Book Reviews – March 2003

By Tami Schlies

Organic Gardening in Cold Climates by Sandra Perrin

This sounded like a promising book when I picked it up, but I was a little disappointed at the simplicity of the subject matter.  She covered the basics, but there was nothing new for me in it.  I had hoped for an explanation of how best to make the organic methods work in our cold, short season, since we have such a limited time period for microorganisms to render organic material useable by plants.

Only 9 pages in this 142 page book are specifically about organic fertilizers or pest controls.  Instead, the author took the reader step by step through the process of gardening in general, from starting seeds to preparing your soil to hardening off.  The entire second half of the book is a listing of vegetables with descriptions and hints on how to serve them.  You get a much better deal for your money buying the A.C.E. publication 16 Easy Steps to Gardening for $4.


Sunset’s Western Garden Book.


I was a little leary at first that such a book could truly address our unique Alaskan climate, but I am thoroughly pleased with the results.  They have devised a new climate zone map, Alaska included, in detailed enough scale to actually be of use.  They even included a microclimate map of the Anchorage and Mat-Su valley area!

The Guide to Plant Selection was an interesting feature if you are unsure of what you might need in your yard.  Perennials with showy flowers, colored foliage plants, garden trees, plants for rock gardens, and even plants for windy areas are a few of the categories offered.  Full color photos on these pages do not cover every plant listed, but do offer a large variety for viewing.

The Plant Encyclopedia is amazing, with over 8,000 entries detailing each species and various cultivars, which zones they are known to grow in, and their needs.  They are indexed at the back of the book by both botanical and common name.

Finally, the Practical Guide to Gardening at the end of the book presents a whole list of gardening topics in alphabetical order, from biennials to grafting and pruning to weeds.  Once again, full color photographs and well written text make this a useful resource to any gardener, beginner or advanced.  Each section of the book is easily accessed by color coding along the page edges.


American Horticultural Society Pests and Diseases.

While this book is not the type most people curl up to read on a cold winter’s night, I found it to be another worthwhile resource for any garden.  You can research any problem by either plant or by symptom.  Each section is color coded along the page edge for easy use.  The pages on Individual Plant Problems are separated into sections like “Garden Trees” or “Bulbs”, and then alphabetically listed by common name and the name of the problem.

The Gallery of Symptoms allows you to look at general problems with a particular part of the plant, such as leaves, stems, or fruits.  Full color photographs accompany each symptom or pest, as well as a listing of types of plants affected and the season of affect.  A short description follows with the page number for a full description and the recommended treatment.

Here is an exerpt from the book on a problem I believe we have seen in several orchards around Anchorage, including during the pruning at Dwight Bradley’s orchard.  The photograph in the book looks exactly as the orange fungus on those trees:


Coral Spot

Symptoms Bright, coral to orange raised pustules appear on dead or dying stems … Many different plants may be affected, but currants (Ribes), Elaeagnus, magnolias, and maples (Acer) are very susceptible.  Dieback occurs, and if the infection spreads down into the crown, the whole plant may be killed.

Cause The fungus Nectria cinnabarina.  Spores are produced all year, and water, either as rain or as irrigation splash, is the main method of dispersal.  The fungus enters the plant through a wound or colonizes a dead snag left by physical injury or poor pruning.

Control Prune out all dead or dying stems promptly, cutting well back into sound, healthy wood.  Discard wood bearing the pustules.  Dispose of the garden debris that may be harboring the disease.”


The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith

This was another basic gardening book I read this year.  The author gardens in Vermont, apparently a cold and uninviting climate for gardening, though I have never been there myself.  He espouses what he terms W.O.R.D.: Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, and Deep soil.  I approve of all of these theories, though I do wonder about the need to double dig here in Alaska, when most plant roots don’t go too deep into the cold soils anyway

Although the author does not necessarily present a lot of new or innovative ideas to experienced gardeners, his writing is very complete and his suggestions more practical than many other basic gardening books I have read.  His organic methods were insightful, including compost methods and companion planting.  Vast numbers of pictures of his own 1500 square foot garden help the reader more fully understand the text – even the photo captions are informative all on their own.  The listing of vegetables at the end of the book were pretty basic, but even they presnted some useful hints on growing.

The author’s sense of humor shines through in the writing, making this a fun book.  I would recommend this book to any gardener looking for a good read.