The Garden Primer

I have a shelf of beautifully illustrated gardening books that I pull from each year in the late winter-early spring months. Like everyone who dreams the garden dream, I’m looking for ideas and inspiration as I leaf through the pages. But there’s one gardening book I love, a hurky paperback, and it doesn’t exactly inspire, rather it informs. This book rests within arms reach all year long. Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer (Workman, 1988) is there for everything practical relating to the garden. It’s to her book I turn to learn about what a plant is, looks like (the book is full of black and white illustrations), and the conditions it thrives in; how to go about pruning something, when the best time to do it is, and why doing it right matters; when and how to transplant things like peonies or fruit trees; about composting and mulching and tilling and seeding and harvesting and tools and fences and herbs and flowers and bulbs and roses and just about everything you need to know (or be reminded of) when it comes to gardening.

And how could you not put your trust in Damrosch, the woman who (with her husband Eliot Coleman) runs Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, the well-documented farm that manages to remain productive even in the dead of winter? Her reassuring voice and well-organized, straight forward information make me feel that in her capable hands I can dream the garden dream and that it might even come true if I follow her lead.—Melissa