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review 2017-02-17 07:15
The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

Yep.  Earthworms.  Unsung heroes.


Amy Stewart has become one of the few authors I'd wait in line for a signature for - have I mentioned that before?  She makes a great spokesperson for these unfairly maligned little earth movers.  In a chatty but informative style she covers the earthworms' role in history, agriculture, backyard gardening, forestry and even sewage treatment and soil reclamation.


Did you know that Australia has an earthworm that grows over 3 feet long, and when it moves around under the earth, farmers can hear a gurgling sound?  They're native to a farming area called Gippsland, here in Victoria, so of course I want to go and stand in the middle of a pasture like an idiot in hopes of hearing them gurgle along beneath me, while trying not to think of the movie Tremors.


There's no denying this is not a book for everyone.  But gardeners, environmentalists, and armchair scientists will all find something interesting and fascinating here.

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review 2017-02-06 05:21
From the Ground Up
From the Ground Up: The Story of A First Garden - Amy Stewart

There are not many authors out there about whom I can say I enjoy everything they write.  Amy Stewart is one of them.  She first came to my attention via Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.  It was pretty interesting; enough so that I bought Wicked Bugs which left me with a few mental images I'm never going to be able to un-see, but it was worth it.  Then came The Drunken Botanist which I recommend to both gardeners and drinkers.


By this time I qualified as a fan, but when she came out with her first work of fiction: Girl Waits with Gun, I was hesitant.  I like to box my authors in - fiction or non-fiction - and tend to assume (wrongly, I know) that I'll enjoy one or the other, but not both.  But I loved Girl Waits with Gun and at this point, I figured she could write no wrong, so I searched out pretty much everything she wrote and ordered it.


From the Ground Up is one of her earlier works, (2001) and it's a pleasant little tome; a memoir of her first garden.  New to gardening and with a small back yard of bare, packed, clay, she decides to jump in with both feet and build a garden.  From the Ground Up is a chronicle of that first year.


This is truly a memoir for gardeners; nothing more or less.  She isn't trying to entertain her reader, or search out a greater meaning, or instruct fellow garden newbies (although each chapter ends with a small 1-2 page section of suggestions pertaining to that chapter's subject).  It's a pleasant read and the joy of it is in relating to her experiences with starting a garden from scratch; the impatience that bypasses rational thought and planning, and the angst over first experiences with garden pests.  Later chapters turn a shade more philosophical, which is perfectly fitting as a garden winds down for the winter.


If you'd call yourself a gardener - let's say a laid back gardener (competitive gardeners would find this book tedious) - and you see this book, it's worth taking a look.  Stewart is a wonderful writer and she captures that first year garden perfectly.

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review 2017-01-10 09:58
What a Plant Knows
What A Plant Knows: a field guide to the senses - Daniel Chamovitz

If you're a gardener with a scientific bent, or a fan of science with a botanic bent, this is a great book.


Chamovitz breaks down the current science of botany and makes it interesting and comprehensible to the average armchair enthusiast by using our own senses as a basis for what a plant...knows.  Do plants 'see'?  Do plants 'feel'?  So plants have a sense of 'smell'?  The answers might surprise a few people.  The author is very clear that these comparisons are very loose and plants are not, of course, thinking or sentient.  But as a starting point for understanding how plants do thrive and survive, our senses make for an excellent starting point.


This is a fast read; I was able to complete it in one day, and there was nothing dense about the writing or the research.  Chamovitz provides suggestions for links in the footnotes, a very thorough Notes section and an excellent index.  There wasn't a wealth of practical knowledge (although I do now know how to force short-day plants to bloom at will), but all of it was interesting and I learned a lot.


Highly recommended for the greenies.  ;-)

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review 2016-12-12 10:31
The Produce Companion
The Produce Companion: From Balconies to Backyards--the Complete Guide to Growing, Pickling and Preserving - Meredith Kirton,Mandy Sinclair

I'm always on the lookout for books that will help me use what my garden produces to the fullest, and I've been consistently disappointed with the limited scope of everything I've found thus far.  Until now.


I found this book on the sale table at my local bookshop while Christmas shopping.  It caught my eye because it is drop dead beautiful, with gorgeous board covers and a rich dark purple edging on the pages.  The price seduced me and I bought it after a quick flip through.  I started reading it as soon as I got home and it is just what I've been looking for.


The first half of the book has 2-3 page briefs on growing different types of fruit, vegetables and herbs.  Growing descriptions aren't the focus here although they do include a few really useful tips.  The focus here is the different ways each plant/fruit can be preserved and includes some of the more unique options instead of just the standard bottling and canning.  This was just what I've been looking for.


The second half of the book is recipes: unique combinations of salsas, chutneys, butters, curds and more.  I'm not as interested in this section, but there are a few that I'll definitely be trying (MT is keen to try the apricot and cinnamon curd).


I highly recommend this book to any gardeners interested in the different ways of preserving their bounty.  It's published in Australia, but the authors were very careful to use both metric and standard measurements as well as keeping the growing tips hemisphere agnostic, something I've rarely seen done in any gardening book.


Possibly my best find of 2016.

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review 2016-04-17 07:41
Tales from the Toolshed
RHS Tales from the Tool Shed - Bill Laws

While this is a beautifully constructed, high-quality book that was a joy to hold and look at, it was ultimately disappointing.  I suppose strictly speaking, it does what it sets out to do: share a history of gardening through 50 garden tools that the RHS has deemed pivotal to modern gardening.  But I should have devoured this and instead I struggled to stay focussed.  The layout is really attractive, and break-out boxes had interesting and useful tips about choosing, using or caring for specific tools, but the writing would have benefitted from stronger editing.  The narratives lacked anything pulling them together and they often felt rambling and disjointed.  More often than not I was skimming and left wanting more.

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