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In search of *good* gardening books

Posts: 7
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Hey everyone!

It's been a terribly long time since I joined this site and promptly put it aside.  I have purchased a few books on Permaculture including Bill Mollison's Intro to Permaculture, Permaculture: A designer's handbook, companion planting in Australia and New Zealand... and a few others about cisterns and the like.

However these books are mostly based around the landscaping ideas. 

A few weeks ago, I joined the ranks of a local plant nursery, of whom mostly deal in Geraniums, Begonias, fruit trees, shrubberies... probably 300+ species of plant.  It's been really nice to work outside and learn about plants; BUT, no one knows what any of these plants do!

I ask all the old ladies what they know about Geraniums or other plants that they seem to be very knowledgeable about but they look at me like I'm from Mars when I ask if they fix nitrogen into the soil, etc.

I have looked at at least a dozen books on the matter and everything goes into detail about care, and what plants to plant next to *whatever* but it's always on the level of 'this colour goes well with this, so plant them near each other.'  This doesn't interest me at all!  I couldn't care less about what colours go together, I care about the pragmatic purpose in the garden.

So I'm really interested in a book which would explain what 'normal' plants from 'normal' gardening do.  For that matter, what permaculture-esque plants are good.  I hear reference to a lot of plants, but it would be nice to have an omnibus to go back to after someone says a plant and I write down the name.

I'm trying to get my boss to bring in more of the plants that I'm interested in, but he's either never heard of them or has never thought about them as is the case with Mulberry.  Not my city, but the one next to me, has now allowed chickens and I'm trying to convince him that Mulberry could be advertised as a food source for the chickens and we could bring in new business that way... but he's resistance to my ideas.  Regardless, I press on and recommend plants to people based on what minimal knowledge I have about most plants in the store.  I recommend a lot of Nasturtium, clover, pungent plants to keep away bugs, etc.  I have found a few people who are somewhat interested, but I'd like to have a tid-bit about every plant we sell... unless it's totally useless, which seems... unlikely.

So yea, I needs me a good book!
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
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They don't have to do anything. They are ornamental. Typically the people with the money and drive to make a garden center turn a profit are also going to be interested in the ornamental side of things primarily, otherwise they would skip out on the garden center entirely. Why do you think there are so many trees and bushes that produce inedible woody berries, or crabapples that ate 3/4ths of an inch in diameter? Ornamental plants typically stick around until they are replaced by other ornamental plants, get either chemical fertilizers or manure in a concentration that you couldn't apply on a typical field, and they contain more bitter/toxic/unpalatable chemicals and structures than food plants do (because food plants were selected to taste good and be edible, and pests agree) So all those except the ones who have been selected really heavily (like roses) tend to have less need of permaculture tricks to survive. Most of the greening attention payed to ornamental plants in about getting the right amount of water.

Looking at mulberries specifically most named cultivars sold today are males, just because people didn't like dealing with fruit fall and staining. While using mulberries as a forage crop is a really really good idea you also have to consider what will happen with the bird poop, and who wants to deal with that? While most people like plants and want a clean environment it is a minority that want to take those relatively small steps to get closer to their food. I suspect that your boss would never make back the money for his time spent advertising to chicken keepers to come buy his mulberries, let alone any advertising he buys; at best he might increase the number of mulberries purchased in the area.

The way to make an impact is not convincing someone to advertise, but rather convincing people that they want to be more environmentally conscious and that they want to have chickens in their lives, or have beautiful and productive forage crops on their land.

During WWII people planted victory gardens, well PBS did a show on it (which I only saw snippets of, and produced a very nice glossy book all about the show) Problem was that the angle they took was ~85% what flowers they were growing in the victory gardens and 10% how to make vegetables ornamental; real victory gardens were maybe 3% ornamental value. People have forgotten that food is something that they can grow.
Posts: 16
Location: Conway, MA
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OK, it's not a book, but if you own a computer, I highly recommend the Plants For a Future database available here:

There's extensive cultural and propagation info, along with edibility and medicinal use ratings, and notes on whether a given plant has any of 100+ functions.  Here's a list of functions beginning with S -  just to give you some idea of how comprehensive it is:

Sandpaper (3)
plants used to smooth rough wooden surfaces by means of abrasion.
Scourer (3)
used for cleaning pots, pans, plates etc.
Shelterbelt (101)
wind resistant plants than can be grown to provide shelter in the garden etc.
Size (14)
used on materials, paper etc to give a surface that will take ink, dyes etc.
Soap (97)
plants used directly as a soap substitute.
Soap making (10)
plants used as an ingredient in making soaps. Does not include the essential oils, dyes and oils that are also used in making soap.
Soil conditioner (6)
plants grown to improve the structure of the soil. See also Green manures.
Soil reclamation (26)
plants that can be grown in such circumstances as the spoil tips of mines in order to restore fertility.
Soil stabilization (197)
plants that can be grown in places such as sand dunes in order to prevent erosion by wind, water or other agents.
Starch (30)
used as a fabric stiffener.
Straw (4)
for drinking from.
Strewing (49)
plants, usually aromatic, that are strewn on the floor to give a nice smell, repel insects etc.
String (30)
plants that can be used as they are as a temporary string. See also Fibre.
Stuffing (43)
used in soft toys, mattresses, pillows etc.

All in a searchable database.  It's really fantastic.
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