Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review: McGee & Stuckey's The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey

I have avoided this book for a long time. I'm not really sure why, since my long term gardening plan has always involved expansion through potted edibles, but things got accelerated a bit when I sat down to plan next year's gardening expansion budget. So, I clenched my teeth and checked this book out.

The book is broken down into three parts: "You and Your Garden," "Down-to-Earth Basics," and "Plants for the Bountiful Container."

In Part One, the authors discuss both the basics of gardening, like climatic considerations, and those special issues which come up with containers, like vandalism. They even give the reader three schemes for succession planning in containers. I'll admit that I bristled a bit at the "Reality Check for Container Gardens," but overall it was a simple and effective primer on gardening within the limitations of containers.

Part Two gets down to the nitty gritty, covering all the hardware neccessities, storage possibilites, trellises, potting soil, when to plant, how to plant, seed saving, etc. I was particularly impressed by their consistent recommendation to repurpose or recycle various items that a gardener may already have, such as a toy box turned on its back used as a supply cabinet. I was unimpressed, however, with the authors' neutral stance on fertilization techniques. For hardcore organic gardeners like me, the discussion of anything besides organic options can be a bit frustrating. Still, I'm sure it's better for the popularity of the book overall.

The majority of the book it taken up by Part Three, wherein the various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers recommended for containers are discussed. The section also includes various garden plans and recipes. Gardening books always get huge bonus points from me if they include recipes! Those included in this book range from the standard "Pasta With Summer Vegetables" (pg. 104) to the more unique "Green Garlic Soup" (pg. 122). The garden plans left something to be desired, in my opinion. I found most of them to be a little hoaky or lacking in usefulness, but there were a few unique and inspiring ideas smattered throughout. I loved the idea to use a child's dump truck as a planter in "A Kid's Garden" (pp. 86-89) and I have the perfect place for "A Hummingbird Garden" (pp. 232-234), though why the authors didn't think to include dimensions for the box and trellis in that plan is beyond me. The entries for the individual plants themselves were pretty informative. Even if you have a traditional in-ground garden, there are specifics for growing each specimen in the containers that should be read.

Overall, I think the book is a valuable resource for information and ideas, especially if you garden exclusively in containers. It's a little disconcerting that no photographs are included, since garden sketches always portray things through rose-colored glasses. I really wish there was more discussion of growing organically, but I'm biased in that area. I don't plan to buy the book, though I may change my mind once I get further into my garden expansion. For now, I've made notes of the specific information I need and will check the book out from the library again if neccessary.


ilex said...

I resisted "Bountiful Container" for a long time, too. I found it cutsey and wordy- and really- an enitre section devoted to edible flowers? However, I bit the bullet and bought it, since there are so few books on growing veg in containers, and container gardening is all I do. I usually do reference it multiple times during the garden season- especially the "individual vegetables" section- the advice is nicely tailored (if brief) to specific issues of container gardening.

But-- my fave container veg container book has to be "Movable Harvests" by Crandall and Crandall. It's decidedly not wordy, and their soil mix section is terrific. Great book.

Mist said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Ilex. I will definitely check out the Crandall and Crandall book.