Last week, I caught up with garden writer Barbara Damrosch at Canada Blooms, the Toronto garden show, where she was a featured speaker. Damrosch was also signing copies of her newly revised Garden Primer, about which Michele has already written. Many of you know and love the first version of this book, and are regular readers of Damrosch’s weekly column in the Washington Post. So you won’t be surprised to learn that she is just as warm and direct in person as she is on the page. Here’s what we talked about:
What’s been added and/or changed in the new Garden Primer?
I’ve expanded all the chapters. I’ve added a lot of plants in every category and many of them are native. That’s because the plants that are most important to me as a gardener are native.
We talk a lot about native plants on Garden Rant—there’s some controversy on the topic. What’s your take?
I think it might have been when Michael Pollan stepped into the fray—the discourse got too extreme. Phrases like “native plant nazi” were being used, unnecessarily. I’m not at all an extremist. I plant exotics like Japanese katsura [cercidiphyllum japonicum], a beautiful tree that’s a lot like a redbud. Redbuds are not hardy where I garden in Maine. I also use nepeta and geranium macrorrhizum. They’re not native but the geranium is one of the few plants that will grow under a maple tree. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis and also try to use local sources.
What about the “100% organic” label on the new book?
It was almost all-organic before, but now organic has become so mainstream, I’m able to advise people to garden the way I’ve always gardened. If you give your plants what they need—the right site, soil, and moisture—they will resist pests and diseases. I do list some of the “safe” remedies, but in fact I don’t use them myself.
I do see that you still discuss double-digging in the new book. Some of us feel that this can be arduous and off-putting to beginning gardeners.
I’m a recovering double-digger! You’ll notice that the diagram is much smaller than in the first book, where I actually recommended “deluxe double-digging” which is much more elaborate.
Now I add layers, rather than dig. You learn from how nature does things. Leaves fall, insects die, and this organic matter enriches the soil from the top down. We spend too much time looking up at the sky; the real action is below, in the soil. That’s where the life of this planet is!
You may also be interested to know, if you don’t already, that Damrosch’s husband Eliot Coleman has written books on vegetable gardening and that the two operate Four Seasons Farm, an experimental market garden, in Harborside, Maine. Damrosch says she will be checking out this post—and I’m reminding her—so please leave any questions you might have in comments and I bet she’ll respond.