Summer Reading for New Gardeners

Despite the fact that my yard is about the size of a postage stamp and will accommodate only a scattering of pots for a garden (that is, if I want any space at all for the kids to turn around twice), I jumped at the chance to receive a review copy of the new book, No Guff Vegetable Gardening by Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs.

You see, I am a pretend gardener. I like to talk about it, learn the Latin names of plants, collect little seed packets and haunt the tantalizing nooks and crannies of garden shops. But during a summer of employment at Guisachan Garden in Kelowna, over a decade ago, I came to terms with the fact that what I actually like is to spend time in gardens (that are tended by someone else).

Hopefully you’re not so shallow, and don’t get persnickety about creatures that live in the soil or slime their way across the grass you’re trying to cut. Perhaps you’re even one of those people who needs to get out in the garden to decompress before you start (or end) your day. If so, this book is for you.

It’s also for me, though. Because while it’s filled, chock-a-block, with useful tips, tricks and tools of the trade, No Guff is presented in a way that is encouraging and straight-forward for the aspiring or newbie gardener.

While I admit that I favour gardening books with gorgeous photos of cottage landscapes, I don’t actually (blushing now) read their contents.

But this one is different. While there are picture (taken mostly by the authors) and illustrations (by Mariko McCrae), the primary purpose of the book is to inform. Not in an encyclopedic or whimsical way – but with a straightforward, sometimes humorous approach.

Their goal is to dispel the mystique and, well, guff, around gardening.

For example, did you know you don’t have to test your soil before you plant? Unless you have reason to worry about industrial contaminants in the soil, of course.

“The best test of your soil is to grow a garden,” they say. “Grow one – and tend it well – for two or three seasons. If it’s reasonably productive, keep gardening.”

They also say you can be a perfectly good gardener without mastering Latin plant names. Of course I would counteract that you don’t have to garden to learn the Latin. Gypsophila – say it once to yourself.

Donna is in Calgary and Steven’s from Toronto. In addition to their work as garden consultants, she’s a radio personality with a gardening show on CBC Radio in Alberta and a column in the Calgary Herald, and he’s a freelance journalist.

A lot of what they write is drawn from experience. Sometimes they disagree, or prefer different approaches – which lays out alternatives for the reader. There’s also pros and cons for different ways of doing things, which allows you to choose a method that works for you, not just something that’s trendy or traditional.

It was enough to inspire me to try some container tomatoes. We’ll see how I do with them before experimenting with some other vegetables I like.

In the meantime, I learned that one of the reasons my roses are covered in aphids is because I haven’t been watering them regularly enough. So I’m going to go do that now.

No Guff Vegetable Gardening is available at Mosaic Books and Bylands Garden Centre in Kelowna, and online at

– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier

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  1. Loved the review! Now we’ve got to get you gardening! Thanks for the mention of Mosaic too- we love them.

  2. OK I now have to own this book. I especially love the illustrations – is that a rabbit or a fox?

  3. My zucchini plant has lots of flowers, but the fruit only grows to about 3 inches and turns yellow and begins to rot at the end.
    What should I do?

  4. Hi Wendy, it’s a rabbit. Our illustrator Mariko was inspired to create the rabbit and family having read of how the rabbits tormented me…and my rabbit-proofing electric fence failed miserably.

  5. Hi Sandra, there are a couple of possibilities: The first is that the female flower (which has the zucchini-to-be at its base) has not been fertilized with pollen from one of the male flowers–and simply aborts. At 3″ in lenght though, I suspect you’re dealing with a rot disease. These are often caused by high moisture conditions. When my zucchini and summer squash have suffered rot, it has gone away with drier conditions.

  6. Every gardener needs this book. The common sense approach is so useful!

  7. oh my word, I absolutely love the beets! I am going to have to plant beets next year – maybe several colors so I can mix them together!

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