What to do when the ground is covered in a foot of snow and springtime seems years – rather than weeks – away?   At times like these I lose myself in the stacks of books on the third floor of the library.  This is where the non-fiction is:  the science,  the gardening,  the animals, the insects.

You know, the good stuff. 

I can’t possibly be alone in this eccentricity so I approached the staff at the Oak Park Public Library to get their lists of favorite nature titles to share.  Hopefully these titles will continue to inspire the way they have so many others.   Many of us are planning for spring gardens so this time I’m picking out a couple titles about herb gardening.

Herbs and the Earth was written by Henry Beston in 1935.  Beston made a beeline to Maine and wrote this extraordinary and simple text about herbs, their history and care.  Maybe it’s because the text is over 75 years old and the language is more refined that the act of reading this connects one immediately to the ancient history of herb gardening.  If nothing else his chapter “Of Ten Great Herbs”  is worth a read (And those woodcuts are amazing too). 

Time spent with Beston is great preparation for enjoying Herb Garden Design by Swanson & Rady. Inside one will find templates for herb garden designs from the simple (Dooryard Herb Garden) to the historic (Shaker Herb Garden).  This book is a classic, a thing of beauty.  It would be fun to read even if one never intends to garden, but beware – it just may send you running through a foot of snow searching for your old garden spade.

Let me close by saying how lucky we are to have such a fine library in Oak Park.  The staff there has always been patient and extremely helpful whenever I bother them with the hopefully rare question.     

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Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...

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