Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!


So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

water smart

Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!



High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.


*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.


  1. Hey Sheryl! Glad to hear that you didn’t have to worry about your body parts out on the snow this year. I am still being vary careful with mine, even though we are only getting a skiff of it today in Edmonton. Your post about the Water-Smart Gardening makes sense, regardless of the way the seasons have been going. Steve, and I myself now too, are looking at putting some veggies into two raised garden beds this year. He also wants to put one or two potato plants in to our old water barrel – it is big enough to hold one type of item, but not more than that. If you have any ideas, please email them to me. Thanks. Have a fantastic week leading up to Easter! Kids are almost on Spring Break too!

    • Hi, Kathy! We’re finally getting some much-needed snow/rain here…we’re so desperate for some moisture, I’m doing a little dance of joy. Great idea to build some raised beds and do up some barrels with potatoes this summer. Happy Easter and enjoy spring break with the kids!

  2. Sheryl, these are great and timely reviews. I’m going to look into both of these books. We’ve gradually converted our lawn to natives, and recently added a rain catchment system. I also put more thought into what I should and shouldn’t plant, limiting myself this year to tomatoes, basil, cilantro and strawberries. Serendipity!

    • With the prolonged drought you’ve had there, a rain catchment system is a must-have, and growing natives is the way to go! I think you’ll really like both books – they really got me thinking about some ways to improve my gardening techniques to conserve the little water we do receive as well as to boost productivity. Everything adds up! 🙂

      • Everything does add up. I was sorry to see that our city ran out of rebate money, because many others were hoping to convert landscaping as well and could use the financial incentive. Even so, the economics make so much sense, as well as the amazing benefits to our earth. I’ve learned so much in these past five years…really re-learning how I garden all over again. It’s been invigorating.

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