The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

Twenty years ago (gosh, has it been that long??), we lived in a tiny apartment with a postage stamp sized garden and I had just been bitten by the gardening bug. I read everything I could on gardening and I vividly remember discovering Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer at the local library where I worked. It was full of practical advice dispensed in such an engaging manner and I ended up buying myself a copy. Since then, gardening publishing has changed somewhat and books are usually geared toward specific regions of the country. This can be a good thing – I’m sure I rely on The Southern Living Garden Book more than any other book in my library but folks in California and New England won’t get too much out of it.

The Garden Primer, however, is a rare exception of a gardening book that can benefit gardeners no matter where they live. It is especially helpful to novice gardeners who want to start a garden but are not exactly sure where to begin.

The first chapters deal with the basics – what plants need in order to grow properly, how to prepare your soil, starting your own seeds, proper planting methods and how to deal with insects and diseases. A chapter on gardening gear covers tools, what to wear and how to organize it all.

Damrosch then goes into plant specifics with chapters on Annuals, Perennials, Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Bulbs, Roses, Lawns, Ground Covers, Vines, Shrubs, Tree, Wildflowers and Houseplants. Each section discusses how to buy plants, how to plan your site (with some planting scheme plans included), how to grow the plants and maintain them. She then includes an encyclopedia of specific plants with descriptions and basic growing advice. The vegetable section is even more extensive with details on growing and harvesting. If plants are more suited to certain areas of the country, it is mentioned.

Another element of this book that I enjoy are the wonderful illustrations. They are black-and-white, simple and yet so effective. And I’m so glad they kept the illustration of the garden shed on the endsheets. I’ve always admired that and maybe this year I will finally get my own tools organized like it!

The second edition, which has just been published (March 2008), has been updated to include new varieties of plants, more efficient methods and techniques and more up-to-date trends. More plants have been included, especially native plants which are so popular today. The book is “100% Organic”!

Damrosch claims in her forward that she set out to write a “simple” book on gardening. Her engaging writing style and clear instructions do just that but this 820 page book is so much more than that. It provides a wealth of information for beginning gardeners and has proven to be a book that I return to again and again. I highly recommend it.


  1. A "simple" book of more than 800 pages? I have my doubts...

  2. Very nice review, indeed. It IS a bit clunky in size (I have one to review when I get to it) but she writes so well and so wisely, as you point out.

  3. I have put this book on the give to new gardeners list. We were given a great beginning vegetable gardening as a wedding present...we loved it.

    I hope you don't mind but I have given your blog an award, you can pick it up at mine. I am telling my awardees that this is not advertising or spam...I got hit pretty badly yesterday, so I am sensitive to that!



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