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Kathy Van Mullekom Daily Press (Newport News, Va.), Published May 27 2012

Warmer weather brings fresh crop of gardening books

Just like tomatoes and peppers, there’s always a seasonal crop of new gardening books.

Here’s a peek at the best books you can check out for summer reading and gift giving:

“Encyclopedia of Flowering Shrubs”

This 436-page hardback explores 1,700 seasonal plants, using 2,000 full-color images to showcase their flowers, fruits and foliage. You meet lesser-known shrubs like evergreen osmanthus, which can be used to create a privacy hedge with fragrant fall flowers, as well as kerria with yellow-flowers and deutzia with clusters of small starlike white flowers, both in early spring. The book also covers soil and pruning requirements. $50, written by Jim Gardiner, a woody plants expert; Timber Press.

“Fairy Gardens”

Betty Earl tells what fairy gardens are and how to make and care for them, relates fairy lore, introduces the plants associated with fairies, and describes miniature plants for fairy and mini gardens, indoors or out. There’s also information on building or buying accessories for these fantasy gardens. $20; Mackey Books.

“Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables”

Arranged by season for growers and seasonally minded cooks, this book surveys heritage fruits and vegetables in rich, painterly photographers and text that tells where each plant originated with legends and beliefs attached to it. The 224-page hardback is written by Toby Musgrave, an expert on garden history. $50/ with 157 color illustrations; Thames and Hudson, available June 19.

“Homegrown Harvest”

When you want fresh, homegrown tastes, you grow it yourself. That’s the main message in this season-by-season guide to a sustainable kitchen garden. The 304-page paperback with 300 full-color photographs begins with the basics – how to prepare healthy soil and how to control weeds and pests with non-toxic methods. $19.99; American Horticultural Society.

“Maria Rodale’s Organic Gardening Secrets”

This seasonal guide lists 10 things to plant every year, no matter what; 14 reasons to never, ever, use chemicals again; the only 10 gardening tools you’ll ever need; top 5 gardening mistakes; four steps to healthier soil; four steps to composting; three steps to designing your perfect garden; and three steps to making your garden beautiful. Written by organic gardening advocate Maria Rodale, the e-book helps you prepare for, plan and plant your garden to ensure a productive four-season harvest. Recipes are included for extra enjoyment. $2.99; Amazon.com.

“Rain Gardens”

A rain garden allows rainwater to follow the natural course of the water cycle – absorbed into the ground, taken up by plants and evaporated back into the atmosphere. In this backyard gardener handbook, you learn how take advantage of rain garden opportunities, using native flowers, shrubs and trees, thanks to the ideas of the book’s author, author hydrology scientist Robert Domm. Chapters in the 188-page softback include DIY designs and plant profiles. $24.99; Voyageur Press.

“Slow Gardening”

This 240-page paperback by comedic gardener Felder Rushing was inspired by Slow Food, a worldwide movement that encourages a tempo of life more in keeping with natural systems. In much the same way, a slow-gardening approach helps you ease up on the plant and garden in a laid-back, thoughtful way. Forget plant perfection, stresses the author; if a plant doesn’t work out, compost it and buy something else. As Felder likes to say, “Life has lots of pressures – why include them in the garden?” $24.95; Chelsea Green Publishing.

“Small Green Roofs”

Claiming to be the first book to tackle small-scale green roofs, this paperback profiles more than 40 projects of all shapes and sizes – green roofs on sheds, garden offices, studios, garages, bike sheds and even a fly-through bird feeder. Each project features details on how to do it and care for it. $24.95; Timber Press.

“The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers”

Gardening is often full of questions, and this new guide by gardening writer Teri Dunn Chace gives answers to the 100 most common: Which end of the bulb goes up? Why aren’t my tomatoes growing? When should I prune my lilacs? The 220-page book with 24 chapters tackles all sorts of gardening concerns relating to pruning, watering, composting, garden design and weeds. $12.95; Timber Press.

“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Small-Space Gardening”

Gardening guru Chris McLaughlin teaches you how to maximize the smallest spaces, like a windowsill, balcony or even a fire escape and turn bare soil into a rainbow of greenery – flowering shrubs, fruits and vegetables. You learn to work with containers and raised beds and how to maximize soil efficiency. Diagrams show how to attach materials like lattice to a wall for extra vertical gardening space in a way that doesn’t damage the structure. $19.95; idiotsguides.com.

“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Seed Saving & Starting”

Author Sheri Ann Richerson walks you through the techniques from harvesting, cleaning and drying to properly labeling and storing seeds. The book covers why store-bought seeds aren’t always the best options, and explains that soil temperature, not air temperature, is important to seed germination. $18.95; idiotsguides.com

“The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener”

Learn to make every month a vegetable-growing month – kale and scallions in frosty times and tomatoes and peppers in sweltering heat, no matter where you live. On 240 pages filled with color photographs, Author Niki Jabbour shares her secrets on how to make a temporary straw-base cold frame to protect winter crop, how to design and use “pocket plots” for year-round harvests and how to implement crop rotation. $19.95; Storey Publishing

“The 50 Mile Bouquet.”

Seasonal, locally grown flower bouquets are trendy for everyday and special occasions. This hardback book is a storytelling project created by Debra Prinzing, a contributing garden editor to Better Homes & Gardens magazine; she and a photojournalist spent three years traveling the country to photograph and interview the flower farmers who grow them and the professional designers who use them. It’s also an organic flower-growing, gathering and design guide that will inspire you to grow fresh-cut flowers in your own yard. $17.95; St. Lynn’s Press.