Book review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening

Other than kids, I really stink at growing things. Especially outdoor things. Especially outdoor things that are supposed to flower or produce fruit or vegies or come back each year.

My thumb is black, but I try every single year to turn it green. All to no avail.

This year, I think I've found the answer: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening by Chris McLaughlin ($19.95, Penguin). I am indeed a complete idiot when it comes to gardening. And though my overall space—meaning my yards, front and back—is quite large, it's highlighted by many, many, many small spaces in which I try to grow things. So McLaughlin's book is definitely for me.

As Complete Idiot guides generally are, this book is filled to the brim with information, organized in such a manner that you don't have to read from front to back to get what you need from it. Pick a topic and soak up what you need. This one has lots to soak up.

Small-Space Gardening is divided into five parts, with each part having several chapters. Topcis covered include everything from the advantages of small-space gardens (raised beds, window boxes, barrels, baskets, and more) to weed control and the best plants for small spots. In between are all a wanna-be gardener might need to know, regardless of plot size.

I've suspected and now through reading this book have confirmed that my biggest error is in my soil preparation. I don't prep the soil—before, during or after planting. I tend to stick stuff in the ground and hope it'll miraculously bloom where planted. And despite it being the very definition of crazy, I do the same thing again and again and again, hoping for different results. Yet the result is always that my stuff dies (and the money on that stuff wasted). The chapter on the importance of amending and feeding and focusing on the soil finally made an impact on my thinking. I think that will, in turn, have an impact on my garden.

What I loved about this book: There is so much I loved, but near the top is the bullet list at the end of each chapter, titled "The Least You Need to Know." Sure, you can't assimilate everything, at least not on first read, but such a list boils it down to the important stuff. I also loved the Tip Thyme, Planting Pitfall, and Garden Gospel blurbs o' info sprinkled throughout with interesting and important tips, techniques and pointers. Another I must mention: The chapter on mulch proves my point in an argument my husband and I have all the time over the importance of mulch. Yes! Score one for Lisa!

What I didn't love so much: The only complaint I have is that although there are several references to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, there isn't one in the book. Seems a simple one-page inclusion—even if only in the appendix—would have been a no-brainer when writing a gardening book for idiots who may not know their zone. I do know my zone (about the only thing I do know about gardening), but I still think it should have been included.

Bottom line: I finally feel like I have a handle on what I need to do in order to successfully grow all my small gardening spots this year. I suppose the real bottom line will come in a few months, when I see if the book and my hard work (yet to be performed, I'm compelled to add) paid off.

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