At the WMMGA Upper Valley Symposium book sale in March, I spotted a little book titled How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies by Jim Fox and published by Timber Press in 2013. The cover also stated Find the pruners that will last a lifetime; Choose the best mulch for your garden; Pick the shovel that’s right for you; Spot the healthy perennials. Well, we all have purchased many, many different pruners trying to find a better one, been unhappy with our mulch, broken the handle of a shovel or two, and thought we had purchased a healthy Heliopsis only to have it covered in white flies a month later. OK, Jim Fox, enlighten this old gardener.
Section 1 is all about What to Know Before You Buy. Knowing your climate zone, moisture levels and soil type, sun and shade, the purpose of your garden, your budget, your abilities and ambitions, and finally, making your plant list. And all before you run to the garden center and let your emotions guide your selections. We all know that, right? But wait, on page 21 Jim writes “The Master Gardener program, cooperative extension service, or national agricultural agency in your area may be able to suggest a lab to do this soil testing.” If he values the Master Gardener program, maybe he does know what he is talking about! Let’s see what he says about tools such as shovels.
In Section 5, titled the Tools and Gear You’ll Need, he first reviews long handled tools. Did you know that most wooden handles are made from Ash? (This could create a serious problem with that Emerald Ash Beetle destroying our Ash trees.) Jim also recommends wiping the handle a few times during the growing season to keep it clean and most importantly, wipe the handle with mineral or other wood oil at the end of the season to keep it from drying out. And he strongly recommends that bucket of sand with oil on top to plunge our metal tools into after every use. Don’t forget to sharpen these tools whenever they need it. (I should have taken that workshop on sharpening tools at the Upper Valley Symposium!)
Section 7 is Supplies to Keep Your Garden Growing. Let’s look at Mulch. Clearly Jim likes Feeding Mulches. But I didn’t know that when Mushroom growers are finished with their mushroom compost (straw, sawdust, manure, and sometimes lime), it can be used in our perennial and vegetable beds, and that it is especially good for Roses. Jim tells us what should be on the label of those bags of mulch purchased from a store, what is good about animal manure mulches, and how to start making our own compost if you haven’t already done so. He also discusses Non Feeding Mulches, such as wood bark, pine needles (pine straw), straw, cocoa shells and husks. Their purpose is strictly to reduce weed germination and retain moisture in the soil. He also spends a little time on gravels, crushed or washed, and man-made mulches such as burlap, plastic and landscape fabrics. And which type of mulch to use where. He writes on page191 “A study carried our several decades ago at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston found that mulches made of herbaceous material—leaves, grasses, manures, and some little twigs and stems—are best used on perennial, vegetable and annual gardens. Wood-based mulches with little or no manure in them are best used around woody plants or in woodland. Like to like, as it were.” (That should settle an argument every spring at our house!!)
There is so much more advice and wisdom (notice how I am now a Jim Fox fan) in this tiny book than I could include in this review. The author, Jim Fox, works in the retail nursery business. He offers private horticultural consultations. His years of answering gardener’s questions inspired him to write this book. I’m glad he did! I highly recommend that even the most seasoned gardener purchase and read this little treasure trove of advice. And if you know any one new to gardening, this is a gift that will keep on giving.