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Gardening From Alaska books
by Jeff Lowenfels
by Jeff Lowenfels


Jeff is the Past President of the Garden Writers of America, a columnist with the Anchorage Daily News, Host Alaska Gardens and Supporter of Plant a Row.

February 26, 2006

This is a good time of year to read books about gardening because you sure can’t do much of the real thing. Here are four that I highly recommend.

The minute I saw it, I fell in love with “Orchid Growing for Wimps” by Ellen Zachos (Sterling Publishing Co, 17.95 paperbacks)). I may have even mentioned it already in a previous column, but it is good enough to mention again. Simply put, without doubt this is the very best book available for those who are interested in growing Orchids, but are intimidated by the beauty of these plants. Even an old hand at growing orchids will appreciate this book.

“Orchid Growing for Wimps” is part of a series of ”for wimps” books but as author Zachos points out, if you buy the book you are definately not a wimp. A real wimp would let his or her gift orchid’s flower die and forget it. Instead you are a smart person who wants to learn how to care for orchids, but don’t want to get a PHD in the subject. It has just the right blend of pictures, step-by-step instructions and clear, concise, enjoyable and thus easy to read, prose.

Did I mention the pictures? They are beautiful. And they are of plants you can buy locally, not the gazillion dollar specimens you may find yourself collecting once you read this book and get over your fear of growing orchids.

Speaking of step-by-step instructions, I that is what you get in “Essential Gardening Techniques,” a Royal Horticultural Society book edited by Christopher Brickell (Whitecap Books, $19.95, soft cover). Forget the fact that the book was written for a British market. This isn’t a plant book, just the techniques needed to plant, thus it translate well to this side of the Atlantic.

The book contains 1500, step-by-step illustrations of almost any gardening technique you would need on any given summer weekend in Alaska. Oh sure, there is the occasional “how-to-“ for something that doesn’t grow here, like wisteria, but even those techniques are adaptable to the Arctic Kiwi that have started to take hold here.

“Essential Gardening Techniques” covers lawn care, growing vegetables, herbs and flowers, taking care of trees and shrubs, soil management, tools and equipment and even some how-to-gardening crafts are all covered. The illustrations are very well done, hand drawn, a good enough so that you don’t really need to read the fine print, but when you do, you will find the added information to be extremely useful. This is a great book for the beginning gardener as well as those who want to become just a bit more proficient and efficient in completing their gardening chores.

Finally, I don’t know if I have ever formally suggested that Alaskan vegetable gardeners get a hold of a copy of Ann Roberts’ Alaska Gardening Guide, Volume 1 Alaska Vegetables for Northern Climates (Publications Consultants). This is one book that should be able to tap into your frustration because there is very little by way of books specific to Alaskan gardening, nonetheless specializing in growing vegetables. Gardening books geared specifically towards Alaska are a pretty rare item due to the small size of the market, so when one comes out, I always add it to my collection. This one is really worth having.

Great information on how to deal with cold soils and specific cultural tips geared to the Alaskan vegetable garden, alone, make this worth having if you are going to grow vegetables in an Alaskan garden (or any other cold climate like ours, for that matter). Improving poor soils, starting indoors and all other aspects of vegetable gardening in Alaska, right on down to putting the garden to bed, are covered.

Finally, for the really serious reader and gardener, I highly recommend “Insects and Gardens” by Eric Grissell (Timber Press). The photographs by Carll Goodpasture ( that is really how you spell Carll) are simply some of the best close up garden photography I have ever seen. The accompanying text about the insects in our backyards is fascinating. This is a good week’s read, the memory of which will come often when you next encounter a bug while working in your garden.

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