What do former NBA player Will Allen, educational policy Ph.D. Ann Wasescha and oncology nurse Pat Williams have in common? They, along with twelve others profiled in Debra Landwehr Engle’s inspiring book Grace from the Garden, are changing lives through gardening.
Using language as rich as the gardens she describes, the author gives us a glimpse into the work and inspiration behind fifteen gardens that teach, nourish, unite, inspire and heal. From a memory garden designed to help Alzheimer’s caregivers reunite with their loved ones, to a juvenile detention center that uses gardening to help lost kids rebuild self esteem and learn practical skills, from a wetlands reclamation helmed by young students in the middle of a dessert to a lush family farm populated with food, family, livestock and art, you can’t help but be inspired by these giving gardeners and their stories.
For those who are inspired enough to learn and do more, she even provided a detailed resource list at the end of the book, including links to Will Allen’s Growing Power.
Golden Gate Gardening: Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California give an amazingly clear and comprehensive overview of the Bay Area’s many microclimates, including which types of fruits and vegetables thrive best in each one and what the best planting times are for each.
From there the author goes on to provide ample, accessible information on garden planning, seed/plant selection and acquisition, planting, watering, pest management and so much more. The real jewels in the crown of this book, however are the nearly 200 pages of detailed plant descriptions including recommendations about which grow best in which microclimate.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and want to grow fruits and vegetables, this book is a must-read. Especially if you, like me, have ever wanted to grow tomatoes in a garden 10 blocks from a foggy San Francisco beach. Try the variety Stupice. It grew and produced like a dream.
Tropical Organic Gardening: Hawaiian Style by Richard Stevens is a sweet little gem of a book. Weighing in at a super-light 83 pages including a bevy of drawings, it still had plenty of room for inspiration.
The bulk of the work focuses on ancient gardening techniques and includes an entire section of methods of taro farming which I found myself longing to try, if only Northern California had the right climate. Ironically, another section of the book discusses what the author considers the top ten most nutritious vegetables, most of which he was sad to say he couldn’t grow because they required much cooler and less humid conditions, which made it the perfect list of what to grow in my garden.
It’s true that most everything in there is pretty basic, and that the author, who’s from the mainland, may not be the most immediately or obviously credible source of old Hawaiian knowledge and lore (gardening or otherwise). Still, he brings a joy and reverence to his topic that both charms and enlightens. And the appendices include pages of sobering statistics, inspirational quotes, footnotes galore, a glossary of terms, and, most importantly, a list of references and resources including the University of Hawaii’s Tropical Agriculture program.
I can’t even remember where I heard about this one, but something about it (and the reviews it got) piqued my interest so I ordered it from the library. It had been sitting on the shelf for three weeks untouched while I worked on Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez but when I got the renewal email and realized that a) both books were on hold and so couldn’t be renewed, and b) there was no way I could adequately get through the one I was reading, I decided to spend the day with The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka.
At 181 pages, I figured it would be a quick, easy read. It was. But the ideas in the book were deceptive in their simplicity. The four precepts: no cultivation, no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals, seem like a fairy tale, but in his experience have led to the highest, most consistent grain production in his region.
The book reads almost like a series of Zen koans or the teachings of Buddha, every word about so much more than farming. The anticipated how-to on pest and weed avoidance was really a call to re-evalute your relationship with food, farming, the world and yourself — oddly similar to Dominguez’ approach to money management. Interesting to have borrowed them both on the same day.
This book was a gentle but powerful reminder of what I already intrinsically believe and where I am hoping to take my life but which has been buried in the side-effects of my current day-to-day.