The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden

review by Jack Kittredge

Those who have read a Dr. Reich book (yes, he does have a PhD – in horticulture), or who have attended one of Lee’s NOFA conference workshops, know the care with which he covers his topics. That approach continues in this, his latest gardening book.

From the book’s earliest essay, on seed sprouting, in which he explains the mysteries of dormancy, stratification, plant hormones that inhibit or encourage germination, and scarification, to its final one, on flavor, exploring the impact of microclimate, pruning for light, soil quality, harvest timing, even the mysteries of terroir on this vital quality, his curiosity and knowledge combine in a speculative blend that fascinates.

Reich organizes this book in sections on Propagation and Planting, Soil, Flowering and Fruiting, Stems and Leaves, Organizations, Stress, and Senses. This makes it easy to find his musings on the subject when some sort of question occurs to you, like: What forms burls on trees? or How Do Plants Handle Heat Stress? or Do Plants Really Respond to Touch? You will find yourself soon deeply engrossed learning about buds which grow inward, or C3 versus C4 photosynthesis, or how to make cucurbits bear more female flowers.

Despite Lee’s conventional training (Cornell, USDA) he favors an organic approach and suggests many natural alternatives for gardeners tempted to reach for a spray to control pests or diseases. I especially appreciate his attitude toward tillage: “Following an initial burst of nutrients, the soil is left poorer… Not that tilling is necessary; many farms these days practice no-till or minimal till, and I haven’t tilled my garden for over 30 years.”

One small complaint for someone at New Society: the indexing was not thorough enough. Neither “tillage” nor “tilling” was listed, although forms of the word occur at least half a dozen times on a single page.