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The Sunset Western Gardening Book/The New Western Gardening Book, 9th Edition

by The Editors of Sunset Magazine, 2012

Review by Ann Clary

One of the few "must haves" for California and Western gardeners. The combination of the breadth of plants covered and the information regarding where these plants can be grown successfully in the Western United States make The Sunset Western Gardening Book unmatched. The most recent 9th edition contains small sections with general gardening information, such as how to grow ornamental grasses, and plants for particular uses, such as plants that make good hedges. But the reason to buy this book is the 500-plus-page plant encyclopedia. It includes genus, common name, and "Sunset Zones" where each plant grows, along with a short description, very brief cultural and watering needs, and limited varietal recommendations. The information included isn’t enough to ensure success with any plant, but it is enough information to be able to select which plants are likely to grow well in your garden. Five carrots.

Teaming With Microbes, Revised Edition

by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis, 2010

Review by Ann Clary

This small but eye-opening book is one of my two most-recommended "must reads" for California—or any other—gardeners. It instructs gardeners on how to create sustainable, healthy gardens without pesticides or fertilizers and offers a good balance of science and readability. The first part explains the science of the soil, while the second part applies science to residential garden care, including the use of compost, compost tea, and mulch. Parts of the book, especially the earlier ones dealing with the science of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes, are slow going and I found myself needing to reread certain sections to fully understand, but the information in the book is worth the effort it may require for nontechnical gardeners. It will change the way you garden. If you have already read it, buy another one and give it to a friend. Five carrots.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Michael Pollan, 2007

Review by Ann Clary

Pollan begins by asking: "What should we have for dinner?" and proceeds to take on big industrial agriculture (you may never eat store-bought corn products again!) and large-scale organic agriculture, then examines the practicality of growing and finding most or all of our food ourselves. In doing so, he examines the political, economic, and moral implications of our food system through topics ranging from the fertilizer needs of hybrid corn to the consequences of using synthetic nitrogen, consuming high fructose corn syrup, using fossil fuels to transport the corn, eating food produced with pesticides, and giving drugs to cattle—well, you get the idea. If you need motivation to grow some (or most) of your own food, here it is. Going to the grocery store will never be the same. One of the best books in the last ten years. Five carrots.

Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes From the World’s Healthiest Cuisine

by Martha Rose Shulman, 2007

Review by Ann Clary

So now that you have harvested a basketful of vegetables, what are you going to do with them? Open up your copy of Mediterranean Harvest. Ms. Shulman’s book tells us how to cook the fresh, seasonal vegetables from your garden, and draws on the cooking traditions of the Mediterranean, such as France, Italy, Spain and Greece, for her inspirations. Not only are there recipes for using vegetables as stand-alone ingredients, but there are chapters on using vegetables in soups, pastas, eggs, gratins, beans, and rice. Mediterranean Harvest is one of the very best books about cooking fresh vegetables both in terms of its breadth of coverage and quality of information. I have found the instructions to be clear and the recipes to be reliable. I particularly like the chapter on pasta. Try the pasta with uncooked tomatoes, basil, capers, olives, and feta. It’s wonderful! Five carrots.

Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition

by Jeff Lowenfels, 2013

Review by Ann Clary

Those of us—including me—who thought that Jeff Lowenfels couldn’t write another book that could compare with his first were wrong. My highly recommended second "must read" for gardeners explains how plants absorb nutrients and what to feed them. Those who don’t remember much biology and chemistry from high school or college may find the first part of the book slow going and, just as when reading Teaming with Microbes, may be forced to reread sections; but the information here is too important to miss. The chapters are well-structured and contain excellent diagrams, pictures, and charts. My favorite chapters discuss environmental factors influencing nutrient availability and the relative merits of different organic and biofertilizers. An ideal companion to Teaming With Microbes. Not to be missed. Five carrots.

Botany for Gardeners, 3rd Edition

by Brian Capon, 2010

Review by Ann Clary

Brian Capon was motivated to write this book as a result of teaching a general botany class for non-science majors in the California State University system and the resulting book selects botanical science topics that are helpful for home gardeners. Unlike Teaming With Microbes or Teaming With Nutrients, it stays with the science of botany and does not generally apply that science to the home garden. It is an ideal follow up to the two Teaming books for those who want to understand a bit more about the science of botany, and don’t feel the need for a book that delves into applications. The explanations are generally well done, and it contains good pictures and diagrams. Four carrots.

California Master Gardener Handbook, 2nd Edition

Edited by Dennis R. Pittenger, 2015

Review by Ann Clary

The California Master Gardener Handbook is a comprehensive, science-based reference book on horticulture and other related topics written for participants in the California Master Gardener program during and after completing their local training program, but it is also a valuable reference for the serious home gardener. This newly revised second edition is similar in structure to the first edition: the first portion focuses on general horticulture topics and most of the remaining portion covers care and issues related to individual crops. The chapter on water management has been revised and expanded from the first edition. I have always liked the chapter on home vegetable gardening and the problem diagnoses charts for individual vegetables and this second edition does not disappoint. On my wish list of chapters not included: growing California natives.

It is not an "idea" book and it is certainly not a "picture" book. Serious home gardeners willing to tackle this more advanced material will be highly rewarded. Highly recommended. Five carrots.

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