by Sybille Engels and Veronika Goldstück
Gräfe und Unzer Verlag GmbH
softcover, 144 pages, $29.95.
This book is a perfect gift for the first-time gardener. It does exactly what the title implies: introduces the basics of gardening (the difference between annuals and perennials is explained, for example). Included are general plant requirements, such as rain and bees, and why they're important. Information is presented in bite-sized, easy-to-digest pieces. There's a list of equipment required and short sections on propagating and pruning. There are also design ideas, such as how to dress up your garden for a party.
Plant information is accompanied by great photography (in fact, the book contains lots of fresh and lively photos) with straightforward growing details, headed “What it is” and “What it needs.” The tone is enthusiastic and encouraging; the description for hydrangeas, for example, states that they “make a few demands but it's worth it.” The challenge is negotiating your way through the plant listings, which are arranged in chapters entitled Mediterranean, Turbo-Green (for fast growers, such as morning glories), and Classics (bulbs are included here). It's a pleasant read for a new gardener, but would probably frustrate someone looking for a specific plant, as the listings are not alphabetized by either the common or Latin name.
Plant suggestions are relevant for Canadian gardeners, even though it's a German publication. One glaring exception is in the Gourmet à la carte (edible plants) chapter. Strawberry spinach sounded like an interesting herb (I'd never heard of it before) until I read the Latin name, Chenopodium capitatum. It's actually a relative of lamb's-quarters (Chenopodium album) and is considered a weed in Canada. They may be tasty but you probably couldn't eat them fast enough.