University of Maryland Extension

Three Good Reads by Allegany County Master Gardener Donna Gates

Allegany County Master Gardener Donna Gates

Three Good Reads

By Donna Gates, Allegany County Master Gardener

These winter months provide some down time from the usual gardening and landscaping tasks.  Besides perusing through new seed catalogues, there is enough time to read a good book.  For the heirloom or general gardener, here are three worthwhile selections.

An interesting look at gardening in the 1700”s can be obtained by reading “The Founding Gardeners. The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation” (2011, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing).  The author, Andrea Wulf, provides a unique perspective on the development of fruits and vegetables in this country through the work of our first four presidents.  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison were farmers, botanists, and researchers of plants as well as statesmen busy with the political duties of a new nation.  These pages will reveal how our founding fathers’ belief in “the balance of nature” helped to form the principles that are the basis of this country.  Open to the public are Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, (a plantation house, situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia) and Peacefield, the home and farm of John Adams (40 acres of farmland and orchards now designated Adams National Historical Park, Quincy MA).  Visit Monticello to view Jefferson's 1,000-foot-long terraced vegetable garden (Charlottesville, VA) and Montpellier (James Madison’s 2,650 acre home site) located north of Charlottesville, VA.


The Heirloom Gardener by Carolyn Jabs (1984, Sierra Club Books) describes how to cultivate heirloom plants. The book contains lists of resources, libraries, heirloom seed companies, individual collectors of heirloom seeds, and seed exchanges. A blight in 1970, which wiped out 15 percent of the US corn crop, prompted a National Academy of Sciences report.  The report found that 69% of our sweet potatoes came from one variety, 76% of beans came from three varieties, and most of the peas were grown from only two varieties. The author covers the history of plant breeding and explains the importance of maintaining a wider genetic base with open pollinated plants rather than hybrids.

You don’t have to be a master gardener to enjoy the next book.  Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History by William Woys Weaver (1997, Henry Holt and Company) is an encyclopedia of 280 varieties of vegetables, based on notes that the author has compiled during 30 years of gardening.  As a gardener, historian, and chef, Weaver provides information on planting techniques, growing tips, and how to save seeds of heirloom vegetables, with an occasional recipe thrown in.  Read the book to learn about podding radishes and edible tuber dahlias or celery porridge and parsnip cakes.

The above books are available as a hard copy or ebook (Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium (Overdrive)) from the Allegany County Library System, interlibrary loan, (new or used editions), and/or your favorite book store.


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