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Tending Your Garden

Kip reviews Tending Your Garden by Gordon and Mary Hayward

Experienced, competent gardeners may feel they have little need to read Tending Your Garden because the information it contains consists of everything they should already know. In fact, unless the gardener him- or herself is attentive to the smallest details and takes great pains to establish order in his or her own garden space, reading this book may be an occasion for deep shame. The Haywards are, in a word, tidy. For the novice gardener, however, the prospects are much different: I cannot think of another book that provides gardening tips, techniques and time-savers so exhaustively or in such a user-friendly manner.

The excellent photography of Richard Brown gives the reader glimpses of a landscape to die for, and the text offers step-by-step instructions on how such an array of garden rooms can be created — a green space any gardener would be tempted to live for. Though one might argue that the book is about tending their garden, the advice (and philosophy) presented is universally applicable to typical problems and possibilities faced by anyone attempting to enhance or maintain a home landscape. Topics covered include pruning, proper planting techniques, managing perennial beds, dividing plants, paving garden paths and mending stone walls. Of course, some of these topics deserve (and have been covered in) entire books, but there is more than enough here to fill the plate of a newcomer to the world of Green Art.

Thinking about the garden in winter is analogous to planning a family trip; spring is about getting to the destination and sharing those wonderful moments of arrival. Summer is about all the experiences your family enjoys while there, and fall is coming home.

This analogy gets right to the heart of gardening. Maintenance and all the work it involves renews us, yet somehow wears us out. Of course it's work; of course it demands exertion and effort and time. But if you carry out every act of garden maintenance mindfully, with care and thought about the moment at hand, deep satisfaction results.

This excerpt is a fair representation of the tone pervading the entire book. It reflects the fundamental philosophy from which all the sound practical advice arises and toward which the diligent execution of this advice may well lead.

Of particular interest to me was the authors' discussion of invasive species and the methods employed to banish them from the garden. I too have battled hay-scented fern (not to mention ground ivy). But even more interesting was their attitude toward plants that simply do not justify their existence in the valuable space they occupy. If the offending plant can be put to better use somewhere else, then that's just fine; but if it is found to be altogether undesirable, then it should be removed and destroyed, with no regrets. In my opinion, far too many experienced gardeners are far too sentimental about their plants, often to the detriment of an otherwise pretty fair landscape.

It may not quite be the Bible of home gardening, but Tending Your Garden is certainly a venerable addition to the how-to canon. Perhaps I like the book because so many of the conclusions the Haywards came to are ones I have reached myself.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007