A friend recently gave me a gardening book – Old-Time Gardening Wisdom by Jerry Baker.  I remember Baker from public television years ago. His folksy advice drew a big following. He had tons of homemade concoctions that could work wonders in your garden.


Baker’s fall garden tonic is 1 bottle of beer, 1 bottle of soda pop, and 1 cup of ammonia per 20 gallons of water. Apply until the ground is saturated.

I have no idea what beer, soda pop and ammonia exactly do but Baker swore by his Grandma’s garden wisdom and her endless recipes for the good health of the garden. He wrote over seventy garden books and was known as America’s master gardener. His books are great to dip into for a little garden wisdom before falling asleep.

Baker’s book reminds me of the other garden writers who sit next to my bed – these many bits and pieces of garden lore have entertained me many evenings before slumber. Katherine S. White is one of those writers. In her book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, a collection of fourteen New Yorker essays that appeared in the magazine over twelve years are collected with an introduction by her husband, E. B. White. She puts out little gems like the word nasturtium means “nose twister” in Latin. Most of the book is dedicated to the writing in plantsman’s catalogues. It’s hard to believe that’s possible. In thinking about what we mean by nature she uses the words of Sir Kenneth Clark.

“We are surrounded with things which we have not made and which have a life and structure different from our own: trees, flowers, grasses, rivers, hills, clouds. For centuries they have inspired us with curiosity and awe. They have been objects of delight. We have recreated them in our imaginations to reflect our moods. And we have come to think of them as contributing to an idea which we have called nature.”

Another great garden read is Richardson Wright’s The Gardener’s Bed-Book, first published in 1929 and introduced again in 2003 as part of The Modern Library Gardening Series and edited by Michael Pollan. Wright is very witty but so is Pollan as you can see in his introduction.

“It took a woodchuck and a book to make me understand what’s really at stake in the garden. I’d come to gardening in the naive belief it offered a fairly benign way to kill an afternoon, a refuge from the wider world, but even before the end of my first season I’d been forcibly relieved of my innocence. First came the rodent. A series of increasingly desperate measures to run a hungry woodchuck out of my vegetable patch escalated into a personal Vietnam (with me in the role of General Westmoreland, fully prepared to destroy the garden in order to save it), which promptly exploded the whole “garden as refuge” concept. The spectacle of my own rodenticidal rage suggested that more was involved in gardening than tending a few tomatoes and prettifying my yard. It put one into a relationship with nature that was anything but innocent.”

Such good writing and such a compelling subject. I agree with Pollan, I read to garden and I garden to read.

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