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Time to dig into some gardening books

Lone Pine Publishing has built an impressive array of knowledgeable and well illustrated books on gardening over the years. As the 2018 season starts, one of their most useful recent titles is Garden Pests and Diseases in Canada, by Rob Sproule.

Lone Pine Publishing has built an impressive array of knowledgeable and well illustrated books on gardening over the years.

As the 2018 season starts, one of their most useful recent titles is Garden Pests and Diseases in Canada, by Rob Sproule.

Sproule co-owns Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park but also happens to be a good writer. Readers get the best of both worlds from his books — sound advice based on experience, and a clear and interesting presentation.

He wrote a good one a few years back on annual plants for the garden. His book on pests and diseases may be an even better resource to keep on hand. Gardeners can choose between perennials and annuals, but they almost inevitably have to find ways to keep their plants healthy or protect them against devastation by hungry critters.

Devastation is not too strong a word. It’s bad enough dealing with urban jackrabbits or, in rural areas, voracious deer. At least you can see those pests. The amazing variety of plant-killing insects (some are tree killers too) seems more insidious; these foes are often harder to spot and arrive in much larger numbers.

Some parts of the book read like a catastrophic monster movie. You can end up wondering how anything green survives.

Plants sometimes develop their own defences. Some of those defences can be levered by breeders making pest-resistant varieties available. More often, gardeners have to work out ways to give their plants a helping hand or stout methods of protection.

Garden Pests and Diseases in Canada does a great job of offering multi-level aid. Its pictures show the kinds of damage associated with different pests and diseases; other pictures provide clear help in recognizing insect pests. Perhaps better yet, Sproule effectively explains how to prevent or reduce various assaults on your garden through methods other than spraying chemicals.

The latter point seems to be key. It’s not just a matter of being worried about the possible residual effects of chemicals on humans. The book emphasizes that most sprays kill desirable insects as well as the insects you’re trying to eliminate. That often means reducing the population not only of helpful and essential insects such as bees, but getting rid of predatory insects such as aphid-eating lady beetles. The next time I see my dogwood curling up and getting brown under an aphid assault, I will probably head to a garden centre to see whether it has bags of lady beetles for sale.

Oddly for the work of a good writer, the book has spelling mistakes clustered toward the end; e.g., “vice grip” instead of “vise grip” and “leech” instead of “leach” and “bluebirds” where the context almost certainly indicates “blue jays.” It’s almost as if Sproule or the book’s editor got tired toward the end of the project. But the missteps are a small price to pay for a volume that can stay on the shelf and provide years of happier gardening.

Medicinal Garden Plants for Canada
Another recent entry in the Lone Pine gardening series is Medicinal Garden Plants for Canada, by Alison Beck and A. H. Jackson. It has the same high production values but is more a novelty item or a collection of suggestions for offbeat plant selections than a genuine guide for home-grown medicines. (For that, check for books by Edmonton botanist Robert Rogers.)

The medical effectiveness of each plant is treated sketchily at best. Worse, there’s almost no guide as to which parts of each plant may be useful and how they should be prepared. One section even seems potentially dangerous. The entry for solomon’s seal says the plant can be used to make a tea or a poultice for treatment of coughs, skin disorders and other problems. But read on to the next page and you find smaller print advising that the berries of the plant are poisonous. However, the book is a potentially useful aid for gardeners looking for selections out of the mainstream.

Check for availability at local booksellers and at some garden centres; also available from online retailers.