Grow Your Garden

Spring is here and Active Senior’s Digest is offering readers a jump on the season with reviews of some newly released titles from various publishers.

Gardening has grown during the pandemic and vegetable plants, herbs and spices are springing up in backyards, windowsills and balconies across the country.

These new books offer plenty of tips for growers, whether you live on a farm with lots of land or in an apartment, with very little space but a great south- or west-facing window and some pots.

Read on and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – the payoff is both nutritious and delicious.


Elderberry miracle

Everything Elderberry

By Susannah Shmurak

Skyhorse Publishing Inc.

Hardcover, 204 pages


The little purple fruits, flowers and other parts of elderberry have been used for more than two thousand years for medicinal purposes by everyday folks and doctors, starting with the ancient Greek Hippocrates (c460-370BC), the so-called “father of medicine” who called elder a “medicine chest in itself and “a plant from the Gods.”

This Minnesota-based author leans on contributors like herbalists, farmers and cooks and has done extensive research on elderberry, used to make jams and wine and cure a variety of ailments like infections, fever, burns, muscle soreness, arthritic pain and even snake bites. Modern scientists have discovered that elderberries contain high levels of flavonoids which battle free radicals in our bodies that can damage DNA, cells and proteins and lead to major health problems like cancer and arthritis, for instance.

The book offers tips on foraging for or growing elderberry and recipes for cooking the fruits and flowers, which are used to make skin salves, tinctures and calming teas. This is an amazing plant.


Herb gardening

Complete Container Herb Gardening

By Sue Goetz

Quarto Publishing Group

Softcover, 192 pages

Horticulturist Sue Goetz brings to life the art of growing herbs in pots for those who have a lot of patio space or for who might be in a tight spot and only have  windowsill or balcony that is bathed in bright sunshine.

Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, and even beginning gardeners can enjoy “their fresh flavours, fragrances and healing properties,” says the author.

She offers tips on selecting the right pot (plastic, metal, clay or wood) and soil mixture, caring for the plants, and selecting the right herbs to create “natural aromatherapy combos; chemical-free cleaning and beauty-care products, pollinator havens, herbal teas and culinary treat.”

The book is filled with colour photos and helpful tips on herbs from propagating and harvesting the plants, to battling pests and diseases. This book is for both the experienced gardener and the first-timer looking to pass the time during the pandemic, with some delicious rewards at the end of the season.


Herbs throughout the season

The Herbal Kitchen

By Kami McBridge

Red Wheel/Weiser LLC

Softcover, 302 pages

This book is ideal for those who want to celebrate the fruits of their labour by cooking up a storm with the herbs they’ve grown throughout the season.

Kami McBride, a teacher of herbal medicine at various California schools, begins with details on 50 of the most common herbs with gardening tips, properties and uses for each of the plants. Basil, for instance, is used as an antibacterial and antiviral and can calm nerves, clear the mind, and fight off colds, the flu and allergies.

As a tea, basil can relieve stomach cramps and spasms, nausea, gas and constipation. That’s one great herb, and there are 49 more.

The last part of the book deals with recipes for herbal drinks like teas and smoothies, herbal honey, vinegar, oils, cordials and pesto, along with bath and foot soaks. Although there are no photos or graphics, and the book is not printed in full colour, there’s lots of useful stuff here to motivate a gardener for the next growing season.


Secrets of spice

Grow Your Own Spices

By Tasha Greer

Quarto Publishing Group

Hardcover, 128 pages

For centuries, the methods used to grow spices were a well-kept secret because of the value placed at the time on this precious trade commodity. The spice routes used by the clipper ships helped with exploration and promoted trade around the world. In the Bible, of the gifts provided by the three wise men, two gave spices (frankincense and myrrh). Back then, spices were a valued commodity and more coveted than gold.

Times have changed, and now people have picked up on the pastime of growing spices in their backyard gardens or on windowsills in their homes, especially during the pandemic.

Initial pages of this book cover general gardening techniques and secrets, like soil PH and battling animals and insects, before details are outlined on 30 spices found globally. There’s a section on spices grown from seeds (coriander, cumin, dill,, paprika, and mustard), those found in the ground (garlic, horseradish, ginger, cardamom and wasabi), and a final section on perennials (lavender, sumac, juniper berry and tropical species like cinnamon, tamarind and cloves.) There’s lots of colour photos and illustrations.

This book is for the spicy among us.


Grow your veggies

The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables

By Janet Melrose and Sheryl Normandeau

Touchwood Editions

Softcover, 160 pages

These two Calgary-based gardeners have a series of books under a similar banner (other titles deal with seed collecting and small-space growing) and offer up some great advice for growers located anywhere in Canada, and not just the Prairies.

Janet holds various horticultural certificates, gardens on her small balcony and at a community plot and works at a public library, while Sheryl holds similar certificates and operates Calgary Cottage Gardener that specializes in garden education, horticultural therapy and she is an advocate for cooking with locally grown foods.

Together, they have come up with a very useful book to help Canadians with various topics, like cultivation (crop rotation), weather (transplanting, bolting), harvesting and storing vegetables The rest of the book lists in details most of the popular veggies and how to plant, care and harvest this healthy food.

There are some really great tips for a plentiful harvest, along with colour photos and graphics to help you get your hands dirty. Veggie power, all the way.


Partner-up your plants for better results

Plant Partners

By Jessica Walliser

Storey Publishing

Softcover, 206 pages

Some plants are best grown together to help each other in a procedure that is known as companion planting.

Mixing up the garden planting a little, rather than keeping everything in spate rows, means the plants can support each other physically (beans that climb up corn stalks), share soil nutrients (flava beans that produce nitrogen and help corn that uses it up), suppress weeds (winter rye as a living mulch among asparagus), and to combat pests (marigolds that draw “beneficial” bugs that destroy other bugs that attack tomatoes).

Advances in science have made gardeners understand the power that comes with plant partnerships.

The author, a Pittsburgh-based horticulturalist, suggests that, historically, crops were planted in rows to help large farm operators with the use of their planting and harvesting equipment, but backyard gardeners without all of this expensive machinery should avoid this pitfall. Different plants that are grown together help each other in many ways, and can provide a better yield.

So, let’s all repeat the mantra together: It’s tomatoes next to cowpeas, and zucchini next to nasturtiums…


Plants under cover for longer growing

Growing Under Cover

By Biki Jabbour

Storey Publishing

Softcover, 217 pages

The Halifax-based author of the bestseller The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener and host of The Weekend Gardener radio show, is at it again, this time with a book on using covers – everything from nets and tarps to cold frames and full greenhouses – to extend the growing season and increase yields.

The author offers ideas for using protective covers to create ideal conditions for vegetables, to keep pests away and extend the season, especially since it’s short in Canada. Covers can be used to increase germination, minimize transplant shock, prevent bolting with plants going to seed, protect against frost and to harvest year-around.

The first part of the book deals with various types of covers, and the last part deals with cover strategies for individual veggies.

The book has a pleasing layout, with many colour photos, graphics and tables to help the reader alone.

The text is easy to follow. With covers over the plants, gardeners can get rewards, throughout the year, and enjoy them at the table.