The Heirloom Life Gardener

The Heirloom Life Gardener
by Jere and Emilee Gettle

228 pages
Hyperion, 2011
List price: $29.99

Because Jere Gettle is such an iconic figure in the world of heirloom vegetables, I couldn’t wait to read the book he wrote with his wife, Emilee. There are few in the horticulture world who don’t know about his business, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but what you may not know is how Baker Creek came to be.

In The Heirloom Life Gardener, Jere tells his story, recounting his early life in eastern Oregon and Montana, the son of homesteaders. Being self-sufficient was the only way he knew and by age three, he was growing seeds of his own. By the time he became a teenager, his family had moved to the Ozarks of southern Missouri and in 1998, at age seventeen, he started his own company there – Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Gettle tells us what heirlooms are and more importantly, their significance and why they should matter to you and me. We get to hear about his worldwide seed-collecting adventures and then he lets us join in the growing fun with his simple and thorough methods for raising our own heirlooms.

An “A to Z Growing Guide” tells how to plant, how to care for, and how to harvest some of the most interesting and delicious varieties of seeds out there. Ground cherries, cowpeas, rutabagas and amaranth are just a few of the less-common ones detailed, but heirloom varieties of corn, beans, and tomatoes are highlighted too, along with many others.

This is just a delightful book. Jere was born to do what he does and the world is a better place because of it. The Heirloom Life Gardener is a book that makes sense and with the rise in GMOs, there’s never been a better time to read it and heed its message. Well done, thou good and faithful gardener.

EDIT: Want to win a copy of The Heirloom Life Gardener? Enter the giveaway here!

Jere and Emilee Gettle live with their daughter, Sasha, in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where they own and operate Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield. They have devoted their lives to the preservation and distribution of heirloom varieties of seeds. This is their first book.

The publication being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that,too.

Tomorrow's Garden

Tomorrow's Garden
Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening
by Stephen Orr

234 pages
Rodale, 2011
List price: $24.99

Stephen Orr has surely seen a million gardens by now. Though that’s an exaggeration, his past and present jobs have afforded him the luxury of getting a peek at more than most of us. In his recent book, Tomorrow’s Garden, Orr takes us on a tour of 14 stunning gardens, located mostly on the east and west coasts, with the majority of them being on urban plots.

I've found that most garden design books focus on the smaller city lots and they’re like shoes – they’re often more charming in a smaller size. If you have a rural property, as I do, you notice this. But Tomorrow’s Garden has more than enough to inspire me, even if I have to give consideration to how I might adapt some of the gorgeous designs in this book.

Each of the gardens is featured as if it were appearing in a magazine, which is understandable, given Orr’s profession as the gardening editorial director for Martha Stewart Living magazine and his previous positions with Domino and House & Garden magazines. The gardens demonstrate responsible environmental practices, as far as is possible, and every one of them has strong aesthetic appeal, whether you are a fan of the traditional or the contemporary.

With 200 color photographs within its 256 pages, this is a book to be looked at again and again for inspiration. In fact, there’s so much to take in, it’s like visiting a place such as Longwood Gardens (Pennsylvania) or Butchart Gardens (Vancouver Island, BC) – there’s always something to be found that you didn’t see the first time.

If I’ve one real complaint, it’s that the print size is too small. They’ve enlarged it a little when the words are printed on a colored background, but even that is a little difficult to read. Orr has a lot to say and I don’t know if the book editors/designers were trying to fit all those words in between all those photographs while trying to restrict the size of the book, or what. I’m near-sighted, so it can’t be blamed on my eyesight, as I don’t require glasses for reading. The print is just small. But I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll forgive the publisher.

Stephen Orr is the gardening editorial director for Martha Stewart Living magazine and formerly was a contributor to the New York Times and garden editor for Domino and House & Garden magazines. He lives and gardens in New York City and upstate New York. Follow Stephen on

The publication being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for reviewing it. All opinions expressed here are mine. If I like something, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that,too.

Paradise Under Glass

Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden
by Ruth Kassinger

348 pages
William Morrow, 2010
List price: $24.99

As a book reviewer, many garden books arrive gratis in my mailbox each week, but I purchase many on my own, such as Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger. What piqued my interest in this book initially was Kassinger’s desire to have a conservatory. I have one too so I understood; we were kindred spirits.

Ms. Kassinger learned a great deal as she traversed the path from dream to reality and the planning and construction of the conservatory is recounted with all the excitement, frustration and humor that building just about anything can entail. Anyone considering (or dreaming of) doing the same will likely enjoy reading her account while picking up some valuable tips along the way.

But what made this book an even greater pleasure for me to read was the fascinating historical information, including early plant collection, the first Wardian cases,the elaborate glass houses of the 1800s, and more. She deftly weaves the historical and the present, with perfect segues from one to the other.

As a bonus for her readers, Kassinger includes detailed illustrated plans for building a vertical garden like the one in her own conservatory. I would like to have seen actual photographs of her conservatory as it evolved. That evolution taught her some lessons about life, which she also shares with us. A satisfying read.

Ruth Kassinger is the author of a number of award-winning science and history books for young adults. In addition, her science and health writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Geographic Explorer, Health magazine, Science Weekly, and other publications. You can find her on Facebook or her website, as well as on She lives with her husband in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The publication reviewed here was purchased by the reviewer.