Book reviews — Gardening with nature

These book reviews were published by Ladies’ Home Journal’s website, For more on topics like this, see my book, American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle....

The Medicine Wheel Garden: Creating Sacred Space for Healing, Celebration, and Tranquility (Bantam, 2002)
By E. Barrie Kavasch
Put the sacred to work in your yard with ethnobotanist E. Barrie Kavasch’s directions for planting an herb garden that’s based on ancient circular stone arrays — also called medicine wheels — found throughout North America, as well as in other parts of the world. For more than a decade, Kavasch, who has Cherokee, Creek and Powhatan ancestry, has visited these installations and created Native American-inspired gardens based on their designs. In this book, she offers fascinating history, as well as comprehensive information on choosing, planting and tending herbs in beds ranging from a few feet in diameter to as large as you’d like to handle. You’ll learn how to make everything from smoothies and teas to soaps and scrubs; you may also discover that your medicine-wheel plot makes a perfect meditation garden. 

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans (Beacon Press, 2006)
By Patricia Klindienst
After reading the elegiac garden writings of Italian immigrant Bartolomeo Vanzetti — penned just before his 1927 execution for a crime he did not commit — Patricia Klindienst was inspired to travel across the continent and visit the gardens of others who live outside the mainstream, may be subject to inequitable treatment and yet are part of the making of this country. In the plots of Native, Hispanic, African, Japanese, Polish, Italian and Khmer Americans, she observed that gardening produces healing: “the power to restore and renew an ethnic heritage … nearly lost to assimilation.” In the book’s last chapter, a descendant of early English settlers in Connecticut cultivates Indian corn and returns it to the tribes his ancestors decimated. Klindienst demonstrates in garden after garden that Americans of disparate backgrounds are devoted to this land — this nation — and proves definitively that E Pluribus Unum is as much about the many as the one. “In their gardens,” Klindienst concludes, “they are home.” 

The Elements of Organic Gardening (Kales Press, 2007)
By H.R.H. The Prince of Wales with Stephanie Donaldson 
The landscape at Highgrove, the family home of Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, has to be the most glamorous organic garden on the planet. Written to encourage more people to work the land organically, this book spells out natural methods that work not just at Highgrove (and in two of the Prince’s smaller gardens) but also in yards like yours and mine. The gorgeous photographs emphasize the human scale of Highgrove, which Prince Charles manages as a sustainable landscape that offers food and flowers as well as spots for reflection. It’s not all double-digging and earnestness, though. He also writes movingly of the joys of living in tune with nature. In his view, we should all realize that caring for the earth — our collective home — is both a pleasure and a responsibility. 

Wildlife at Your Back Door: How to Create a Haven for Nature’s Friends (Reader’s Digest, 2005)
By Sharon Amos
Planning a wildlife-friendly garden starts with an attitude adjustment, according to the author of this easy-to-understand book. Instead of worrying about your plot’s appearance — and using harsh chemicals to maintain it — consider what sort of food and shelter you’re supplying nature’s visitors, advises Sharon Amos. Will planting a tree provide places for birds to nest? Do you have varied flowers that offer nectar and pollen to many types of beneficial insects? The creatures you welcome will, in return, pollinate the plants, consume pests and make your patch a beautiful spot for you to enjoy. Most important, the wildlife will weave your land into the complex fabric of the natural world beyond your garden. Plant lists and how-to sections (composting, building a water feature and more) include ideas for plots that range in size from a few containers to a large yard. You may want to pair this volume with one of Reader’s Digest’s gardening guides: either the Beginner’s Guide to Gardening (2005) or the encyclopedic New Illustrated Guide to Gardening (2000). 

How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, 7th Edition (Ten Speed Press, 2006)
By John Jeavons
This latest edition of John Jeavons’ sustainable-gardening classic is a must for serious food producers. The volume explains in great detail how to use carefully prepared, densely planted raised beds to generate yields that are many times greater than those of conventional agriculture — all while improving, rather than depleting, the soil. This “biointensive” style of gardening uses relatively little water and fertilizer and is suitable for plots as small as 100 square feet. The choice to go biointensive is an ethical as well as a practical one, says Jeavons, a world-famous horticulturist and gardening teacher: “We can choose to sustain ourselves while increasing the planet’s vitality. In the bargain we preserve resources, breathe cleaner air, enjoy good exercise, and eat pure food.” 

The Fragrance of God (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006)
By Vigen Guroian
In this elegant little book, Vigen Guroian draws a parallel between breathing in the perfume of a flower and drawing the divine spirit into the self. “Our senses are important stepping stones on the path to God and Paradise,” he writes. For Guroian, a professor of theology and ethics at Loyola University, in Baltimore, Maryland, cultivating his garden leads to explorations of his faith and his beliefs about humanity’s place in the natural world. At one point, he likens disregard for the earth — a stance he feels is emblematic of our materialistic age — to original sin: “Our abuse of the Creation is the continuance of this original sin, this selfish consumption of those things the Lord has declared good and beautiful.” Guroian’s beautifully crafted, personable language led this reader to guess that his garden is both neatly tended and burgeoning with beauty and life.  

Text and photographs c. Stephanie Woodard.

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