by Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva
A couple of new gardening books caught my eye this month, just in time for Mother’s Day. Growing Beautiful Food: A Gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit by Matthew Benson, will make you want to dash out into your yard and get growing. Not only is this exquisite book filled with gorgeous photographs of plants and produce, but organic farmer/photographer Benson isn’t too hard on the eyes.
Though he grew up as an urbanite, he later fell in love with a woman who was raised in the gatehouse of a rambling old estate property in the Hudson Valley, 60 miles north of New York City. The pair now runs Stonegate Farm, an organic market farm and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
“The property wasn’t meant to be farmed, any more that I was meant to be a farmer,” Benson says. “Like me, it’s new to agriculture, so whatever hoeing and growing goes on, we’re in it together.” The collection of 19th century carpenter Gothic outbuildings were there to support the lifestyle of the estate’s first owners; carriage house, stable, icehouse, manger, barn, gatehouse, greenhouse. All of this is documented in photographs throughout the book that will take you back in time. Growing Beautiful Food begins with dreaming up your garden and tips on soil and seed starting, then descriptive chapters on a plethora of vegetables and flowers, chicken coops and beehives—and ends with recipes! “Working the farm, we have become more patient, more capable, more resourceful and more humble,” Benson writes. “Work on the land develops deep connective tissue with simple, empirical purpose—something we’re in great need of in an age of texts and tweets.” Amen. $32.00, Rodale Books For more information about Stonegate Farm, visit stonegatefarmny.org.
Fran Sorin, a garden expert who has been guiding individuals to use gardening and connecting with nature as a tool for well-being, has recently published the 10th anniversary edition of her book entitled, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening. Sorin believes that gardening is both a sacred act and a playground for our imaginations. “Working in the garden over time, we learn to appreciate the Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi—everything is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete,” Sorin says.
“Eventually, often without even trying, we discover ourselves sinking into the wabi-sabi of life. We become less judgmental of ourselves and others and find ourselves more accepting of our own humanness.” Sorin begins with observing, discovering and exploring your garden and then envisioning your dreams. Next she begins a planning and taking action chapter. While Digging Deep focuses on gardening, readers can apply the wisdom and lessons in the book to any creative pursuit. Her message? Being creative fulfills and nourishes us deep within. Mindful gardening is what Sorin wants us to practice. She recommends setting your intent that you are going to work at staying present, prior to entering the garden. “Your attitude has everything to do with how successful you’ll be at reconnecting with your garden,” Sorin says. “For example, if you are pulling weeds and are thinking of errands you need to do before work, gently return your mind to the weeding and say something like, “I’m weeding and enjoying every minute of doing this. I know it’s helping to maintain a thriving, beautiful garden.” OK, I’ll try that in between all the mumbling and cursing I do while slashing my front yard weeds. Namaste. $14.99, Braided Worlds Publishing.
Is your mom in need of a very practical gardening book that tells you exactly what to do in your garden each month? Look no further. Claire Splan has organized and scheduled all of your gardening duties into one book called California Month-by-Month Gardening: What to do Each Month to Have A Beautiful Garden All Year. Splan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alameda and is also the author of California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2012). “According to a 2013 survey of gardening trends conducted by the Garden Writer’s Association Foundation, it’s not money, weather or space that impacts our gardening activities,” Splan says. “It is available time.” Splan wants you to find your rhythm in your garden, making the time you spend in it a pleasure instead of a series of endless chores.
After a general introduction on soil, irrigation, tools, pests and seeds, the author begins the book in January and continues on throughout the year with thorough information on what to do in your garden. For instance, in May she writes, “May is usually the time when I’m starting to wish that I had planted more roses in my garden.” Me, too! May is usually the time when most California roses are beginning to bloom and we all start dreaming about how many more roses we want blooming next year. Splan warns to choose the right plant for the right place. Only plant roses if you have six hours of full sunlight in your garden—preferably morning sun. Other May duties include planting annuals for immediate color or sowing seeds such as bachelor’s buttons, calendula, cosmos, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, lupine and nasturtium. Tomatoes can be planted now as well, but check with your local nursery to see which varieties will thrive in your region. Also, add plenty of soil amendment to your dirt for healthy, thriving tomatoes. I like the compost at American Soil in San Rafael or compost by Pt. Reyes Compost Company, which you can find at most Sloat nurseries. This way, you’ll have better luck and no need for chemical pesticides later in the season. The May chapter also has useful information on aerating your lawn, saving seeds, growing herbs, dividing and repotting orchids, irrigation tips and general problem-solving. $24.99, Cool Springs Press.
Ask Annie how she’ll spend Mother’s Day at [email protected]