Gardening 101

We have all heard of the benefits of gardening: it relieves stress and improves our mental as well as our physical well being. Being out in the fresh air, surrounded by dappled sunshine and fragrant flowers, is sure to uplift anyone's mood. Gardening activities such as weeding, digging and planting are great low-impact exercises that can help keep us agile. Gardening is a fun activity that all members of the family can join in and enjoy. Not gardening-savvy? Fear not, the Mercer County Library System has a variety of books to help you with all your gardening needs.

Gardening books come in all shapes and sizes. Some books are chock full of practical advice and gardening wisdom. These books are not meant to be read in one sitting, but are to be used as a handy reference to find answers to any gardening questions that you may have. Then there are these coffee table books with beautiful illustrations of lush green lawns, tidy borders, and gorgeous flowers. These books are a pleasure to thumb through and can give you some ideas for your own garden. While some of us check out gardening books just because we want to look at all the pretty pictures, the books recommended in this blog are for those who aspire to that perfect garden or need help with some specific gardening issues.

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch
Whether the gardening bug has already bitten you, or you are new to gardening and do not know the first thing about perennials and annuals, cannot decide which gardening tools to buy, or how to plan your landscape, The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch is just the book for you. This book addresses the basics of landscaping, provides easy-to-read design plans, information about plant diseases and organic pest management and how to choose the right plants for your garden. The subtitle of this book is the "Gardener's Bible" and I could not agree more.

Trowel & Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener by Sharon Lovejoy
Another helpful book, regardless of whether you are an experienced gardener or a beginner, is Trowel & Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener by Sharon Lovejoy. Akin to Heloise’s hints for the home, this is a charming little book with loads of helpful information about the garden. Did you know that you could deter rabbits by sprinkling baby powder over seedlings? Or that you could make an effective insecticide with fresh basil? Want a list of plants that deer do not like? Check out this book and find out.

Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter by Kristin Green
A favorite of mine is Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter by Kristin Green. With self-sowers and spreaders, our garden can grow quickly and look beautiful without a lot of back-breaking work. What are self-sowers? These are beautiful plants that provide serendipitous pleasure as they return year after year in different places in our garden without any effort required from us. Green devotes a chapter discussing the difference between exuberant growth habits of the self-sowers and invasive plants. Plants such as Queen Anne's Lace, Sweet William, Foxgloves, Milkweed, Verbena and Columbine are all self-sowers, that we "should rely on ... not just because they're free, but because they provide free labor." Spreaders such as Clematis, Sweet Woodruff, Sweet-Breath-of Spring and Spearmint grow with "lavish abundance" and can fill our garden with outstanding displays. Spreaders are practical because they can be propagated and replanted in other parts of the garden. Green tells us the right plants to choose - each entry comes complete with its Latin name, a picture, and the plant's hardiness zone. Plant hardiness zone is the standard by which gardeners can figure out which plants will thrive at a given location. Depending on the part of the state, New Jersey's plant hardiness zone is 5 b to 7 b. Gardeners in this State can use the plant's hardiness zone as a guide to planting in their area to ensure maximum success with their garden.

Month-By-Month Gardening in New Jersey: What To Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year

Tailored for the Garden State gardeners, two invaluable guides, both by Pegi Ballister-Howells, are: Month-By-Month Gardening in New Jersey: What To Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year and New Jersey Gardener's Guide: the What, Where, When, How & Why of Gardening in New Jersey. The first book tells us what we should do for our garden each month and provides answers to questions such as the best time to fertilize our lawns, prune our roses and plant shrubs. An extremely easy to use book, each chapter is broken down by the month, with in-depth coverage of the tasks that need to be accomplished that month. It also provides a separate section of Helpful Hints and a space for your notes. I prefer gardening books with pictures, but this is one book devoid of any pictures that I would recommend to all New Jersey gardeners.

The second book does provide a photo gallery of all the featured plants and the author emphasizes the importance of planning before all else. If you are starting your garden from scratch, you can follow planting the groups of plants as it is presented in this book. Each chapter addresses what to plant, where to plant, and when and how to plant. Howell addresses care and maintenance of each featured plant and also provides a New Jersey zone map with average frost dates, rainfalls and temperatures.

Gardens of the Garden State by Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry

Last, but not least, is a highly recommended book for all garden lovers: Gardens of the Garden State by Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry. This is a coffee table book that features about twenty nine public and private gardens of New Jersey. A visual feast with stunning photographs of New Jersey gardens from the North to the South, it includes the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands, the gardens of Bernardsville and Short Hills, and even a lighthouse garden in Cape May. The authors include a brief history of the featured gardens, its designers and its unique features. This lovely book will not only provide you with hours of viewing pleasure, it might also inspire you to create a beautiful garden in your own backyard.

Rina B.


  1. If you read only one gardening blog post this year, make it this one, because you've probably already read it, seeing as you're reading comments now and if you go read another you'll have exceeded your quota of one gardening post per year.

    But seriously - good job, Rina!


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