April 2008: Eco-Friendly Books

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Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World (Bantam)

By Wendy Johnson

Tending the earth is filled with repetitive chores, which means that over the past 25 years Wendy Johnson, one of the founders of San Francisco Zen Center's organic Green Gulch Farm, has had plenty of time to ruminate on the meaning and techniques of growing an abundant garden. She's also a Zen practitioner and therefore inclined to think deeply about everything she does. Perhaps as a result, this book requires patience.

The dragon, she tells us, is both similar to the sinuous shape of Green Gulch Valley, which stretches along the Pacific Ocean, and a symbol of wisdom and transformation. Gardening at its gate means summoning "the four great elements: earth, air, water, and fire, all changeable and functioning as one dynamic whole" that, like a dragon, "sleeps in the cool bowels of the earth" and, upon awakening, unfolds in a fresh new form.

To harvest this book's extraordinarily detailed and useful information and its powerful prose, you'll need to excavate its layers as carefully and thoroughly as a gardener works a plot of land. You'll find plenty of wonderful surprises. These include an explanation of gardening in response to lunar rhythms, a method for making compost in less than a month, and a list of "nurse weeds" that you should welcome into your garden because they "protect the soil from wind and water erosion, feed beneficial insects." Garden myths and stories abound, lovely black-and-white drawings by Davis Te Selle grace the pages, and recipes for soups, salads, and breads will inspire you to bring the bounty of your garden to the table. -- Stephanie Woodard

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