Lee Reich’s new book The Ever Curious Gardener, is for people like me, and perhaps you. Yes, it’s dense. Yes, there are Latin words. Yes, Reich is a renowned master gardener with advanced degrees in horticulture and soil science. Intimidating stuff.
But Reich’s writing style is so conversational, so accessible, that this book is a very serviceable resource for people like us. We whose gardening experience has been to purchase a plant at a big-box store, to remove the plastic tab from the soil, to read the “instructions” (plant in full sun or partial shade eight inches apart), and to do just that! Then we wait to witness the fullness of nature’s beauty unfold. Instead we witness the obvious agony of a plant withering to a desiccated yellow, or dissolving into a gelatinous stub. Betrayed.
Long ago my Italian mother-in-law taught me the importance of method, order of operations and technique in cooking. Ingredients matter, of course. But there are far more secrets to an unforgettable meal than mere “secret ingredients.”
So, too, with gardening. Reich happily reveals secrets. He’s a generous green genius. His advice is not just about what to do, but also what to see, feel and smell. He encourages us to know gardening as something sensory, and not just visually. It’s a sensual activity.
For instance, there is a reason to give your seedlings an attentive touch, stroke or shake. To find out why, I recommend Page Eleven. Here you will also find out the best time of day to do this, and what caressing your seedlings determines in your infant flora.
As for more sex, find out how the holly sex differs from tomato sex. (Perfect vs. Imperfect). And don’t think it’s anything like that bad date at Burning Man, or what you think about alone in the sauna.
Reich devotes an entire page (42) to teach us how to hand-texture soil. Perhaps we cannot depend on ourselves entirely yet. Perhaps we still need to rely on our Cooperative Extension for confirmation. But we are encouraged that someday we can trust our own perceptions. Reich imparts how to do that. How also not merely to understand that we are experiencing the natural world, but also to know that our perceptions mean things in fact.
See page 36 if you are considering the purchase of a building lot, or putting in a garden, and you see buttercups. You will find out what those pretty yellow flowers mean, and how their presence aids your decision making.
Reich is highly regarded as a national expert, but even more exciting is the fact that he’s a local! He knows our pain. How can we trust an expert from New Jersey, or worse, someone from California (who is probably just a surfer) with our delicate apple blossoms? We can not.
In the chapter on stems and leaves, Reich goes into loving detail on how to protect our trees and plants should some diabolical warm spell add to the misery of what we know as Winter:The Season That Knows No Bounds.
Reich gives us the inside skinny on compost and crop rotation (page 128), how and why we might want to oil fig fruit (page 84), and “a true crime story on how his plants broke the law” (but did not kill the deputy) on page 135.
It’s obvious to both gardeners extraordinaire and unsuspecting, innocent browsers that I am no expert. And yet, this is a book review. How did I get this gig?! I think my praise for this book is as valuable as that of a notable green thumb precisely because Reich speaks to my ignorance with clear language and humor. He reassures that, even though there is a lot to learn, it is knowable. It is a book that meets me where I am, with the promise to take me far indeed. And it speaks to my artsy-fartsy, snowflakey sensibility.
I will be dipping back into this book for many years to come.