Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Good Book

When I stopped by the local library today, I looked in the gardening section and found a book I’d never seen before, Gardening in the Humid South by Edmond O’Rourke Jr. and Leon Standifer. The book was published in 2002 by the University of Louisiana Press.

Although the opening lines of the first chapter made clear that this is not really a book for my yard, they made me want to read more:

“It seems to us that the popular gardening books begin by saying you should ‘choose a sunny spot with fertile, well-drained, loamy soil. If the organic matter level is less than 12 percent, add some compost.’

“Now, look in your backyard. There is no topsoil. The subsoil is almost white and has an organic matter content of about 0.5 percent, and it is packed so tightly that you can only dig it after a rain –but, being in the humid South, you can expect frequent rains. The gardening book may say that if your soil is not very good, you should add some leaf mold and some earthworms. Folks, get realistic. If you add leaf mold and earthworms to that soil, the worms will starve to death.”

I laughed out loud, then called my sister in Louisiana whose soil is just like the authors described. It turns out that the book doesn’t include a whole lot of information about food gardens, but it does have a chapter on fruit for such a yard, and the chapter on choosing the garden site and getting started is worth reading by almost anyone, especially since it is written in a way that emphasizes the disagreements of the authors, who are “crotchety old horticulture professors who retired several years ago.”

In Chapter 1, after some gentle bickering and an explanation of how to choose the garden site, Leon tells how to prepare a new garden. Then, Ed tells why Leon is wrong and what you should really do. Then, Leon gets in a rebuttal. It’s great.

I haven’t finished reading the book, but the chapters on more general garden topics (appropriate tools, fertilizers, and insects and diseases, for example) look as though they will apply to parts of the South that aren’t exactly like the sub-tropical Deep South that the book was written for.

As a bonus, the preface, which explains the scope and intention of the book, includes a passage I particularly enjoyed:

“Regardless of what you grow—annuals or perennials, ornamentals or vegetables—we think you should be able to walk through the garden and admire your work almost every day. This is recreational and relaxing; it is contemplative in that you can enjoy the wonders of growing plants. It is challenging in that you may see something abnormal and wonder what is happening. There may be the beginnings of insect damage or of a disease, or you may notice that some of the plants are wilting when others are not. These signs should not be cause for alarm or for a massive rescue effort; they are simply part of your hobby. Little things will go wrong, and you will have the time to plan on an approach for correction.”

My husband has a book on brewing beer that includes a briefer, but similar, idea that is expressed something like this: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” That laid-back attitude pervades O'Rourke's and Standifer's book.


  1. Ah, "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew".... my husband's mantra! We have that book too! I had to laugh when I read that book title, I didn't even think of the garden, my thoughts immediately went to a picture of the humid GARDENER, lol, soaked with sweat, skeeter bites.... :)

  2. Erin, According to the authors, that "humid gardener" that your brain pictured shows (at least) one of the three Ps of gardening: Patience, Persistence, and Perspiration!


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