Book Review: “A Maine Garden Almanac”

Review A Maine Garden Almanac
“A Maine Garden Almanac: Seasonal Wisdom for Making the Most of Your Garden Space”
By Martha Fenn King
Down East Books, 2023
184 pages, paperback, $32.95

“A Maine Garden Almanac” is a book of “essays, poems, simple recipes and musing all rolled into one for people of all gardening abilities to enjoy” written by gardener Martha Fenn King of York, Maine.

Organized by season, it starts with the spring, and winds through a plethora of topics: from beekeeping, to foraging greens, to starting cold-weather crops in a cold frame to get a jump on the season. King adds tips and bits of whimsy along the way. Her years of gardening observation and experiments are translated to anecdotes and advice related to vegetables, herbs and flowers that can be appreciated by both beginning and more seasoned gardeners. While her essays meander from topic to topic, they are usually crop-specific, imparting growing information as well as culinary and medicinal uses. Often, she sprinkles in her own garden wisdom, such as suggesting adding asparagus fronds to floral arrangements or using the straight tougher flower stalks of garlic (called scapes) as skewers for grilling shrimp, scallops and vegetables.  

The book can be enjoyed straight through or read at random. A table of contents helps to anchor readers to the topics covered, as do the beautiful colorful photographs. However, some gardeners might find themselves wishing for an index to easily find specifics, such as dealing with pests organically or how to grow dahlias. The book’s style is very much that of a garden journal. King pairs poetic descriptions — humus is a “soft ‘wooly’ blanket upon the Earth” and kale plants have “statuesque postures” — with details of her tasks. The descriptions of garden rhythms might be more useful to novice gardeners if dated, to orient them better within a particular season and their own gardening journeys.

Still, “A Maine Garden Almanac” offers up a bounty of useful growing information and encourages experimentation in an engaging manner, accompanied by King’s abundant joy and humor. Take, for instance, her introduction of praying mantis to the garden “to devour the aphids and other pests—not the pesty deer of course.” King reminds us that gardeners will know their fair share of setbacks, from the aforementioned aphids and deer, to drought and battering winds, yet each page reminds us that, as she puts it, “hope is part and parcel of a gardener’s life.”

– Holli Cederholm 

This review was originally published in the summer 2024 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Browse the archives for free content on organic agriculture and sustainable living practices.

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