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I enjoy reading essays more than how-tos. I have a container balcony garden and I prefer to be inspired to do my own thing in my small space. The majority of gardening how-to books are for people who actually have land, with a few exceptions. I would love to read The Untamed Garden! Thanks for the giveaway.

I enjoy essays, but I am still in need of the how-to's. I have only been gardening for a year, and have so so SO much to learn.

Where do we fall in the spectrum between how-to and essay? In true "rant" fashion, the premise, it seems, is flawed. Our gardens are full of color, not black and white, and the distinction need not be between one (how-to/black) or the other (essay/white). There are writers who, in the process of describing how-to, are able to capture us, draw us into their world, for a meditative stroll through their life and gardens. Example -- Gardening for a Lifetime by Sydney Edison. In great detail, we learn about the care of her perennial beds and "how" she has transitioned her gardens in response to the twists and turns of life over the years, affording us a roadmap of how we might do the same. At the same time, we come to know the author and her friends and their gardens, as if they are close friends and neighbors. Masterful combination of how-to and personal essay.

It also seems that life in a garden is rewarding not only for the beauty and bounty at the end of the day, but also the simple process of living it -- tending, seeding, sowing, mulching, pruning, and the various other "-ings" we do because we simply love it. In this way, a well done how-to can be as much of an interesting read as an essay. Again, the "border" between the two types of writing need not be as "manicured" as the question suggests.

Great blog you maintain here -- all of it -- the how to and the essays! Keep it up.

Well, Michael, just saying--spectrum means many colors and I used the phrase "in between" on purpose.

I think I tend to gravitate more towards the essays lately. I started gardening about three years ago now and of course relied heavily on the how-tos, and while I still refer to them constantly, I really am loving reading anthologies on gardening and urban farming as I shape my own philosophy. It helps me understand why this new way to live is so important to me and helps me craft my own opinions when people ask me why in the world do I want chickens. Would love to get my hands on both of these titles!

I'm still in the how-to phase. Learning, learning, learning.

I love a good how-to, but not generally the ones down at the "For Dummies" level. But I also enjoy a good essay as well. I guess the operative word here is "good". As long as it's well-written, I can fall anywhere within the spectrum.

Definitely how-to. I've only been gardening for 5 years, and I'm sure I'll be learning the rest of my life. Honestly, though, the best teacher is the garden itself.

Both of these books look very interesting!

I prefer essays because they cause me to think about what I am doing instead of just doing. Gardening is an activity for the mind as much as the body!

Then again, I would happily take either book, if I won it.


Mostly essays or 'the story of my garden', but I like having the odd 'how to' when I am exploring something new. After several decades of gardening, I may get the odd tip, but I've kinda figured out a lot of the nuts and bolts. When I started out, there weren't all that many how-to's, anyway. I think I had Sunset Western Garden Book and the Organic Gardening Complete Book of Composting. My first gardens were in unusual, weird-environment places (cut-over redwood forest in Humboldt County, then cold desert in central Oregon) so there was virtually no advice that fit my needs very well. I think we all learn better from DIY, even with all the biffs and bops along the way.

Totally based on my mood. How to's for easy, quick, OMG MUST DO THIS NOW mood. But I learn far far more from the essay based books. Lately, I've been in the esssay mood. Must be the weather. Gloomy, but with the hint of promise in the air.

I tend toward how-to, but can appreciate that I'll just be frustrating myself since i have little undeveloped garden area on my property.

As a young landscape architect, I work in a realm that falls somewhere between the "essay" and "how-to." I have studied landscape theory, garden history, and the garden in art history, but I am also well versed in the horticultural arena. I also work as a consultant for a non-profit, advising on urban forestry. There is a joke in my field that landscape architects have dull or badly maintained gardens, because they don't have time or because they have their heads in the clouds about Theory and Design and no time for real dirt. I get someone blank looks and cries of "how do you find time?" when I enthuse to my colleagues that my first seeds of the (coming) spring are germinating. Nevertheless, I am proudly a gardener, and I believe there is room for both the essayist and the DIY-er in my profession.

Essays all the way! Gardening is a thinking man's game.

I start with how-tos. But when I try to do the things that I have allegedly learned from the how-to, all of my swearing is in essay form.

But perhaps that's only because my how-tos do not come from reputable sources. These two books sound like they can break the cycle.

The best essay writers cleverly wrap their how-to information in sparkling prose so that I gather tips effortlessly while enjoying the ride. A plain how-to is like reading a shopping list; a good essay shares knowledge without interrupting the flow of the language. My guess is that the best garden writers are writers first.

I fall in the how-tos. I love essays, and have enough know how already stored up, but I love reading about the science behind gardening!

I think beginning gardeners read more how to's and established gardeners read more essays. At least that's what has happened with me.

I also think that people who love to read (me) tend to veer more towards essays than some of the how to books that end up being more photos than words.

Definitely essays, at my advanced age I have shelves just bursting with how-to's (maybe I should have a giveaway.) Essays however make me think, imagine and envision. Just the kick I need for inspiration.

I'm all about the how-to books. In fact, this time of year, when I'm ramping up my next vegetable garden, is when I feel a need to read every post on the gardening blogs and check out new gardening books. As spring approaches there are so many possibilities and I want to make sure I know the best methods to ensure a successful gardening season.

Essays, for sure. How-to's certainly have their place, but I'll get lost in a finely-crafted essay. Like you, I gravitate towards people like Allen Lacy, Henry Mitchell, Elizabeth Lawrence, Anna Pavord. I truly immerse myself in them, to the point that, when I've read the last word, it's almost like reentering the normal world from some other dimension. I actually have childhood memories of my mother standing literally beside my ear, shrieking at me that dinner was ready! I never heard her; I was that far gone into whatever I was reading.

How-to or not how-to ? That is the question.

And where do I stand ? Firmly in the middle, it seems.

My Southern roots long for a good story. Entice me down the garden path to new & exciting ideas & I'm yours. But flowery prose is not enough. I still need facts and crave knowledge. And all the essays I've read so far haven't made blossom-end rot any more alluring to deal with (though I'll say that many make manure-shoveling sound quite lovely). Turns out the both work equally-well for me.

So when I need info, I grab a sturdy, reliable how-to book. But if I want romance (garden variety, as it were), it's the essay that grabs me.

I used to love how to but now that I have been doing for over a decade, my questions are so detailed and specific, I find the Internet or a neighbor are better resources. Now I just love to read essays which inspire me. Favorite way to pass the winter is to read some beautiful garden prose and fall asleep daydreaming about what could be possible.

I need how-to right now. Once I feel that I have a better handle on my gardening, off to essays I go!

I can write the how to of vegetables in containers, backyard gardens and by the acre. Flowers, shrubs, perennials-anything other than vegetables, and I need almost step-by-step how to. The best? A combination of both. How to with why, who else has and how to make the most of the garden.

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