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Originally published Friday, October 12, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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Good gardening reads for the dark days

Autumn gardening books are an eclectic lot.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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FROM AN urban farming manifesto to a handy encyclopedia on fruit and vegetable gardening, autumn gardening books are an eclectic lot. Whether you're seeking instruction, inspiration or simply an excuse to retire your lawn mower, look no farther than our roundup of new fall titles.

Lawns are so yesterday. "What if you could replace all or part of your lawn with a low, living carpet of plants that would never need mowing, water or fertilizer?" is the tantalizing question posed by Evelyn Hadden in her new book, "Beautiful No-Mow Yards" (Timber Press, $24.95). She goes on to confirm, in words and photos, that it's possible to create ecologically savvy gardens with a plant palette far more intriguing than turf grass. Patios, play areas, ponds and vegetable gardens fill these pages, along with lawn alternatives like clover, creeping sedum and sedges.

Ready to get rid of your lawn? Here are techniques from smothering to solarizing. Hadden offers up strategies to wean us from our lawn habit while making it clear that the price of turf grass, in time and resources, is no longer justifiable or sustainable.

If you think getting rid of your lawn is a radical idea, you'll be blown away by "Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival," by David Hanson and Edwin Marty (University of California Press, $29.95). Urban agriculture is evolving in thrilling and surprising ways, and this examination of 12 successful city farm programs updates us on how, where and what's next. The gardeners profiled are visionary, the tone political yet instructive, the examples both gritty and inspiring. From the success of Seattle's P-Patch program to kids milking goats at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, Calif., this is a book that will touch your heart, expand your mind and motivate you to scale up your own food production.

And here's the book to help you grow food skillfully in your own backyard: "Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: The Definitive Guide to Successful Growing" (DK Publishing, $24.95). Drawings, photos, text and layout are clear, concise, beautifully organized and to-the-point. "There are two types of lettuce: those that form hearts or heads, and those that do not ... " "Apply water economically and reduce water loss wherever possible ... " No matter if you're an experienced food gardener refreshing your memory on pruning details or researching cultivar suggestions, or a novice planting that first pumpkin or tomato, this book has the goods. It might not be as life-changing as an internship at the Royal Botanic Gardens at KEW, but it's as close as most of us will come to a dose of such keen and precise plantsmanship.

Sometimes we're so busy tending our own plots that we forget the sweep and scope of gardens around the globe. In "A World of Gardens" (Reaktion Books, $45), John Dixon Hunt ranges over centuries, civilizations and countries to explore themes and motifs from romanticism to naturalism. Hundreds of photos and drawings illustrate urban gardens, Asian and European gardens, scientific and sacred landscapes. If you can ignore the sometimes overly academic tone, you'll appreciate Hunt's knowledge and enthusiasm for gardens from first century Pompeii to 21st century California. I was left in awe of the effort humans across cultures have put into shaping landscapes and how, in turn, they've been shaped by the gardens around them.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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