Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review: From the Ground Up

Last month, I happened upon Arlington Library's big book sale. I checked out the gardening section (there were perplexing fewer people there) and snatched up Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire and Amy Stewart's From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden. I had to get the former based on everything I've heard about In Defense of Food and The Omnivores Dilemma, but I felt compelled to get the latter because of it's title. You may notice that the subhead to this blog is "gardening & cooking from the ground up" (once I get some produce, we'll talk about the "cooking" part). I thought myself quite clever coming up with that line. Apparently, I was not alone.

Anyways, I get home with my scores (for a total of $3 no less!) and put them on a table, to be forgotten until today. It's quite summery outside in the DC area now. I did all my garden "chores" Saturday & Sunday so that I would be free to do whatever I felt like today, Memorial Day, a coveted day off. And, as it so happened, I felt like reading. I picked up Amy Stewart's book and headed over to Meadowlark Gardens to sit on a bench or in a rocking chair and read outside among the flowers (we're members so it was free. Additionally, we don't have comfortable chairs to sit outside). I then realize that I have been reading Amy Stewart for months now on the Garden Rant blog! It's very funny how the stars align sometimes...

From the Ground Up
is a quick, fun, and informative read. Amy Stewart describes all of her triumphs and mistakes, unapologetically, in her first garden year. Like Amy, I grew up in the South (she is from Texas, I'm from Florida) and gardens weren't really prized. Lawns ruled supreme. Sure, people did have plants & trees in their yard, but they were solely there to accent the lawn. Save my grandfather's terraced garden (which I only remember existing when I was very small. Later it became more lawn) and one summer of gardening by my mother, I don't remember anyone having "gardens." And, I didn't really think of gardening until I was older, like Amy as well. When we started looking at homes to buy last year, a space where I could plant something was put on the "Must Have" list. Also, like Amy, I had little gardening daydreams about me pulling a few weeds, picking handfuls of flowers & tomatoes, and waving at my husband inside as he worked on his computer inside (all while wearing a floppy, wide-brimmed straw hat, pink gardening clogs and purple gloves no less.).

And, like Amy, I learned that gardening is both more work and more satisfying than my daydream. In each chapter, Amy discusses a particular garden story. Whether it's cats, dirt, planning, or tomatoes, she's got a wonderful story to tell that, if you're a first time gardener, you can identify with. Promise. Additionally, at the end of each chapter Amy gives some solid gardening advice, from how to prune roses to what plants to grow to attract beneficial insects to a recipe for a gardener's bath.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book:

{When talking about her father practicing his guitar & the face he got when he made a mistake, even though *she* couldn't hear it}: "It didn't occur to me that the same might be true of gardening, that gardening, like music, could demand practice, patience, a willingness to make mistakes."

{I think this point is incredibly true}: "There is an old saying that if you have a dollar and a garden, spend ninety cents on the soil and ten cents on the plants, but I hadn't heard that saying yet. I wasn't interested in dirt. I was interested in plants- big, flowering, vigorous plants- and I wanted them now."

{And, finally}: " simple gardening looked. So easy. So obvious. Pull the weeds, turn the earth, mark a straight line, and drop some seeds in. Water. Wait......What could be easier? What, really, is all the fuss about?"

I feel as though Amy has written the book about my first garden. Which is probably a good thing because she is much better at the story telling!

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