The Most Rewarding and Empowering Book
By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
“A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.” –Henri Frederic Amiel
If you are familiar with Southern Living magazine, then you may note that Steven Bender is the garden editor. His new book, “The Grumpy Gardener: An A to Z Guide from the Galaxy’s Most Irritable Green Thumb” (Oxmoor House, 2017) is a compilation of articles, blog posts, essays and answers to reader questions. His goal is to help both novice and veteran gardeners have a nice yard that pleases them. He truly hits the mark with this book.
What’s not to like about Grumpy? He tells it like it is with wit and without using ugly expletives that have become commonplace in reading these days. His book is written with gardening topics in alphabetical order, where you will find pithy and helpful comments about your favorite and not so favorite plants and more. You may not always agree with Grumpy; however, this is an opinion book and his thoughts are reasonably well researched. They will make you smile and on occasion you might frown. The text is laced with sidetracks and sidebars including some amusing questions and answers from and to Southern Living magazine readers. We can all benefit from these items. One might think that Grumpy’s book reads as if it were like a radio talk show on steroids. As an example, the “N” section has a piece about Native Plants. If these plants whet your horticultural appetite, you may get a hissy fit about how Grumpy opines about them. He says “…we encourage the gardening public not to dogmatically eschew all non-native plants but to choose the right plant for the right spot, regardless of its origin.” Hmm, is this heresy to the native plant society crowd or does this read like the gardener’s mantra?
When reading a horticultural book that is in alphabetical order, perhaps a thought comes to mind concerning how Grumpy discusses the letters X-Y-Z. For some of us, X is easy — xeriscaping. This is the Greek word for water-wise gardening or if you like “zero-scaping.” What about Y? That is an easy one also — Yucca. Recently this plant has become popular and is readily available at full service garden centers. Look for the attractive variegated yucca ‘Color Guard’ or ‘Bright Edge.’ For Z, also easy — Zinnia and the interesting and easy-care houseplant commonly called ZZ (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). You might think another problem letter is Q. Not true. Among several plants noted is Quince (although the botanical name is Chaenomeles. Today Quince is anything but conventional. Breeders have found a way to produce these plants without thorns, and they are heat and drought tolerant too. They are available in many different flower colors (e.g., orange, peach, pink, scarlet and white) and have showy double camellia-like flowers up and down the branches. By now you should have gotten the flavor of how Grumpy writes. He is a masterful writer, often amusing and by self-admission irritable. That is why this book is so wonderful and at the same time a head-scratching read.
By the way, Grumpy included an index and that too is a worthwhile search because it is full of non-plant references. “The Grumpy Gardener” index will lead you to many areas such as electric bug zappers, organic matter and rubber mulch. Okay — a couple of plant references that might interest you are dorm room plants and, can you believe, a couple of pages on marijuana look-alikes. You will not regret reading what Grumpy has to say. It is probably not like anything you have read in other horticulture books and magazines.