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The New American Backyard : Easy, Organic…
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The New American Backyard : Easy, Organic Techniques and Solutions for a…

by Kris Medic

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0875968333, Hardcover)

The Rodale Organic Gardening Book series is a consistently reliable basic reference, and the colorful New American Backyard is no exception. Kris Medic is an arborist who, according to her jacket biography, is almost absurdly qualified to write about garden design. In this comfortable, useful volume she provides a guide to sprucing up the backyard for those of us who weren't born knowing what an NPK ratio is.

Suburban America's obsession with the perfect swath of green hasn't been an altogether healthy one, but thankfully the excessive use of weed-killers, overmowing, and wasteful watering habits that characterized the last half-century of lawn and garden care are being reevaluated in books like Medic's. Medic emphasizes that adoption of responsible organic methods can actually be more effective than chemical intervention in obtaining that lush lawn of our dreams. It's just plain sensible, for example, to cut the grass at a relatively high level and to leave the clippings on the ground: the long grass and clippings create shade, which limits opportunities for weed growth and keeps the roots and soil cool and moist longer, requiring less frequent watering.

It's also easier--and that's the message at the heart of this book. The most thumbed-through and soil-stained pages of The New American Backyard are sure to be those in the second half, "Timesaving Lawn and Garden Techniques." How to sharpen lawnmower blades yourself, how to prune a tree or thin out a bush with the speed and confidence of a pro, how to choose a grass-seed mixture that's right for your yard (and decipher those cryptic seed-bag labels), how to use water efficiently--Medic's valuable tips will help you to cut down the time spent weeding or waving the hose over the lawn on Sunday mornings when you'd rather be relaxing with a cup of coffee and the paper.

The first part of the book contains the ubiquitous checklists, using which the prospective gardener is supposed shape a vision of the ideal (but doable) backyard environment. The reader should not be discouraged by the presence of these vague lists--in books of this sort they're never particularly helpful, and aren't in this one--because Medic, perhaps anticipating our impatience with authors who prod us into penciling into their books what we already know, quickly abandons that annoying tack in favor of the juicy stuff: well-illustrated, real-life landscaping makeovers and detailed descriptions of how to deal with common yard problems. We learn how and what to plant in those low marshy areas and in small or odd-shaped lots, and how to reduce street noise, wind, and glare. A directory of Medic's "top plant picks" features thorough evaluations of specific varieties of trees, shrubs, groundcovers, vines, perennials, and annuals. While the list is certainly not exhaustive, and of course not every plant is suited to every region of the country, Medic's riffs on, for example, the amur maple or English ivy will give novices an idea of the factors to consider in choosing what to plant: the variety's mature size, hardiness and heat zones, preferred sites (sun or shade, swampy soil or dry, and so on), pruning requirements, and pest and disease issues.

Readers whose backyards have ever been besieged by Japanese beetles or crabgrass may have a hard time accepting Medic's recommendations on the cure front (shake the bugs off?), but on the prevention side, this book makes it easy to avoid or at least ameliorate those problems in the planning and planting stages. Xeriscaping, composting, and preventive pest control have never seemed more practical than in Medic's water-wise and pesticide-poor chapters. --Liana Fredley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:34 -0400)

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