Garden Views: Books, TV and online workshops can help you stay green in 2021

Gardening Views columnist Mary Fran McQuade shares some of her favourite gardening books to help readers stay green in 2021.


Let’s skip the New Year’s resolutions here. Instead, pick up a book, a TV series or an online talk to keep your spirits bright this winter.

Here’s a selection of my own favourites.

Laugh a little

Just about any book by Beverley Nichols will enchant you and make you laugh. Nichols wrote about his English gardens nearly 100 years ago, but he’s as witty as anyone writing today Villagers, aristocrats and garden snobs are all slyly caricatured in his Merry Hall and Allways trilogies.

Love mysteries? Work your way through the herbal mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert. Visit the tiny Texas town of Pecan Springs, where her protagonist, China Bayles, runs a herb shop and stumbles into dire doings. Along the way, you’ll learn about mistletoe, rosemary, dill, wormwood and a couple dozen more herbs (plus recipes).

Join author Michael Pollan in exploring the ages-old connection between people and plants in The Botany of Desire. You’ll find out how everyday plants like apples and roses satisfy some of our deepest needs for pleasure of all kinds. No dreary scientific talk here – just entertaining stories that will gently exercise your brain.

Grow better edibles

In 2020, everyone dug in and planted vegetables. My favourite is No-Guff Vegetable Gardening, by Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs. It’s a big softcover book with lively illustrations, easy-to-read lists and charts, and brief, fun observations by the two authors – one from Alberta and one from Toronto.

Fed up with trying to grow food in sandy Beach soil? Take a look at Raised Bed Revolution, by Tara Nolan, based in southern Ontario.

Veggie gardening in beds built two or more feet above ground is becoming more popular. They solve so many problems: poor soil, foot traffic, lack of space and pest control. Design ideas, photos and step-by-step projects fill the pages.

If tasty, scented herbs are your thing, grab any books by the prolific Adelma Grenier Simmons. You may have to hunt for them a bit, but they’re worth the trouble (though not Amazon’s outrageous prices for some titles).

Best of the lot and affordable is Herb Gardening in Five Seasons. Simmons was a true herb enthusiast who sparked renewed interest in herbs in the mid-20th century.

For something different, look for The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, by Halifax’s Niki Jabbour. With her expert guidance, you’ll learn how to grow and harvest veggies 365 days a year. Best varieties, repeat harvesting and building simple structures for winter protection are all covered.

Her latest, Growing Under Cover, explores ways to use protective coverings to solve problems year-round.

Green in the city

Whatever you’re growing, Beach gardeners are city gardeners. Be inspired by The City Gardener’s Handbook, by Linda Yang, former garden columnist for the New York Times. Follow her tales of dealing with cramped spaces, windswept roofs, deep shade and other urban challenges. If she can make it in New York, so can you in TO.

Even if your gardening is limited to indoor areas, you can enjoy life with plants. Toronto author Darryl Cheng tells you everything you need to know in his book, New Plant Parent.

With his help, you’ll be able to understand any plant’s basic needs for light, water and food, based on some basic knowledge about how plants function indoors.

Not just books

Just want to veg out in front of the telly or the computer? Go to and search for Monty Don.

He’s a kind of English garden god who’s known for his many series on gardens around the world. His special appeal, however, is his genial, chatty comments on each garden’s background, setting and the people who love it.

Want something closer to home? Zoom on over to and register for virtual gardening workshops to be held throughout 2021. They’re free, and you’re sure to learn something new.

Stay green in 2021, gardening friends.

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