly yet readable fashion. Comprehensive and authoritative, it tells of old favorites and of new hybrids (like tayberries), dealing with such techniques as wintering-over rhubarb crowns and forcing them indoors in plastic sacks.
Everyone with a green thumb likes to dream about the ideal garden, even if he or she lacks the time, space, or resources to create it. The Englishman's Garden , edited by Alvilde Lees-Milne and Rosemary Verey (David R. Godine, $30), is guaranteed to provide fresh inspiration for even the most fantastic dreamer. In it, 33 English garden hobbyists reflect on their enthusiasm, energies, and ideas. One of them, Beverly Nichols, for instance, bases his designs on musical compositions, with ''melodic lines'' and ''themes''; Mark Rumary aims at painting a series of growing ''pictures.'' Dress designer Hardy Amies believes that symmetry and balance contribute much to the beauty of his small Cotswold garden. The differing imprints of character and taste make this a fascinating, if luxurious, dream book.