Category Archives: Books

The (Nearly) Weed-Free Garden – Podcast #30

Here’s a picture of Lee Reich’s garden:


Either he knows a lot about gardening, or he’s a whiz at Photoshop. I’m betting on the first, which is why I interviewed him for this week’s podcast, The Weed-Free Garden.

Lee has a four-part system for beating the weeds:

  •    – Don’t disturb the soil. (prevents buried weed seeds from surfacing and germinating.)
  •    – Set up permanent beds and paths. (so you won’t have to till to aerate the soil.)
  •    – Keep the soil covered at all times. (so weeds can’t get established.)
  •    – Use drip irrigation where irrigation is needed. (prevents disease in a densely planted bed, saves water, and puts the water where it’s needed: in the root zone.) Continue reading

A hefty discount, but whoa, Nelly! A weighty shipping fee

So, er, remember the fine offer I told you all about a few weeks back? You know, the publisher's generous
40% discount off that new Black Dog alternative gardening book
Growing Stuff? Well, um, it turned out that there was a slight
hitch to that offer: a shipping fee that in some cases completely
wipes out the discount.

I was alerted to this by my friend Feed Store Girl, who sent me her invoice, with all the gory details:

Book price:     24.95

with discount  14.97   So far, so good.But then comes the kicker:

Shipping         14.81

TOTAL:           29.78

Now, wait up a minute there! This is not book rate as I remembered it.

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Discount offer (& book review) for Growing Stuff

Blogging, like beauty, is of course its own excuse for being. However, perks are always appreciated, and surely one of the best that comes with blogging is free books. Case in point:  Asked if I would link to information about a new gardening book, I entered a counter-request: could I review it first? A week later, it was in my hands. Thank you, Jessica.

Even better, she has made an extraordinarily generous offer to all of you out there:

Quote the Manic Gardener review in an e-mail to, and get 40% off on this book!

Growing Stuff cover If most gardening books leave you feeling utterly overwhelmed, try Growing Stuff, put out by Black Dog Publishing. It truly deserves its subtitle, An Alternative Guide to Growing, because where most books assume that you have money, space, and time, this one does not. You might guess that this book takes an unusual tack since the foreword was written by Guerilla Gardening guru Richard Reynolds, but even if you don’t, you’d figure it out as soon as you leaf through a few pages.

Open most gardening books at random, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a chapter. Open this one, and you’ll almost always find a two-page spread devoted to a single topic, plant, or project. (One or two topics are given more space, while a few get less.) Illustrated with enticing photographs, drawings, and the occasional recipe (including a couple for herbal hair rinses), these short articles all emphasize accessible projects and inexpensive tools and methods.

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Nitrogen Deficit: Thomas Hager’s “Alchemy of Air”

In flight

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I know it’s the norm to finish a book before reviewing it, but I couldn’t wait that long. Thomas Hager’s Alchemy of Air, about the development and effects of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, is such a terrific read that I’m having a hard time getting anything else done.

Since I’m only half-way through, this won’t be a real review, but more of a travel essay, telling where I am and where I’ve been, and what the landscape is like.

First of all, it’s a lot more interesting than you might expect simply from the topic. This isn’t a polemic; it’s a historical narrative, and Hager’s a master of the form. He gives us the people, the problems they faced, and the world in which they lived, so that we get a richer understanding of what they did, why, and its consequences, than any dry recital of facts could convey.

He starts with the problem, as articulated in the late 19th century: the world’s population was growing at an ever-increasing rate, outstripping the ability of farmers to feed it. Fertilizers, therefore, were increasingly important and valuable, but the known sources were either inadequate (manure) or were being rapidly depleted (Chilean nitrates).

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“Bold and Beautiful” is Right: James Alexander-Sinclair’s Flower Book

A Bit of Background: The book I'm reviewing here is the one I won in the Garden Monkey's horticultural limerick contest last summer. Good enough. The twist (of course there's a twist) was that my limericks roundly abused, and soundly accused, one James Alexander-Sinclair, the author of the book. It was the last shot in the Sock Wars; after winning the contest, I raised a white flag, James sent off the book, and peace has reigned since.

Gardeners’ World Magazine
101 Bold and Beautiful Flowers: Ideas for Year-Round Color
–James Alexander-Sinclair
BBCBooks, 2008

Reading James Alexander-Sinclair’s 101 Bold and Beautiful Flowers is a bit like being spun about a dance floor by an expert, flirtatious partner: it leaves you startled, breathless, and laughing. The images, both visual and verbal, come at you so fast and furious you almost expect to trip up, but no, it all works, you go sailing along at an unbelievable clip, astonished at the felicity and skill that makes it possible.

The only thing seriously wrong with the book is that it confronts the gardener with far too many wonderful flowers to plant, and the reviewer with far too many marvellous passages to cite. The gardener’s problem more or less solves itself, for within the intersection of particular categories of color, height, hardiness, or shade-tolerance, only a few of the many lovely blooms presented will fit the bill. The reviewer faces a more difficult task.

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