Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review: The Shaker Garden by Stephanie Donaldson

I admit it, I picked this book up for its pictures. I love Shaker style everything with its simplicity, practicality, and natural beauty, and this book did not disappoint in the realm of photos. With a mixture of black and whites from bygone eras and stunning colors from Donaldson's own Shaker garden, it was absolutely lovely from beginning to end.

The book was set up with an all too brief introduction and history of the Shaker garden followed by sections on each component of the garden, from selecting picket fencing to paint colors. The brief chapters were beautifully illustrated, but don't look here for historical accuracy. Donaldson is completely upfront about the fact that the garden plan presented in the book is not a reconstruction. Nevertheless, some of these sections have simple projects that can be constructed, including a miniature Shaker garden, wooden seed trays, seed packets, and a shingle-roofed birdhouse from a wooden crate. The seed packets and possibly the seed trays are on my to-do list! "The Shed" description was of particular interest to this organization-obsessed Virgo, despite the fact that I don't have the room for a garden shed. I still plan to incorporate some of the ideas into my little potting area. I've also been coveting the bamboo cloches pictured covering strawberries in the "Accessories" section. As beautiful as I find their glass counterparts, these bamboo cloches provide air circulation, a must for edible plants!

After the garden component sections, Donaldson jumps into a discussion of soil, its types, cultivation, weeding, watering, pest control, and of course compost. If you've been gardening for even a short time, you probably know most of the stuff on soil types and cultivation, but her passages on growing and watering were new and very helpful to me. One of the most beautiful things about this books is that Donaldson includes passages from historic Shaker gardening literature. For example, on transplanting, an excerpt from The Gardener's Manual of 1843:

"A prevalent, but erroneous opinion concerning transplanting is, that it should be done just before a shower, in order to succeed well; but experience has shown that a day or two after, when the ground has become dry enough to work again, in the evening, is a preferable time, and perhaps with the exception of cloudy weather, is the best that can be selected." (pg. 56)

Really? I didn't know that... The watering section also included some new-to-me information, also from The Gardener's Manual:

"Some gardeners spend much useless labor in sprinkling water over and around their plants. When the ground is very dry, at the time you wish to transplant, water the ground where you intend to set plants, a day or two beforehand, may be beneficial. But to plants in open ground, that have good roots, watering in the customary way, with a hand watering pot, is of but little use." (pg. 60)

Very interesting stuff. This soil chapter also included two garden projects: making a soil tamper and making a compost bin, both now on my to-do list.

The last element of the book is the sections on herbs (including medicinal, culinary, and tisane uses), flowers, vegetables, and fruit. Each section includes a description of the usage of the various plant types, as well as a rough garden plan, recipes, and/or projects. It was interesting to see the progression of Shaker ideas on these various sorts of plants.

All in all, this was a light, easy read. There are a few helpful hints, but it's not a book I would buy to keep in my garden reference section. I've copied down the recipes and instructions for the few projects that struck my fancy, and back to the library this book goes!

1 comment:

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