Gardener’s Wisdom – a book review

Not only do I love the outdoors, but I have a deep love of books that started even before I could read myself. I remember memorizing a book before I could read, and I would “read” that book to anyone who would listen.

Being an outdoor reporter has a bunch of perks. One of them is access to local authors’ books. I have been lucky enough to have many authors within the state send me a copy of their book, which I gladly read and reviewed in my column in the newspaper. I will always read local authors whenever possible and enjoy buying their books and attending book signings.

When I first saw the title of this book, “Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening,” I immediately felt like I was about to get my grandma or grandpa back again. The book is by Jerry Apps with photography by Steve Apps and recipes by Ruth Apps. While I have never met the author, the lessons he was willing to share in the book made me feel as if I knew at least a part of him.

For one thing, there is something about reading a local author, or even one who writes about things close to home. It just makes it that much more personal and fun, at least for me. I would always recommend, for those looking for a good read, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, It is one of the greatest places I have ever found to immerse oneself in an adventure or a different time in this place. We have so many talented authors in our midst and so many incredible stories to be told.

But back to Apps gardening book. It would be easy to write a book about successes. It would also be easy for any gardener to discount that in hand. Gardening is about learning, and it is an undertaking in which I do not think most ever stop learning. Gardening was something that I learned to enjoy at an early age, regardless of the work involved.

To say that my childhood was a happy one would be a gross overstatement. But I do remember two places where I was happy. One was in the woods with my Dad. The other was in the garden alone. Of course, I would never want Mother to catch me “stealing” vegetables out of the garden while weeding or picking rocks, but the reward was more than worth the punishment to me, so I often munched to my heart’s content. After all, we had bunnies and squirrels and so many other animals that helped themselves as well, I figured there would be little harm in it. We had plenty of food in the house, of course, but there was something about picking a fresh vegetable, brushing off the dirt, and just enjoying it in a moment of solitude.

App’s situation was different than mine, with actual acreage of farming going on, but it was his vegetable garden, and his mother’s vegetable garden, which brought back the most memories for me. I do not remember that my sister nor I were ever involved in choosing what would go in the garden, but I know we looked through seed catalogs, just like Mom did. One of the simple joys, I suppose. Apps, too, remembered his mother doing the same thing – looking for specific seeds from particular catalogs at just the right time.

While I do not have a lot of space currently for a garden, I make use of the space I have. In my old house, I had a large deck that was probably half the size of the apartment in which I now live. And that was perfect, because I lived in the woods. With the deck, I did not have to worry about bunnies or deer or any other critters, for the most part, getting into my garden. Although, in the winter when I thought it would be fun to hang some suet for the birds, some sort of mustelid did come up on the deck and help himself. I think it may have been a raccoon, although I had never seen one around. The other option was a porcupine, which I did find evidence of from time to time.

But, in both instances, it almost feels like cheating to not have to deal with those things. This year I grew two small tomato plants, which suffered some life-ending blight fairly early in the season (I believe I still got 3 or 4 yellow tomatoes, though, and I did manage one sauce tomato). My peppers fared much better, with the jalapenos and garden salsa peppers outperforming the banana peppers. My herbs, too, thrived on the north-facing balcony.

Reading Apps book, and learning about his successes and failures – not only his but those of his parents, and how his gardening has changed as he has gotten older, I am reminded of an elderly gentleman I had the pleasure of living next to when I did have a large garden. He was a botanist, as a stroke of luck, and a teacher at the local high school. I always thought I might bother him by asking “stupid” questions over the fence between our yards – until he told me a story about being overseas in the army and learning to darn sock via mail from his mother. That must have been quite the long process for him! Apps book reminded me of those days, too, and wondering if I would ever have all of the answers to gardening.

The answer to that, by the way, I believe is “no.” Even Apps, in 60 years of gardening, still has a degree of trial and error in his gardening. His book allows us to learn from his mistakes as well, and to follow his lead in his successes. And that is one of the great things about books like this – he is a Wisconsin gardener, just as many of us are. Granted, he likely has more experience than many of us, certainly more than I have, but to know that he is still learning, too, is comforting in some ways. I hate to put it as akin to misery loves company, but those who garden understand. We pour our hearts and souls into some of our gardening adventures, only to be wiped out by a pathogen or a torrential rain!

As you create your winter reading list, I really hope you will consider Gardener’s Wisdom by Jerry Apps. It will truly be time well spent, and hopefully will give you inspiration for next year’s garden.

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