Thrifty, green living — by the book
Gardening columnist Valerie Easton looks at books with helpful back-to-the-land advice such as: "My rule of thumb for finding affordable land is to look around any place that's at least 50 miles from the nearest Walmart."
THE NATURAL GARDENER
LOCAL FOOD writer Amy Pennington lives in a do-it-yourself world, growing lettuces in containers and making blackberry buttermilk ice cream. Her apartment on Queen Anne Hill has a tiny deck outfitted with enough hanging baskets, window boxes and pots to supply Pennington with tomatoes, herbs and vegetables.
The ever-resourceful Pennington chronicles her food-centric take on city living in "Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home" (Sasquatch Books, $18.95). The best lettuce to grow in a container? "Forellenschluss is a speckled romaine that is so pretty it is ridiculous," says Pennington. And her favorite recipe from the book? "Chamomile and Coconut Granola is so delicious I can't stop eating it!"
As adept as Pennington is at figuring out how to grow the most food in the smallest space in the shortest amount of time, she's equally skilled at suggesting what to do with it. She details not only how to plant directly into a sack of soil and build your own deck-sized worm bin but also how to blend thyme lip balm and whip up a killer chocolate lavender tart. The book's tone is chatty and encouraging: "I am never quite sure why people spend money on little things they could make at home," writes Pennington. "In the grand scheme of gardening, I do aim to be as thrifty as possible."
Case studies on how to green your neighborhood, one shed and carport at a time, are at the heart of "Small Green Roofs: Low-Tech Options for Greener Living" (Timber Press, $24.95). Written by a quartet of authors from an academic to a designer, nurseryman and green-roof advocate, the book is both inspirational and practical.
Perhaps because the authors (Nigel Dunnett, Dusty Gedge, John Little and Edmund C. Snodgrass) are such a diverse group, the book features an exciting range of buildings topped in green. Some roofs are watered so they grow tall, flowery and meadow-like, while others are thickly blanketed in drought-tolerant succulents. One roof is even barrel-shaped, with dry-land plantings at the top and thirstier plants growing down toward the edges.
Some of the green roofs aren't small at all. From a rooftop farm in Brooklyn to the sedum-topped garages of an apartment block in England, many are impressively ambitious. Yet there are also residential-scale projects sprouting green lids, like birdfeeders, bike-storage sheds and playhouses. Details on materials, installation, soil, plants and price, plus an evaluation of how the roofs have fared so far, tell a compelling story of experimentation and mastery. From a dry-meadow rooftop that attracts birds and bees to a classy Manhattan penthouse garden-in-the-sky, the range of approaches and plantings boggles the mind.
"The goal of homesteading is to live a more satisfying life . . . to reclaim and reconnect with the natural world," say Jane Waterman and George Nash in explaining their hardworking lives. "Homesteading in the 21st Century: How One Family Created a More Sustainable, Self-Sufficient, and Satisfying Life" (Taunton Press, $24.95) tells the story of a couple who cut their teeth of self-sufficiency in the 1970s on the "Whole Earth Catalog." After growing Christmas trees (George) and becoming a doctor (Jane), moving to sunbelt states and then back East, the couple now live on a Vermont homestead and raise vegetables, berries, eggs, meat and fuel.
"My rule of thumb for finding affordable land is to look around any place that's at least 50 miles from the nearest Walmart," is one of George's pithy maxims. Whether planting an organic garden, designing a workable kitchen and mudroom or caring for chickens, the couple keep a sense of humor and perspective that serves the reader well in grasping the time, skill, labor and resolve it takes to live life off the grid.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.
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