Gillman’s Organic Gardening in the Washington Post


Adrian Higgins does a bang-up job of reviewing Jeff’s latest book, including this: "How do you separate the hype from the facts?  Spending 13 bucks on Gillman’s new book, ‘The Truth about Organic Gardening’ (Timber Press), may go a long way."  We couldn’t agree more.  Congrats to Jeff and Timber!

But on a personal note, I WAS going to review the book myself for my next newspaper column in the same market as the Post, so what should I do after being scooped by Higgins?  The term "read it and weep" springs to mind.


  1. You should write a counter review and say that it’s a piece of crap….

    Actually….I’d prefer you didn’t do that. But I really do appreciate the fact that you were considering writing about the book for your newspaper. Hearing things like that from people who I respect really makes my day.

    Thanks Susan

  2. I think you should go on and review it. It’s like when we all do the Garden Bloggers Book Club. Every one of us sees something different in the book. That way, in your market, people get two different views. Just my op.~~Dee

  3. Susan, write that review. Wherever it ends up, it will contribute to this important debate, with implications reaching far beyond our gardens.

    I sympathize with how it feels to read something you wish you’d written – ain’t that the truth! But you’ve got your own unique and sustainable take on the subject, and I’d like to hear it.

    Thanks very much for posting the link to the review, and thanks to Jeff Gillman for his research and writing – it’s on my list of ‘must reads’.

    In my veggie growing class at our community college, aimed at community and home gardeners, I struggled with what to call the class. Finally, I picked the unwieldy “ecological/organic gardening”. The naming process was like wading into the barnyard and finding you can’t get your boots out of the mire – I wanted to say “organic” because the term connotes all kinds of “good things”, and signals, in some general way, an approach to gardening. Though I share all of Gillman’s concerns, I felt stuck with it. So I added “ecological”. That term has its own set of problems and baggage, as my brother, an ornithologist (and excellent gardener, too) would remind me.

    But all this goes far beyond a response. I guess it boils down to two questions:

    What is the name for our approach to gardening?

    Is there one? Do we share enough common practices to give it a name? That list on the sidebar of GardenRant sums up many common elements. We care about our soil, and the environment. We are not into “instant” gardening (tellingly, a local fellow here in Charlotte has hung out his shingle for “Instant Organic Gardens” – hire him, and he’ll come set up a organic veggie garden in your yard, in one weekend!) – we advocate sustainability, and environmental sanity, and gardening gently on the Earth. Don’t we?

    But that tricky expression “organic”, coined by JI Rodale in the 1940s, has endured and left a lasting impact, one that has grown only stronger with the advent of USDA certified organic. Is Gillmore debunking it to move beyond it, or strengthen it, or be rid of it?

    And what of the farmers, especially the small farmers, who have embraced “organic” as a way to survive in a very unfriendly world? Whatever the problems with the label “organic” – and there are many, including it being coopted by agribusiness – the organic certification process does require farmers to stick to a higher environmental standard than conventional growers. No? I think it helps small growers, though many now can’t afford the fees and handle the record keeping so they can’t be “certified organic”.

    I wonder, how does Jeff Gillmore define his own gardening (at home and his own growing projects, not in his university professor role?)? Is he essentially “organic”, but with reservations and modifications to be more ecologically sound? Or is he “conventional” but concerned about the environment, a “green” but not “strictly organic” gardener. Would hardcore conventional/reductionist colleagues at his school (we grad students labeled them ‘nozzleheads’ at Cal Poly) label Gillmann “organic”, regardless of how he defines himself?

    Second observation. Gillmore’s point about neem is an excellent one. In the Peace Corps, in Togo, I saw neem (Azadirachta indica) and leucaena (L. leucocephala) being “pushed” as miracle tree plantation crops, neem largely for insecticide production. Problems with these trees as invasive species, or use of local trees or polycultural forests, never seemed to come up. This was a while back, in the early 1980s, but I fear things haven’t changed much. The danger is two-fold: We, as a culture, jump on novel “solutions”, rather than seeking to understand the deeper context; and we use “organic” or “natural” or “green” uncritically to mean “good and desirable”.

    Sorry for the overly long response, Susan -as always, GardenRant is a too tempting distraction from work, in this case a talk tonight on the science of composting. Actinomycetes, anyone? Also, full disclosure – I’m Organic Gardening Magazine’s correspondent and variety tester in the Carolina Piedmont. In the test beds (at a community garden), I follow certifiable organic technique, but I don’t use rotenone, either- and we’re not even close to a creek.)

  4. Don, sorry it took me a while to get back to answering your thoughtful comment.
    I define myself sometimes as a proponent of “environmentally responsible gardening practices,” and also sometimes “slow gardening,” which alludes to the feed-the-soil, feed-the-spirit philosophy I believe we share. Also, I use “sustainable” because it connotes a practical approach that takes into account the big picture, not just one factor about which one has the luxury to be a purist.
    Another thought – are “reductionists” only conventional, nonorganic proponents or can’t so-called progressives also reduce things to simple black-and-white solutions, demonizing people who disagree with them in the details (like some probably do to Gillman)?

  5. Hi Susan –
    Don’s response brings up enough questions for another book. Or at least a few articles.

    I write for a small town newspaper with circulation of 20,000 so I rarely receive review copies of garden books when they first come out.

    By the time I receive, read and write a column about the book, most of my readers are just becoming interested in the topic because they heard something about it before.

    So, wait a month and then write the review. And, get Don to write part of it or at least a few quotes.

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