Container Gardening in the 635’s

March 4, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 2

Finally, a book review!  Just for those of you who are new and were beginning to believe I don’t actually do those 😛  In fact, today I have several short book reviews for you, as I spent last week slowly absorbing information from a variety of books on container gardening.

The book I started with was Container Gardening for the Midwest, one of many books at my library which has caused me to be pleasantly surprised by the ability of even a small library to collect lots of region specific books.  This book followed a layout typical of the books I read, starting with general information about container gardening.  This included the benefits of different pot materials, different design elements (color pairing, shape, etc), how to plant your garden, and how to care for your garden.  Following the general care section was a section on specific plants.  Unfortunately, for gardening I think location north/south matters at least as much as what region of the US you’re in, so there was still some generality to this section.  I don’t think it’s fair to blame the book for that though when the only way to improve that would be an even more specific focus.  In fact, the plant specific section in this book was one of my favorites, because it had great pictures for every plant and I prefer to pick plants by appearance before determining whether or not I can really grow them.  I think it was a good book to start with, since it didn’t provide overwhelming details, and the long, picture-filled plant section made it the book I used most to make a to-be-shortened list of plants I might like to include in my own balcony garden.

I had very high hopes for the next book on my list, called Contain Yourself, which I specifically picked up for a large “recipe” section with 101 arrangements and detailed instructions for making them.  As I wrapped up the previous book, I realized that I didn’t feel ready to dive into planning and creating my own garden, so I was looking to this section for help.  The obligatory introductory section of this book was quite short and covered essentially the same material as the introduction of the previous book, but was written in a much more conversational and engaging manner. The previous book was written by a group of authors, while this book was written by one gardener and in this beginning section, that was a clear improvement.  The section on specific plants was somewhat smaller, but also included great pictures and the information for each plant was better organized.  As a result, I relied on this book heavily when making my initial plant list as well.  The last section, with all of the display recipes, was something of a let down.  What I really felt like I needed was a description of the creative process of designing an arrangement and this section looked like it would provide that.  But every page included the same information (these plants complemented each other, the pot complemented the plants and/or had character) and after a few pages I couldn’t bring myself to do more than skim the pages.  The pictures weren’t even especially good as they were too small to determine whether or not I liked any of the plants in the arrangements.

The third book I read, called The Container Gardener’s Bible, lived up to it’s name.  Although the section on specific plants was not as good as the previous books, with pictures for maybe half the plants, the introduction was superb.  The book started with a few pages on the history of container gardening and moved into some awesome, general advice for planting in a variety of situations.  In part because of the history section, this was the first book I read where I felt like I was in the middle of a book while I was reading it.  The first two immersed me so little that it was hard for me to sit back down and get into them, but not so with this book.  And the general advice on creating arrangements was exactly what I had so hoped for from the previous book.  Both the previous books talked about different styles of gardening (contemporary, rustic, formal, informal) but didn’t give any advice on how to achieve those looks.  This book gave great advice, with suggestions for general plant and pot shapes, as well as specific plant suggestions.  The same thing was then done for specific locations (balconies, roofs, walls, entryways, etc) and for specific types of gardens (herb, vegetable, aromatic, fruit).  The instructions for caring for plants were also exceptional, including a nice time line for caring for a garden throughout the year.  Although the earlier books were better for initial plant selection, this is the only book I read that absolutely plan on buying to use as a reference during the actual process of planting and caring for my garden.

The last book I read was very different from the previous books and left me with mixed feelings.  Called Outdoor Design and Build Container Gardening, this was very much a design book.  It was a large book, with beautiful, full-page pictures as part of almost every two-page spread.  One of the biggest negatives to this book was that the plants in each picture often weren’t identified.  I also liked the organization less, as the authors alternated between practical gardening advice and design advice sections.  They did do a very thorough job of providing design advice and included a much better recipe section than Contain Yourself, with larger pictures of the arrangements and single pictures identifying each plant.  Sadly, the general advice was less good and overall this book felt way too light on practical information to meet the needs of a beginning container gardener.  It may, however, be a book I return to later for design inspiration.


Container Gardening for the Midwest – 3 stars – Great picture-filled guide for picking plants.  Decent but un-engaging introduction to the process of container gardening.  A good introductory book.

Contain Yourself – 3 stars – More engaging but less useful introduction, plus an even better section on plants with pictures and well-organized information.

The Container Gardener’s Bible – 5 stars – Less good plant section, but awesome general advice for designing a variety of garden types and by far the most helpful section on actually creating and maintaining a garden.  The only one of these books I feel obligated to buy as a reference 🙂

Outdoor Design and Build Container Gardening – 3 stars – I had really mixed feelings about this one.  It was a good design book and had great pictures, but wasn’t very informative or helpful for a beginning container gardener.

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