Summer Reading for Gardeners (Part 1)

I am going to offer up my two cents worth re: What to read this summer. And please remember, my advice is worth exactly what you paid for it. The following titles have piqued my curiosity and held my attention the last couple of weeks and the stack is getting taller, not shorter (and Amazon thanks me for it).

Defiant Gardens by Kenneth Helphand, professor of Garden History at the University of Oregon. Oh my. A testament to man’s affinity for working the soil and love of growing things. I have just finished the introduction and first chapter and if I never read another page, I can confidently say the book should be required reading of any and all gardeners. Period. The first chapter, about the devastation of Europe during the Great War (WWI), was incredibly painful to read. At the same time, the photographs of the intricate twig facades and ‘streets’ created in the trenches of the Western Front left me marveling at the soldiers’ ability to create beauty and comfort out of sheer chaos and dire conditions. Check out the intricate botanical carvings on ammunition shell casings. Upcoming chapters deal with the concentration camps of WWII and the Japanese internment camps of Idaho and California. This book makes me just want to hang my head and weep…..and keep gardening in memoriam to the gardeners before me.
I would give anything to take the three semester class on Garden History taught by Professor Helphand at the U of O.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Michael Michael Michael. A very gifted writer and researcher. I LOVED Botany of Desire and this book is a profound encore. Guaranteed to put you off your feed and to make you want to snap up a couple hundred acres to try your hand at sustainable living. (Funny, I recall being a part of a life like that in Latah, Washington when I was just a wee lass.)

I knew a little something about how feedlot cattle are fed, but man, after reading this, I will never look at another piece of beef in quite the same light as before. Yikes. We are the Children of the Corn and for lots of reasons. And then, get to the part about the pigtails. And monocultures. And Joel Salatin’s farm in Virginia. There is so much information in this book I have turned down about every other page corner, marked it up with a yellow highlighter, underlined in ink a gazillion passages. One thought keeps coming back to me: it seems as though we took the World War II industrial war machine and pointed it back at our own society. What on earth are we thinking? Oh, that’s the point, most of us aren’t.
Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabhan. Nabhan is an ethno-botanist, environmental activist and proponent of eating close to home. Written prior to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Nabhan spent a year eating food that was produced close to home. Most of what we eat is transported an average of 1500 miles to our table and transported with fossil fuel. Moral of this story, grow something to eat and shop the farmers’ market, ask the supermarket to bring in produce from local growers.

More tomorrow…….