Book Review: In Print
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., April 13, 2007
The Way We Garden Now
by Katherine Whiteside
Clarkson Potter, 300 pp., $29.95
Nationally recognized gardening writer Katherine Whiteside was in Austin recently, and I was lucky enough to get to talk with her about her valuable new book, The Way We Garden Now. Now, normally I don't get excited about gardening books that are written for a national audience, because there's no place like Texas literally. The rest of the nation has deep acid soil, perfect for growing damn near everything; here, we have half an inch of alkaline caliche. Elsewhere, bulbs reliably come up every spring, without needing to be dug up and stored in the freezer. In most other regions, it rains throughout the growing season!
In short, most national garden writers might as well be writing about some other planet, and a Texan does well to stick to gardening books by other Texans. But this book is the exception. In it, Whiteside takes on one of the biggest gardening challenges of our time: the fact that most of us simply don't have the time to garden. We're all working longer hours than ever before. Even if we would love to have fresh, homegrown vegetables or glorious displays of banks and banks of flowers, where would we find the time to create and maintain them? Many would-be gardeners throw up their hands in despair: Having no idea where to begin, they give up before they start (or shortly thereafter).
Whiteside has the know-how to make it doable, and the answers are in this book. Over the years, as she has pursued both being an ardent gardener and a big-time gardening writer, she has figured out how to begin and maintain a glorious garden by putting in a few hours on the weekends and an occasional half-hour in the morning before work. She describes her methods as the Lazy Woman's Way the Lazy Woman's Way to start a bed (or make compost or put up a deer fence or weed) but what she really means is the busy person's way. Her methods and shortcuts work just as well here in Texas as anywhere. As I read The Way We Garden Now, I felt my gardening burdens begin to lift.
In addition to making it all easier, faster, and less backbreaking, Whiteside has broken gardening down into simple, discrete projects. You can start out with what interests you most: maybe an herb garden or some tomatoes, perhaps a few rosebushes, and then, if you wish, you can proceed to the next project that interests you. Intimidation melts away. Even such areas as formal garden design and making bricked patios are rendered easy and comprehensible by her inimitable, matter-of-fact instructions. Whiteside puts the relaxation and joy back into gardening, never letting you forget that your garden exists for your pleasure, not the other way around. "Forget making a perfect garden," she advises. "Instead, focus on having a perfectly enjoyable garden."