Book Review - Carolina Gardener's Handbook
Carolinas Gardener’s Handbook: All You Need to Know to Plan, Plant & Maintain a Carolinas Garden by Toby Bost & Bob Polomski (Cool Springs Press: 2012) targets 2 different audiences: folks new to gardening, and experienced gardeners new to the Carolinas. To cover everything both these groups need to know in a single volume will be difficult. Here’s how it delivered on that promise.
Carolinas Gardener’s Handbook was compiled from several different sources, including gardening books by the late Jim Wilson, former host of PBS’ Victory Garden. The first chapter introduces the reader to garden planning, recordkeeping, building healthy soil, plant light requirements, watering, fertilizing, pruning and pest control. These topics are reprised in separate chapters on annuals, perennials, bulbs, edibles, ground covers & ornamental grasses, lawns, roses, shrubs, vines and trees. Sections about “Going Green” and “Helpful Gardening Tips and Hints” close out the volume.
The chapter on annuals is typical. Three pages of general topics like soil preparation, planting, and deadheading. Then 45 individual plant listings include why each plant is special, how to grow, common problems, and other information. A color picture of each plant makes it easy to visualize how it might work in your own garden. A couple of pages of additional hints and tips are next, followed by a month by month calendar.
There is quite a bit of helpful information here. A couple of my favorite hints: adding sand to clay soils doesn’t improve drainage, it makes bricks. And tying up ornamental grass plants into bundles before you cut them down in late winter saves time and trouble.
Gardening books are often organized by plant type, as this one is. But covering topics like soil preparation, fertilizing, and watering in almost every chapter is unnecessarily repetitive. And dealing with 10 different calendars (1 for each plant group) is awkward, at best. These topics would have been better condensed instead of being fragmented throughout the book.
Another complaint is that while all the right topics are covered for new gardeners, insufficient detail is provided. For example, “all you need to know” about vegetables, herbs, and fruits would require several volumes, not just a couple dozen pages. The “Going Green” chapter title is somewhat misleading, as it discusses some topics that are definitely not “green”, like use and storage of chemical pesticides.
Experienced gardeners new to the Carolinas may find the plant descriptions useful for deciding what to plant in this climate. But those new to gardening would be better served buying a reference volume that discusses basic topics in more detail, like Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening or Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.
Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2012 NC State University.