March and April are the most exhilarating times of the gardening season. The sunshine is at last warm enough to allow gardeners to comfortably clean out the remains of last year’s beauty. Bulbs’ green tips change into brilliant blossoms.
These colors add welcomed contrast to the various greens emerging slowly in the brown soil and to the bare branches of shrubs. Then redbuds, azaleas and dogwoods burst into bloom. These sights awaken from dormancy my new plans for more ornamental borders, vegetables and herbs. From reading Organic Gardening (DK Publishing), I gained clearer concepts of how to accomplish my goals with more natural, less chemical methods.
The author, Geoff Hamilton, was one of the early advocates of organic gardening. His many books, articles and BBC television shows from the 1970’s to his death in 1996 all advocated using natural elements to grow great gardens. This 2011 edition of Organic Gardening has been renewed and re-edited by his son, Nick, who is a gardener and a writer.
The book’s opening chapters explain necessary topics for any type of gardening such as soil types, soil improvement, fertilizers, pest control, garden planning, etc. with organic stipulations. Sections follow on various types of gardens, such as ornamental, vegetable, container, orchards, and greenhouse. As in all DK Publishing books, excellent photographs accompany and clarify the information and instructions given to a reader.
Since my small garden is primarily limited to floral plants, the most informative part of the book to me was its emphasis on improving soil and on choosing ornamental vegetation. Enriching the various soil types, which includes the clay that dominates the Triangle, is explained in organic terms. The plants that do best in various kinds of soils are listed in a section entitled, “Choosing Suitable Plants.” The recommendations for plants that bloom during the beginning, middle and late parts of the seasons include their required PH soil level.
My winter dream of converting a sunny portion of my lawn into a vegetable/herb garden was also encouraged by Hamilton’s explanation of “deep bed planting.” Basically, this method allows one to grow many plants closer together in beds, rather than rows. The subsoil is loosened and enriched enough for the roots to grow downward rather than outward. For larger vegetable gardens, a three-year crop rotation plan is suggested with specific arrangements of plant groups and with their fertilizer requirements. This vegetable sequencing “allows the mineral balance of the soil to be maintained, reduces the risk of disease, and makes best use of organic matter.”
This is an excellent volume for both beginning and for experienced gardeners who want to learn more about organic gardening or about gardening in general. How to build many gardening structures from cloches to compost bins, how to grow specific types of fruits and vegetables, how to propagate plants, and what activities to do during the entire garden year are just a few of the good instructions given. Organic Gardening definitely fulfills its purpose that the author explains as, “What you will discover is a mixture of traditional gardening and modern technology…There is nothing mystical or magical about organic gardening. It is simply a way of working with nature rather than against it…”
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.