Books for the gardener on your list


Some books on Barbara Damrosch’s list. (Barbara Damrosch)
December 11, 2013

The coziest holiday gifts are items from your own garden, grown with care, skillfully preserved in jars, bottles or baskets, charmingly wrapped in gingham cloth and, well, you get the picture. Didn’t have time to do that this year? Neither did I.

So let’s start over. For anyone on your list who likes to garden, cook or simply eat well, here’s a shopping bag of books, easy to pick up or order through your local bookstore.

Because plant science is where good gardening begins, how about “Practical Botany for Gardeners” by Geoff Hodge? There’s now an American edition of this basic British guide, recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

Even if someone already has a good book on seed saving, he or she also needs the “Manual of Seed Saving” by Andrea Heistinger, from Timber Press. Well illustrated and thorough, it demystifies an important and satisfying practice that is attracting many converts.

Not festive enough? Toast a gardening friend, or any drinking friend, really, by giving “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart (Algonquin), wrapped in a brown paper bag along with a bottle of good rum. Though it does teach you how to make a bison grass cocktail, the book has more fascinating lore than recipes, assembled with the same wit you’ll find in Stewart’s blog entries on Gardenrant.com. Then double the fun with Judith Glover’s “Drink Your Own Garden: A Homebrew Guide Using Your Garden Ingredients” (Batsford). The gorgeously designed book is an update of a 1979 classic.

In food books, there’s a healthy trend toward using wholesome ingredients — if not from the garden, then at least from local farms — and employing traditional methods. Four stood out for me in this year’s crop. First is one I’ve heralded in this column before: Jo Robinson’s “ Eating on the Wild Side: Th e Missing Link to Optimum Health” (Little, Brown), a guide to choosing the most nutritious foods, even down to specific vegetable and fruit varieties.

Michael Pollan’s “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” (Penguin), like everything Pollan writes, is an absorbing and enlightening quest for knowledge about food. This time he takes to the kitchen, apprenticing himself to a series of master cooks. And one of those masters is Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the next book on my list, “The Art of Fermentation” (Chelsea Green), for which Pollan wrote the foreword.

Katz is the fermentation god at our farm. Everywhere, concoctions wrought by our apprentices bubble, ooze, rise and ferment in countless ways, as these young adventurers follow in his footsteps — with great results.

Finally, there’s “The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making” (Clarkson Potter) by Alana Chernila, a very personal book written by a down-to-earth cook with a delicious sense of humor.

One more: I was given a copy of “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” a book I might have imagined too sentimental or cute to buy, but Marta McDowell’s story of Potter, a roly-poly farmer-writer-painter, drew me in. The photo of her as a solemn girl of 19, holding her pet dormouse, is alone worth the price.

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

Tip of the week

Christmas cactus may drop blooms if stressed by radical shifts in light or watering regimes, though this isn’t a sign that the plant is dying. Keep plants in a bright room but away from direct sunlight. As with poinsettias and cyclamen, the blooms will last longer in a room that is kept on the cool side. In flower, keep the soil moist but not wet — the pot must drain. After blooming allow the plant to rest by cutting back watering.

— Adrian Higgins

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