The other day I picked up a new gardening book from the hardware store. Its cover wasn’t cluttered with photographs like so many other gardening and home improvement books; in fact, the only photo on the cover was of an obviously-distressed leaf. The rest of the cover was largely devoted to the full title of the book: What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?): A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies, by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth. This was actually the first thing that caught my eye. I don’t like when books try to glam themselves up in an attempt to conceal the vapid content inside. This book looked like it was ready to get down to business, and so I picked it up and started leafing through it. It didn’t take me long to decide to buy it.
There are a lot of gardening books out there that are written by people who clearly know how to garden. Unfortunately, communication is not their strong point, and what should be a fountain of knowledge instead becomes a wasteland of over-edited, sometimes terse sometimes diluted text dreaming to be content. This is not one of those books. The authors know how to clearly present their material in an manner that is concise, accurate (as near as I can tell), and helpful.
Most of the first half of the book is a collection of flow charts, designed to help you quickly discover what is actually going on with your plant. Some of it is a little like a choose-your-own-adventure book. For instance, the beginning flowchart for fruit symptoms looks like this:
The whole fruit is discolored. Go to page 97,
The fruit has spots of any size. Go to page 99.
The fruit has holes, or is missing, partly eaten, or cracked. Go to page 110.
The fruit is distorted, stunted, or shriveled. Go to page 115.
The fruit is mushy, wormy, moldy or rotten. Go to page 121.
In most cases, the symptom will be accompanied by a color illustration, giving you visual cues as to what to look for. The exceptions to this are generally when a particular symptom is too broad to be accurately shown. In this case, following the problem one or two steps in will lead you to a more detailed symptom, accompanied by a drawing. As a software engineer, this is the sort of troubleshooting that I’ve become accustomed to at work, and it’s refreshing to finally find a gardening book which so articulately follows the logical line of thought that I like to work in.
After following a few steps of analysis, you will be presented with a diagnosis. For instance:
Does the fruit have white, pale green, and dark green patches? If yes, mosaic virus. For solution, see page 309; for photo, see page 380.
Part 2 of the book, “How Do I Fix It?”, is devoted to preventative measures and natural remedies. The authors of the book seem to believe that chemicals are a last resort; use them when necessary, but not until then. It is better to properly maintain your plants and keep them from causing disease, than to have to try and treat them when something goes wrong. This is especially important in cases where a particular problem has no visual symptoms until it is almost, or altogether too late.
The book seems to be compatible with most gardening styles. Whether you grow your plant in classic rows or have opted for container or Square Foot Gardening, the steps in this book seem to make sense, and are largely easy to accomplish. I was interested to discover that even companion gardening is covered, if not by name. This concept refers to putting plants together which support and protect each other, such as planting marigolds next to certain vegetables to drive away pests which love those vegetables but hate marigolds. It discusses using beneficial insects to your advantage, to drive away other, more bothersome pests.
The book is filled with illustrations, photos, diagrams, charts and altogether useful and insightful knowledge. I’ve barely put this book down since I bought it, and look forward to using it to maintain my plants this year.
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