Avoid the chill, warm up reading gardening books

KENNEWICK -- Let's face it, it's winter and it's already been very cold outside.

There's not much for gardeners to do other than worry if their perennial plants, trees and shrubs made it through the recent frigid weather unscathed.

I opt for staying warm and sitting back with a good gardening book. I thought you'd like to know some of my favorites.

One book I simply call "Dirr," but more officially it's known as the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael A. Dirr.

The fifth edition of this tome sits front and center on my desk. When I bought this edition, Dirr had indicated that it would be his last update.

However, it wasn't. Dirr has now updated his manual and the sixth edition is a major revision with "expanded descriptions of former entries and 2,000 new species and cultivars."

What I like about Dirr's book is that it provides cultural information on thousands of woody plants, including trees, shrubs and vines. What I like the most is his opinionated commentary. If he thinks a plant has no redeeming value or is overused, he says so.

When it comes to woody plants, you will not find a more accurate reference in regards to plant size, growth habit, flower, fruit and foliage characteristics, rate of growth, hardiness, growing requirements, common pest problems, best use in the landscape and propagation. It weighs more than five pounds and has 1,325 pages.

The hardcover edition of this sixth edition will set you back about $100, but it's worth every penny if you're a woody plant enthusiast like me.

When it comes to vegetable gardening, my favorite reference is Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest from University of Illinois Extension. I know we're not in the Midwest, but the basic vegetable gardening information it contains is straightforward and uncomplicated.

It has good garden preparation and planting information, which has to be adjusted some for our region, but what I like the most is the cultural information provided on 41 "major" vegetables (like tomatoes) and 20 minor vegetables (like okra) and herbs. Not only is cultural and harvesting information provided for each crop, but each also has a section of the most commonly asked questions and problems for that veggie. At $27 the publication is a bargain. It's a reference I often use when I'm asked a vegetable gardening question. It can be obtained directly from the University of Illinois Extension at

If you want to read a garden book that reaches your heart, pick up Deep in the Green -- An Exploration of Country Pleasures. This book was given to me a long time ago as a hand-me-down by a friend who was given the book by a friend. It qualifies more as garden literature than a garden reference though.

Written by Anne Raver, a garden columnist for the New York Times, each chapter is a heartwarming account of her garden experiences and reflections on life, as well as gardening.

Some chapters, like the ones about her relationship with her aging parents, touch your heart. Others like the one about mowing with a reel mower are humorous and self-deprecating. I read many of the chapters this summer in my garden. It was a relaxing way to end each day.

There are lots of great gardening books. Whichever ones you pick, stay warm, sip some tea and take time to relax this winter.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.