april book giveaway: ruth stout and jim crockett!

THIS MONTH’S BOOK GIVEAWAY IS ALL ABOUT MY HEROES. The two books up for grabs are ones I have turned to many times in my decades-long gardening career.  Their authors, mulch-mad, no-work-garden Ruth Stout, and the original “Victory Garden” host Jim Crockett, feel like old friends. Want a chance to win “Gardening Without Work” or “Crockett’s Victory Garden”? I tracked down copies just for you.

Last month’s giveaway, my first ever on the blog, was such a hit that I promised a monthly event (though in April we might just have a surprise “extra” edition, so stay tuned).  As a garden writer, it seems fitting that I should give away not just my own book (as I did last month, and promise to again) but also books by those who’ve taught me. I have been stockpiling some goodies from the used-book dealers the last few weeks.

Crockett’s Victory Garden
James Underwood Crockett (first published, 1977)
The star of the PBS series “The Victory Garden” was also the author of a series of books on how to garden, and this is my favorite of his. It was my first garden book ever, given to me by my sister, so maybe that’s why, but I think its value far exceeds the sentiment attached. Dated (meaning chemicals are used and cultivars are passé) but the best beginner’s book there is, taking you month by month through all the basics of growing food and flowers. Remember: skip the chemicals. I hope he would if he were here today.

Gardening Without Work
Ruth Stout (first published, 1961)

Ruth Stout’s wonderful work was published when she was 76. Though I am a couple of decades shy, the subtitle running up the right side of the cover cries out: “For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent.”

It is more the spirit of the book than anything else that I love, an attitude brought to life in a series of videos of her that I found and shared recently, as you may recall.  Written a year before Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” came out, Stout’s funny little volume likewise decried use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Stout had no tolerance for the burning of leaves, or for wasting the most precious of commodities, water. What she loved: mulch. And mulch. And more mulch. (If you haven’t read my ode to her, it’s here.)

Both books were bought used to offer as prizes, and are paperback editions.  I’ll draw two names using the random number selector at random dot org; the first will win the Crockett and the second the Stout. Here’s how to enter:

Simply comment below, telling us who your garden-writing heroes are. What book(s) did you learn from, and therefore treasure your copies of?

Entries will close at midnight next Monday, April 26, and winners will be announced Tuesday. Good luck to all. I can’t wait to hear what books have shaped your gardening careers. Could lead to more shopping for future prizes.

  1. Donna says:

    My favorite garden books are the old ones; Elizabeth Lawrence is on top. Also Alan Lacy and Henry Mitchell, always good reading. I guess I like the feeling from these authors-gardening is not a competition sport; it is for one’s own enjoyment.

  2. Marnie Andrews says:

    My father was my mentor and teacher. I have trained twice as a Master Gardener, first in LA and here in Ulster Co. but no matter how much I learn, I doubt I could equal his natural instinct.

    He was a Methodist preacher, which meant moving every few years. But with each move, his garden went with him, including the asparagus and strawberries that took time to produce. Yesterday would have been his 89th birthday. It is nice to tell you about him and his garden on Earth Day.

  3. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    My mother taught me how to plant, and she was taught by her mother and sisters (my aunts). But those gardening gals planted things like fruit coctail. A colorful mixture of sorts, BUT without a defined flavor. …

    The Lenox Garden Club’s garden tours, and the Garden Conservancy tours, as well as Trade Secrets, Ct. have trained my eye to see mass versus specimen, got me into looking at the shapes of leaves , and their colors.
    People like Margaret, Lee Link. Bunny WIlliams, Michael Trapp, etc. all brought out my interest in architectural fragments, nature’s organic forms (burls of trees, twig and stick arrangements) , urns, stone spheres, statuary , all used as focal points in the garden landscape.
    As for books Penelope Hobhouse’s “Flower Gardens” has some great inspirational photos, and Melanie Fleischmann’s “American Boarder Gardens” shows good photos and has plant diagrams that could be inspiring.

  4. Sharon says:

    Anything by Mirabel Osler (“A Breath From Elsewhere”, “A Gentle Plea for Chaos”). She taught me to breathe: breathe in the simple pleasures, breathe out the fretfulness. With chapters such as “Dead-heading the Guilt” and “There are No Right Ways,” she reminds me to relax and enjoy.

  5. janeh says:

    I have been learning by doing, which may not be too smart. I really do like reading about gardening in Martha Stewart Living, which may be why I am attracted to this blog. I recently read Dan Pearson’s “Spirit: Garden Inspiration” which was beautifully written and contemporary in thought.

  6. Carole Clarin says:

    My gardening book collection is ever-growing and each one has it’s own specialty. I often refer to your book “A Way to Garden” but have 2 other special books: “The Pleasures of Gardening” by Angela Stanford, beautifully designed by the artist/author with paintings and hand-printed text arranged by seasons; “Brooklyn Botanic Garden/Woodland Garden-Shade Gets Chic” since more than half my Berkshire property is woodlands.

  7. Simon says:

    My favourite gardening book is ‘People with Dirty Hands’ by Robin Chotzinoff and also which I love because its talks so much about vegetables is ‘Veg Patch’ by Mark Dianco. I have just potted up the sown Basil, Courgettes and Spinach. These 3 seeds I bought in America last Summer. So when they are fully grown we’ll have a taste of some American crops. (I live in Cheadle, England.)
    Love the Radio show.

  8. Deborah Green says:

    My favorite garden books are by two wonderful women, Pamela Harper and Elizabeth Lawrence. Pamela Harper taught me all about perennials and color echoes in multiple books over the years. She also taught me much about native plants and the importance of putting the right plant in the right place. Her self-effacing manner of admitting her own mistakes so others can learn from them is something I really appreciate. Books by and about Elizabeth Lawrence have truly proven to me that “no one gardens alone.” I treasure her comments about plants and gardeners, and I have emulated her long distance garden relationships through the years.

  9. Kristin says:

    Like others here, I have found a wealth of information outside of books. One of my best resources is Bob Webster (owner of Shades of Green Nursery in San Antonio, TX). Even though I live in Michigan, I frequently listen to his garden show on KTSA in San Antonio (via the internet) and also, his nursery posts garden seminars that you can watch on YouTube.

    I also love A Way To Garden! Thanks for everything Margaret!

  10. Laura W says:

    The set of books that influenced me (even before I knew that I was being influenced!) was the Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening that my mom bought back in the “70’s. I think I read through each volume more than once as a child. Now I have the whole set in my possession as my mother claimed that they were taking up too much space at her house and she wanted to get rid(!!) of them! I can always find room for more gardening books… ;0P

  11. Marguerite says:

    I have a huge collection of gardening books, but two in particular made a huge impression on my very early in my gardening life. I bought a copy of Ruth Stout’s “How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back” and that book was a revelation. I dug up and planted my first garden in the mid 70’s and piled moldy hay high and deep. Neighbors who were gardening conventionally were astonished at the amazing yields I would get. I have always followed that basic system of mulching heavily with few exceptions. I hate weeding. My second favorite book was the classic “Square Foot Gardening,” by Mel Bartholomew. I have found that relying on the advice of these two talented gardeners has made gardening so much easier and with much more success. I still have copies of both books and still refer to them, plus an updated version of the Square Foot Gardening book.

  12. Jean says:

    Living in the Nation’s Capital while in my teens, took to reading the late, great Henry Mitchell’s pieces published by the Washington Post. His wife compiled the best in three books, and each brings his wry perspective and enthusiasm for the art of gardening back when I am in need of a nudge. Still relevant, some 40 years later.

  13. mary louise says:

    Ray Rogers’ book on Coleus and his other on Container Gardening. Tony Avent’s catalogue and newsletters, Tracy Di Sabato’s book on perrennials and their care.

  14. Iris says:

    I always wanted to be Tasha Tudor when I grew up… and who knows… I may yet grow up… ;)

    Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin (Author) and Richard W. Brown (Photographer) was such an inspiration to me. Her gardens amazed me and her simple life seemed such a pleasure.

    Now, after the kind introduction to her video by you, Ruth Stout is highly admired in my mind!

  15. brooke says:

    Years ago in my ‘back to the land days’ I found COMPOST GARDENING by W.E. Shewell-Cooper. Gardening in the Appalachian mountains with rock and clay after growing up helping parents and grand parents garden in mid-western topsoil was a shock — we made huge piles of compost, turning all winter, watching the steam rise, Spring gardening was a whole new exciting adventure — from there we read Ruth Stout and so many more. It was the composting and understanding soil composition that made the biggest impact.

    Your blog is so inspirational, good info with some great whimsy — thank you!

  16. Marianne says:

    I love Month by Mouth Gardening in Washington & Oregon by Mary Robson with Christina Pfeiffer. I also love Washington & Oregon Gardner’s Guide by Debra Prinzing and Mary Robson. I refer to both books on a regular basis for gardening in my area.

    Love your blog!

  17. I haven’t really gotten into one particular writer. Both of these books sound really good.

    My mom is my garden hero and we grew up with a 1/2 acre garden.

    Maybe she didn’t feel like my hero when I had to go hoe the corn rows but looking back, it was all good. Amazing how hindsight is like that!

  18. Luke Pryjma says:

    This started off easy. Now it is taking me forever to write. 4th draft. I want Ruth’s book. I haven’t heard of the other author. Because of the videos I saw here, Ruth Stout is my hero. I was having a hard time talking about her on Saturday. I was recommending her to a garden teacher. I had to chaperon some kids elsewhere and I couldn’t quickly sum up who Ruth Stout was. I wanted to jump into who she was by calling her this lazy gardener who lets the land work for her. Then I thought maybe this teacher will think I am calling her lazy? I caught myself and I sealed up. This teacher must have sensed that. Maybe that’s why the teacher wouldn’t let her guard down around me. She kept repeating “we compost and put the compost back on the garden” like I was the garden police. I was writing her up and the fine was reading some garden book. I think and hope she will be relieved when she reads about Ruth Stout. I like this teacher. I caught a glimpse of her using a milk crate as a mobile garden seat to relieve her back. She also gardened without a bra. I think Ruth would be proud.
    Other Heros:
    Dennis Schrader’s Hot Plants for Cool Climates reset the bar for northeast ornamental gardening.
    John McPhee’s Oranges is amazing. Little insights here and there about citrus mixed with stories of farmers, harvesters and their amazing tricks makes Oranges fresh after forty years.
    Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution will hopefully help save the planet and turn the farming world upside down.
    L H Bailey’s Manual of Gardening turned 100 this year. It reinforces the basics. He admits in his introduction that the next five hundred something pages won’t compare to his introduction. He is humble. This was 1910 and he tells us some people might find as much appreciation in a tin-cup garden as another does in a whole acre. Gardening lies in the sentiments.

    I am sure there are many people deserving of Ruth Stout’s book but I sure would love a “romanesque breakfast” with it.

  19. Melinda says:

    I have two or three books that I treasure:

    The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. Love, love, love that she’s made a book based on projects that home gardeners would tackle.

    Plants of the Metroplex by Howard Garrett. This is a MUST for anyone in Texas. Too many nurseries here sell poorly adapted plants. I adore delphinium, but really…one of our big local nurseries should know better than push those here. :(

    Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening. Neil is a legend.

  20. Emily says:

    New at this but really want to learn more about composting and creating a garden that needs little work while using as little pesticides as possible!

  21. Cheryl says:

    I have always admired Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”. When I started gardening I strived to never use chemicals in my garden. Around the same time our local NPR station ran a segment on organic gardening. I was hooked! Naturewoks a nursery in Northford, CT has been an excellent resource to me through the years. They have a wonderful newsletter and they offer many educational opportunities. They along with you Margaret have made me a better gardener!

  22. EsSuzy says:

    My father was my garden mentor. I gardened with him from the time I could walk in the garden. He had a great passion for all types of gardening and I think he ( and I)even passed some of that to my kids. Books that have inspired me in gardening are Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden, written by William Baldwin, and Around the House and in the Garden by Dominique Browning. I think both of these speak to the idea of gardening as therapy. I think Ruth Stout would approve.

  23. Hi, Margaret, I am lucky enough to own both of these, thanks to my gardening mother. I agree that they are very inspiring! I am looking forward to reading your “A Way to Garden” book, which I got at my library through inter-library loan. Any chance it will come back into print? Thanks for all of your inspiring and informative posts!

  24. Whoops, forgot to mention two of my gardening heroes: Henry Mitchell, late gardening columnist for the Washington Post (and I love Adrian Higgins, too), and Eleanor Perenyi for her eminently re-readable “Green Thoughts.” I also enjoy reading Beverly Nichols although my garden is as different from his as one could imagine!

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