Sometimes books on herb growing can be so elementary, giving you the top 10 herbs and growing tips and a few recipes, but his book was not in that class at all. Written by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan, Herb Gardening from the Ground Up (2012: Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA) takes the approach that knowing each herb's life cycle, climate requirements, growth pattern, and means of propagation will tell you more about how and where to use them in the garden than knowing which names belong to which herbs. I found that to be a refreshing take on herb gardening.
Sal Gilbertie is the proprietor of Gilberties Herb Gardens of Westport, Connecticut which was established in 1922 by his grandfather. It is among the largest herb nurseries in the US. At one time he gave herb advice to Martha Stewart and has appeared on her show Martha Stewart Living. Co-author Larry Sheehan has a long list of writing credits that include newspapers, magazines, television documentaries, and dozens of books including the best-selling Living with Dogs and The Sporting Life. Together they authored another book on high yield gardening I have not had a chance to look at.
Under the heading Four Facts of Herb Life they spend a good 20 pages going over the life cycle, climate, growth patterns (with illustrations by Lauren Jarrett that show you the spread and height of plants after the first years,) and propagation techniques divided by style of plant. They presented the clearest and most concise definitions of annual, perennial, and biennial I have found anywhere.
The book spends another 20 pages discussing ways to plant and propagate the herbs in your first garden. Then this book departs from others by updating what to do and look for in the second year and third year of a culinary garden as well as giving some great garden plans with plant lists. One of my favorites was the Breakfast Garden. My hubby was intrigued by the Fish and Game Garden.
As all good herb books should, there is a focus on details of various individual herbs too. They did not just give a top ten list, however, instead they chose 38 different herbs to detail (on more than 50 pages) and the theme gardens presented even had me thinking about how to incorporate them into my landscape. They divide the herbs into groups with similar growth habits and soil and climate needs and then give a tutorial on how best to propagate within each group as well as other group related suggestions. It is a unique approach to gardening with herbs that I have never seen so well articulated. We all generally understand that dividing a mint is the best way to go, but to have a group of spreading perennials with Mint, Tarragon and Oregano as examples in which he details how to treat them all the same when propagating is exceptionally easy to understand and perfectly true!
The book has an index which is a must for me with any reference book on gardening. I cannot possibly remember where to find what I know was in that book without an index and this one has a fine one. Before the index, however are some must-have pieces of information including a "Start from scratch schedule" and a "harvesting and storing guide." Those alone make the book a treasure trove of useful information.
Herb Gardening from the Ground Up is a book I quickly added to my own library and I was ever so thankful to that Librarian at the Elmhurst Public Library for showcasing something I might not have taken a second look at if I passed it on the gardening shelves.