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BEST OF GREEN SPACE: 30 Years of Composted Columns by Duane Campbell

Anne K Moore
Line Drawings & cover, Betty Mackey

This is one of the most entertaining books about gardening to come along in ages. It really tickles my inner gardener. I was smiling and even laughing out loud during most of the book. Additionally, the line drawings by Betty Mackey add just the right touch.

Duane Campbell has been writing a weekly newspaper column called Green Space for 30 years, perhaps too many years to have him tell it. This book is a compilation of his columns, giving the best advice he can muster for growing a garden. He presents himself as a self-educated gardener, learning by “screwing up,” although he is a Master Gardener in two states.

The composted columns are organized month to month, starting with January. Even though we are into late spring, I recommend that you start with January and read it all. It will keep you entertained while it educates you on the finer and not so finer points of gardening.

Duane touts one of my all-time favorite evergreen families, Chamaecyparis. If you don’t go outside in the winter, plan your winter garden from a window. (Duane says he doesn’t go out in winter because he has gained weight and his galoshes don’t fit.)

“Companies must think gardeners are stupid,” he says. His section on catalog garden “helpers” he calls junk is a hoot. “Who would pay $25.95 for a two and half inch wooden pot tamper? It’s a hunk of wood, fur cryin’ out loud.” Or, a sunlight calculator for $26.95. It measures sunlight in your garden. Duane says, “Here’s a cost saving idea. LOOK UP! That’s free.”

“Even people who screw up marigolds can start onions from seed, and it doesn’t take any fancy equipment,” he says. He gives you the information you need.

“I don’t like to write about cole crops. My spell checker insists they don’t exist, and being orthographically challenged, I’m afraid to argue with it.” He calls them brassicas instead.

Duane is a gardener. He gives you general gardening information, what to do when you can’t get outside and garden, how to start seeds indoors, how to build a light garden, and tips on taking care of houseplants. If you need sturdy tomato cages, he tells you how to build them inexpensively.

On phenology: “There is something you do when oak leaves are the size of mouse ears, but I forget what it is.” and “I have more but my spell checker is starting to smoke.”

He will have you checking your encyclopedia and dictionary with his penchant for using barely used or unused words. Case in point is the word hortulan, which he describes as an old word fallen from favor, meaning relating to or of the garden. Since this is the best word to cover this description, he says, “…we should revive hortulan. Work it into your conversation today.”

Should you plant your gift tulips outside after they finish blooming? Duane’s answer, “…of course you can. Whether they will ever bloom again is a different question.”

One of my favorite pieces of advice from Duane is how to determine if those greenhouses grown Mother’s Day flowering plants are hardy: “Plant them outside. If they are still alive next summer, they are.” Be sure to check out the information on getting a florist hydrangea and azalea to bloom again.

“There has been an inordinate amount of claptrap written about pruning clematis, some of it by me,” he says. He “pruned down a dozen pages of incomprehensible instruction into one simple rule: cut off the dead stuff.” This could apply to a lot of garden work and even to life.

I read this book on a Kindle edition from where you can also get a hard copy of the book. You can also order it through full service bookstores and at

Publisher BB Mackey Books, P.O. Box 475, Wayne PA 19087. ISBN # 978-1-893443-16-7.

Posted May 24, 2013

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