CATHIE DRAINE: Books that will help a gardener grow taller | Lifestyles


It’s too late now to think about gardening and it’s too early for the euphoria of the seed catalog arrivals, so what should a gardener do? I have a suggestion: read on. Let’s explore three book collections. The first group explores the results of serious mulching. The following illuminates the political, scientific and ethnobiological history of seeds and the possibility of famine. The third provides the most recent research on trees and forests.

Practical and pragmatic, the titles of Ruth Stout’s books clearly express her vision of gardening with mulch. “How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back”, hardcover and paperback, is available online. “Gardening Without Work for the Aging, Busy and Indolent” is available from the Rapid City Library, online in paperback and Kindle, and “The No-Work Garden Book” is available as used copies at from online used book sources.

Stout is well known as an advocate for ‘out of work’ gardening, which she accomplished by encouraging deep, year-round mulching. She was a notorious contributor to Organic Gardening magazine.

Not only her organic approach to gardening, but also her cheerful and wise advice, attracted her to many. While the books are fun and easy to read, his advice and interest in soil now make more sense.

While Stout has promoted his views and practice, the next set of books is a vault of information on great plant science, discoveries, politics, abundance, famine, famine, and a plea for seed diversity. “Where does our food come from, retracing Nikolai Vavilov’s quest to end famine,” is the work of ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabham. Written in 2009, the book explores the diversity of seeds and the lingering possibility of large-scale famine. It is both a tribute to Vavilov and a call to continue studying the diversity of seeds in the specter of famine. This book is available in the Rapid City Library and online sources,

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“The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov” by Peter Pringle tells the tragic story of the famous Russian ethnobotanist Nikolai Vavilov. A childhood fascination with seeds and botany led the adult Vavilov to travel all five continents to find the seed sources for our food. Dedicated to reducing the possibility of widespread famine, a tragically familiar event in Russia, Vavilov established the Pavlovsk Experimental Station and a collection of seeds and food plants near St. Petersburg, Russia.

Vavilov’s Mendelian approach to seeds and crops clashed with Trofirm Lysenko, a seriously misguided botanist and Stalin favorite who fostered Lysenko’s pseudo-science that caused a terrible famine.

Vavilov was ultimately imprisoned by Stalin and, ironically, starved to death. He had traveled the world, dedicated to discovering the original hearths of cultivated plants. This book is available from online sources.

“The Viking in the Wheat Field” by Susan Dworkin chronicles the work of plant breeders, in this case, to develop a response to a form of stem rust that appeared in Ugandan wheat fields in 1999. The book focuses on the work of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and Danish plant scientist Brent Skovmand. The book illustrates the work of plant genetics researchers whose work, for the most part, is dedicated to the strength of our food supply. This book is available from online sources.

The Italian researcher Stefan Mancuso caused a sensation in certain circles with his research on the “intelligence” of plants.

Mancuso’s latest book, “Brilliant Green,” features his observations that might fascinate some gardeners and make others sneer. My objection to his work, as featured in this 2015 edition, is his reluctance to use full footnotes to describe his work. His notes at the end of the book just don’t explain his assumptions about how plants behave. I do not dispute his belief that plants are the basis of life. However, can we really attribute sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing to plants? I do not know. It’s a fun book to read, but I find it hard to call it credible science. The book is in the Rapid City Library.

German forestry director Peter Wohlleben’s latest book, “The Heartbeat of Trees”, follows on from his popular “The Hidden Life of Trees”. His new book is a pleasant discussion full of anecdotes about the link between man and forests. It references Mancuso’s work but instead focuses on a compelling discussion of our crucial connection to primeval forests.

Wohlleben explains how we react to old-growth forests (of which, unfortunately, there are few). He talks about how we react to the calm, smell, sounds, even taste and restorative calm of forests, suggesting that this man / tree bond is vital.

His discussion of the dangers to trees, ecosystem, soil, and human communities from clearcutting forests is compelling. The book is available at the Rapid City Library.

The most important recent book on trees and forests, in my opinion, is “In Search of the Mother Tree, Uncovering the Wisdom of the Forest” by Suzanne Simard Ph.D. She lectured Captivating TED on How Trees Communicate and Share Nutrients. His book is an easy-to-read blend of his personal and scientific interest in trees and forests. I think the most important discussion is his research and work on replanting forests, not as pine or spruce orchards, but as a collection of mixed tree and shrub varieties, all of which are compatible with natural and healthy forests. The book is available at the Rapid City Library.

Cathie Draine is from the Black Hills and a longtime gardener. Contact her at [email protected]

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