I have a relatively small gardening library at home. Gardening books abound, and I've done my share of exploring and craving of them primarily through my local library. While I find the books full of great photographs, poems, and clever sayings delightful, there are only a handful I have found to be truly useful. These are the books that are pulled from the shelf year-round to answer a question, refresh the memory, and end up with dirty pages. Whether deciding on seeds for the new year, trying to remember what the larvae of the potato beetle look like, or how to know when the squash is ready these are the companions I rely on.
Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
by Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara Ellis, Rodale Press, 1992.
A gift from my mother-in-law years ago, this is the book that launched my first garden (along with some help and advice from Uncle Bob), and that I pored over while sitting next to the beds. Alphabetical listings of not only plants (a handy list of common and Latin names in the back), but of techniques, concepts, and diagrams for cold frames and compost bins saw me through the first planting, tending, and harvesting. While some of the information doesn't jibe with other things I've learned since that first garden (purple loosestrife as an ornamental plant versus as a nasty invasive), it is still an "indispensable resource" whether one is experienced or a complete novice.
Great Garden Companions: A Contemporary Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden
by Sally Jean Cunningham, Rodale Press Inc., 1998.
A random search through my library's catalog introduced me to this book about three years ago. Cunningham presents a fascinating way of looking at and organizing the garden. An advocate of organic gardening, she also offers companion planting - combining herbs and flowers with vegetables in order to attract beneficial insects and repel pests - as an additional tool for a healthy, productive garden. Vegetables, herbs, and flowers are broken into families that can be rotated about the garden from year to year. Diagrams and drawings illustrate somewhat unconventional planting methods - there aren't many rows here - as well as photographs documenting her own inspirational garden. Great Garden Companions also offers suggestions for tool holders, a seasonal to-do list, plans for building raised beds, sketches and descriptions of beneficials as well as pests along with the plants that attract and ward them off. When I finally purchased the book (after realizing how much my library fines were and how often I was checking it out), it had been revised to also include use of perennials, trees, and shrubs. Certainly, this book has led me to some of the most beautiful gardens I've ever had, and made garden into an intellectual challenge as well as a physical one.
Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!
by Patricia Lanza, Rodale Press, Inc., 1998.
This is the book that began my personal gardening revolution. An aunt shared this with me early in my gardening career. My husband and I had just finished expanding our little garden with some back-breaking sod removal, and we were bemoaning this fact over dinner one night. Aunt Mary began telling us about a friend of hers who had used a version of lasagna gardening to relandscape her front yard. We were a little skeptical (Sorry, Mary), but I borrowed the book at her urging. It sounded logical - a thick layer of newspapers for a weed barrier, then layers of composted manure, leaves, straw repeated until you get to a height you like and top it off with wood ash - and more fun than digging out sod. That fall we did two new beds, and in the spring I found some of the best, most beautiful soil I have ever seen. And my vegetables sprang forth in biblical abundance. We've never looked back.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 9th Edition
by Carla Emery, Sasquatch Books, 2003.
A gift from a friend who got tired of me asking her to remind me of its name whenever she shared some piece of great information about gardening (and chickens), this book spends a great deal of time at our side. The gardening section offers good suggestions for cold frames, recipes for the vegetables harvested, as well as storage tips for the winter. I'm still working my way through this one, but it is another excellent companion for working in the garden and around the yard. And even though my yard will most likely never include cows or a butchering block, we certainly feel prepared in the event either of these things come our way.