I blame my mother.
Her phobia of manuals is the reason I find how-to guides a bore. Except when I’m the proud owner of something new from Ikea. Then personal safety — and keeping my sanity — necessitates reading instructions, especially when assembling anything that I will eat, sleep, sit or place anything of any heft upon.
Come to think of it, though, I’ve never seen my dad hunker down with a step-by-step guide and read it cover to cover. In fact, I’m certain he eschews directions, opting instead to plow ahead, taking his cues from Nike and just doing it.
So maybe I should blame my him instead because when it comes to gardening, I’ve modelled my wannabe greenthumb ways after his attempts at being handy. I have many pathetic peppers, tomato plants unfulfilled and ho-hum herbs in my past to show for not giving manuals the props they likely deserve. (Although, to his credit, my dad’s a far better handyman than I am a gardener). I plant things and hope for the best, giving the instructions on seed packets little more than a passing glance and hardly bending an ear to the advice of gardening gurus.
If you plant it, they will grow, I’ve figured. So why run the risk of being bored to tears by some textbook-toned talk of growing tomatoes to a T?
Still, I have found a gardening guide that’s a real page turner. One that speaks to gardening hopefuls like me, brimming with optimism but little know-how.
It’s No Guff Vegetable Gardening by Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs. Think of it as a he said-she said take on a task that really should be deemed an essential life skill. It’s one that plays by the KISS — keep it simple stupid — rule for giving instructions.
Balzer and Biggs, horticulturists by trade, demystify gardening and all the gimmicks that novices like me can get suckered into when trying to reap the perfect crop of chard. They’ve grown in just about every Canadian clime, from harsh Grande Prairie to the easy going west coast and eastward so they write from experience.
Their homage to growing veggies is fun and light. Each page is illustrated with whimsical graphics that make for easy but really informative concepts.
There are no Latin terms for beets or beans but don’t be fooled. This book is high brow in its straightforward descriptions of soil types, seeding methods and crop selection, yet even in the thick of those topics, it’s far from overwhelming. Most importantly, it makes me feel like I can garden. Like I want to garden more than ever. And that’s their goal — to have more people bitten by the gardening bug.
I met Biggs this winter at the Niagara edition of Seedy Saturday. He was a genuinely interested and interesting guy who spoke about growing figs and gave away a beauty of a young fig tree to a lucky and enviable soul in the audience. His down-to-earth, unpretentious nature comes out in his writing.
Best of all, as he and Balzer guffaw at the guff — the hollow buzzwords, new-fangled gadgets and their empty promises — and help keep green gardeners like me on track, they aren’t always on the same page. Take their opinion on whether it’s worth it grow one of my gardening mainstays, sorrel. She doesn’t think it’s worth it. He does. Balzer doesn’t have an aversion to gardening gadgets. Biggs is no magpie to those shiny trinkets. It’s all so refreshing.
Even better, if there’s a topic you want to learn more about, the duo supplement their sage advice by pointing to their website GardenCoachesChat.com where you can get details on building cold frames, succession crops and planning your garden. There are even videos for the really challenged green thumbs.
No Guff Vegetable Gardening sells for $35 (including shipping). That’s a lot of seeds but if you want them to grow well, this book is should be your first investment in your garden.
It’s really nothing short of a gem. I give it two brown-but-soon-to-be-green (and grateful) thumbs up.