Well, it’s April and time to think about your garden. Better yet, take the advice of two horticulturists and “enjoy the life in your garden.”
Reeser Manley and Marjorie Peronto are not just writing about plants. Instead, their focus is on creating gardens of “ecologically functional plants” that promote and nurture garden wildlife, resulting in a “stable, self-regulated ecosystem.” And that means using plants, beneficial insects and birds to sustain biodiversity in a healthy garden.
This is their second book, after “New England Gardener’s Year” (2013). Manley and Peronto are experienced teachers and horticulturists, and they live in Ellsworth.
This is much more than just another gardening book. It is a beautifully illustrated, refreshing blend of science, nature and environmental sensitivity as they promote life in the garden, from microbes in the soil to the beneficial insects that feed on those annoying herbivore insects.
With clear narrative, they offer concise chapters on soil, pollinators, garden herbivores (bad), garden predators (good), and how to develop biodiversity using understory trees and shrubs, perennials and annuals to attract beneficial insects and birds.
In “The Living Soil” they reveal that soil is not just dirt, but is a living ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms, protozoa and arthropods — all providing nutrients to plants. The chapters on pollinators, herbivores and predators are most educational and entertaining, explaining that “everybody is somebody’s lunch,” and how nature can provide the proper balance for garden health and sustainability without using pesticides or any chemicals.
They also encourage gardeners to spend time looking closely in the garden for insects, to correctly identify the good and the bad, and then understand how one interacts with the other. See also “Garden Insects Of North America” by Whitney Cranshaw (2004).
About life, pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) said: “People need to be made more aware of the need to work at learning how to live because life is so quick and it sometimes goes away too quickly.” And Bar Harbor author Kirsten Stockman knew this to be absolutely true.
Stockman died in 2013, but she finished her novel, “Remembered Earth,” with a powerful story of men and women living simple lives while questioning purpose amid uncertainty and doubt. This is a lengthy story, too long by a hundred pages, but written with heart-warming sensitivity and insight, tenderly revealing the pains and joys of just being alive. And Stockman brilliantly captures the challenge in a sentence: “Sometimes it hurts just being human.”
Anna Garland is a 19-year-old woman working as a farmhand at the Whitehouse Farm in Kansas. Bright, energetic, strong-willed and innocent, Anna has been accepted to attend college at Yale, but she refuses to go, angering her aunt who has raised her for the past 10 years. Anna seeks freedom, not convention, but everyone encourages her to leave. She faces a hot summer of indecision.
Aunt Beatrice is a middle-aged widow: plump, cheerful, loving, compassionate and longing for her own romance, dedicating her life to seeing Anna in college. Harlan, Grady and Jon are three men Anna works with, each with his own cross to bear — “Guilt is a funny thing. How it sticks to us, burr-like.”
Stockman’s vivid narrative about farming shows just how tough it can be — long hours, hard work, unpredictable weather, destructive insects, crippling debt, low prices. But she adds delightful humor and refreshing elements of romance, coupled with a surprising and inspiring conclusion.
And about learning to live life, Warhol and Stockman got it right.
Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.