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Courtesy of Timber Press
How can you not love a gardening book that begins with a quote from Goethe's Sorrows of Werther? Well, OK; that might put some of you off. So I'll add that despite the literary epigraph, Jennifer Bartley's The Kitchen Gardener's Handbook is actually a very practical and useful book. (And if you want literary garden writing, go get Katherine White's Onward and Upward in the Garden.)
In fact, despite the fact this book is filled with lots of large, splashy photographs of fruits and vegetables (done in an over-exuberant style sometimes referred to as "food porn"), I have rarely seen a gardening book with such useful photos and illustrations, or one that does such a good job of making sure the images and text work together. For example, the mandala-ish seasonal garden map (p. 15), is an elegant way to explain the rhythms of a garden from December through January; you couldn't explain it better in words. Bartley also includes photos of what plants look like when they are ready for harvesting, which is brilliant. A new gardener might look at garlic turning brown and falling over and understandably think the plant was croaking, when it actually means the bulbs are ready to harvest. Still, bugs and drought could surely cause a garlic plant to wilt and turn brown, and it would not be a good thing; but a sick plant has a different look to it. So you really do need that photo. I don't know why more garden-book authors don't take this approach.
The other very clever thing about this book: it's organized by season, starting with cool-season plants like radishes and leeks, and works its way through the year, including information on seasonal flowers and shrubs. Bartley also includes recipes by season, which is another thing I'm surprised more garden book authors haven't done. Because even if your "kitchen gardening," practice is as simple as a Topsy-Turvy planter and a couple of pots of herbs on the porch, you know the phrase "nature's bounty," has a painful side, too. What the hell do you do with five Schnucks bags full of cherry tomatoes? Hopefully you have a grandmother who survived the Depression who can pickle them for you. If not, Bartley's recipe for Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Thyme will get rid of a lot of them. And if there's still some left over, well, there's a nice tomato quiche recipe on the next page.