Not many gardening books can meet the needs of both the experienced and beginning gardener, but Jerry Baker's Flower Power! is one of those rare titles. As you would expect from an author who bills himself as America's Master Gardener (and has secured a registered trademark for the moniker, no less), Flower Power! is thick with practical information and useful tips based on years of experience. Yet it is also accessible and inspiring to anyone who has ever thought about growing flowers but was unsure of where or how to begin. Indeed, this book can be thought of as a reference book that reads like a narrative. Few readers will begin on page one and read all the way through, but most will find themselves looking up a particular piece of information and then reading for pages at a time.
Baker's previous books have covered lawn care, house plants, and vegetable gardening, among other topics, and his ongoing Garden Line series and gardening newsletter attract a devoted following. With Flower Power!, Baker turns his attention to flowers, arguably the most beautiful part of any garden, but also the most difficult to grow and nurture. Complicating matters further, there are hundreds if not thousands of flower species and untold numbers of varieties within those species. To tackle this vast subject, Flower Power! is divided into six chapters, each of which goes into detail on how to choose, plant, and cultivate an important category of flowering plants: annuals, perennials, bulbs, roses, flowering trees, and flowering shrubs. The information and advice applies to gardens large and small, sunny or shady, and even nonexistent: Hanging baskets and container gardening, ideal for decks and patios, get respectably thorough coverage.
Each chapter begins with the most basic information about a category. Chapter 1, for example, informs the reader right away that annuals live and die in one year, something that may not be at all obvious to a beginner. In chapter 2, Baker opens the case for perennials by discussing their long life span. With the basics covered, Baker can move ahead without leaving the new gardener behind. In the chapters on annuals and perennials, much of the space is devoted to planning planting beds, space requirements for flowers, how to prepare the soil, and how to keep plants pest-free and disease resistant. The chapters on flowering shrubs and trees also discuss placement thoroughly, before getting into what to plant and how.
In all of the chapters, the information is prioritized, with the most important considerations presented first, followed by a look at why a particular technique or fact of gardening life must be the way it is. An in-depth look at the possible variables follows. The beginning gardener will have plenty of information to get started with (and will regularly come back for more), while the experienced gardener will most likely learn how to better care for an existing garden. Concluding each of the six chapters is an extensive glossary of flowers, with a discussion of each flowering plant's ideal growing conditions. Helpful drawings give the reader an idea of what to expect from the plant.
Jerry Baker is known for dispensing tips and tricks that lead to a healthier, more beautiful garden, and Flower Power has them in abundance. To make the tips easier to absorb, they're set apart from the main text in boxes. For the experienced gardener, a great many of Baker's suggestions are sure to be new and helpful. How many gardeners know, for instance, that grape juice is as effective as stale beer at controlling slugs? For the cost-conscious gardener (and what gardener isn't?), Baker advises starting seedlings in milk cartons with their sides cut off. To draw a garden plan, Flower Power! suggests cutting open a large brown-paper grocery sack and sketching out the beds on it. Perhaps most useful of all, however, are Baker's recipes for plant tonics and soil-enriching formulas, which are scattered throughout the book.
In reading Flower Power!, it becomes obvious that Baker's success as a gardener and teacher stems from his respect and admiration for his flowering plants. Baker constantly stresses the importance of understanding the individual needs of each flowering plant. When it comes to bulbs, for instance, he writes: "Only an awfully mean person would risk putting his plants to sleep permanently by treating every type alike." So if you want your bulbs to flower beautifully and live to their fullest, make it a point to know the difference between a tuber and a corm. It's all there in Flower Power!
Glenn Peake is staff writer at Martha Stewart Living.