Archives For Gardening


A Brief Review of

Gardening: Cultivating Wisdom (Philosophy for Everyone Series).
Dan O’Brien, editor.
Paperback: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

As one of the newest volumes in their eclectic “Philosophy for Everyone” series (a intriguing concept of itself, as the publisher seems not only to target an audience of everyone, but also to tackle a list of topics that covers just about everything), Wiley has offered us a delightful volume on the topic of gardening.  Although the series is titled as philosophy, and although there is indeed much here to spur philosophical reflection, this volume also offers as much on the history of gardening (and the history of thinking about gardening) as it does on philosophy of gardening.  Aptly subtitled, Cultivating Wisdom, this superb volume covers much ground from exploring “the virtues of gardening” to the role of gardens and gardening in the work of philosophers both ancient (Plato and Epicurus) and modern (David Hume).  One of my favorite essays in the collection was Gary Shapiro’s piece on “The Philosophy of Central Park,” an aesthetic argument that “what are variously called gardens, parks, earthworks, or perhaps most generally land art should be acknowledged once again as major forms of art” (149).  Such an argument is not unfamiliar to me, as our art editor, Brent Aldrich, has often made similar arguments in these pages (most recently in this review).  However, I was delighted to find that Shapiro takes as his case study, Central Park, the quintessential urban park, and forms a poignant and convincing argument around the features of the place.  Helene Gammack’s essay on “Food Glorious Food” and Michael Moss’s essay on “Brussels Sprouts and Empire” were also among the highlights of this fine volume.  If you garden, this volume will undoubtedly provide much food for thought as you work the land; if you don’t, this volume may just provide some convincing evidence that would compel you to give it a go.  Either way, it is an engaging and enjoyable read, and readers of the ERB will certainly want to stay tuned for future volumes in this diverse – and apparently all-encompassing – series!


As our Advent gift to you, we will be uploading the audio recordings from the main sessions of the “A Rooted People: Church, Place and Agriculture in an Urban World” conference. (Click here for the conference website and more info on the conference).

Click for previous installments in this series:
[ Part #1 – Ragan Sutterfield / Fred Bahnson  ]
[ Part #2 – Martin Price / Sean Gladding  ]

Talk #5 –Saturday – Morning Intro.
“The Three WHY’s” – Claudio Oliver
Claudio lives, farms and writes as part of a church community in Curitiba, Brazil.

Talk #6 – Sat. Morning Keynote
“Growing Food on Rooftops and Other Hard-to-Grow Places”
– Martin Price

Martin is the former Director of Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization (ECHO) in Ft. Myers, FL.



“The Delight of Discovery

A Review of
Garden Guide: New York City.

By Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Garden Guide: New York City.
By Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry
Vinyl Flexicover : W.W. Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

While the idea of a garden guide for New York City might seem unusual at first – this is, after all, the city that takes a beating for the size of the presumed ‘concrete jungle’ – the fact that just such a lengthy book exists is telling of an important aspect of urban places: namely, that gardens, parks, and green spaces are as integral to the fabric of healthy, diversified neighborhoods as anything; but also, as David Owen makes clear in Green Metropolis, the very density of NYC is one of the ‘greenest’ things it has going. New York’s gardens, scattered in-between buildings, along streets, on roofs, or in the occasional large park, become all the more valued because each plot of ground is precious, which is to say, each garden must do the most with the space given for it – none of this endless acreage of sprawling lawns and vacant lots such as are found in a city like Indianapolis, where I’m writing. Rather, creative uses are required for gardens in a city like New York, and so rooftops, the smallest vacant lots, and an old elevated train line all become valued green spaces alongside buildings, roadways, and the rest of city life.

A new revised edition of Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry’s Garden Guide: New York City documents over 80 gardens in New York’s five boroughs, and this number, it seems, is a relatively small selection, as the authors cite that there are over 400 community gardens alone in NYC. And within this guide, there is a full representation of many of these community gardens, along with city park-owned properties, private institutions with public green spaces, museums, churches, and municipal buildings, all with site-specific garden spaces in the midst of the city. Additionally, all of the gardens described in the book have visiting information, a ‘best season,’ and websites in most cases; through the bulk of the guide, these gardens are grouped geographically, but at the close, there are other classifications for gardens, such as ‘Best Vegetable Gardens,’ ‘Gardens With a View,’ or ‘Rooftop Gardens.’

Continue Reading…


Here is a fabulous video which serves both as an excellent introduction to Eric Sanderson’s new book Mannahatta (to be reviewed by Brent Aldrich in next week’s issue of the ERB), and as an overview of social artist Fritz Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate project in Manhattan (Fritz Haeg’s book Edible Estates was named as one of our Best Books of 2008.)  You won’t want to miss this captivating video.
(~15 minutes long)

Mannahatta: A Natural History of NYC.
Eric Sanderson.

Hardback: Abrams, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.
Fritz Haeg.

Paperback: Metropolis Books, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate from fritz haeg on Vimeo.


A Brief Review of

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.
2nd edition.
Toby Hemenway.

Paperback: Chelsea Green, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

By Brent Aldrich.

Last summer, when I leapt headlong into vegetable gardening, Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture was one of a few books that I spent some significant time with, wondering how to get my small plots of mostly hot-weather crops to look anything like even the diagrams of densely-planted, highly diversified plants in this book. A second edition of Gaia’s Garden is now available, and I’m still working on the “ecological garden” described therein.


    Gaia’s Garden is manual, field guide, narrative, and theory for “ecological gardening,” that is, a garden that “both looks and works the way nature does. It does this by building strong connections among the plants, soil life, beneficial insects and other animals, and the gardener, to weave a resilient, natural webwork. Each organism is tied to many others. It’s this interconnectedness that gives nature strength…This multifunctionalism – wherein each interconnected piece plays many roles – is another quality separating an ecologically designed garden from others” (7-8). So forget about straight rows of monocultures and instead think “keyhole garden beds,” “multipurpose plants,” “garden guilds,” and “food forests.”


    Perhaps the most substantial new material in this edition is the chapter “Permaculture Gardening in the City,” bringing this book into conversation with other high-productivity practices such as Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and John Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables. Although the ideas presented in the first edition of Gaia’s Garden could mostly be adapted to fit city-sized lots, Hemenway makes a significant contribution to gardening in the city by reminding that “to garden ecologically in metro areas, a smart strategist will play to the city’s strengths and mitigate the weaknesses. The great strength of any city – the reason people go there – is the social capital: the synergies and opportunities generated by creative people working together” (230). In this scenario, neighbors fill in the gaps for one another: “My neighbors’ yards had become my orchard. I realized that I didn’t need to plant all my favorite fruit trees. I just needed to plant the ones that were missing from the neighborhood” (231).

    By describing the inherent complexity and diversity in the garden, Gaia’s Garden then extends its reach to the larger community, and is perhaps suggestive of Wendell Berry’s description of the “Great Economy,” in which “everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it.”


A Brief Review of
The Curious Garden.
Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown.

Hardback: Little, Brown, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed By Chris Smith.

For the last couple of years, I have been starting to explore what an urban naturalism might look like here in Indianapolis.  Unbeknownst to me, in New York City, Peter Brown was at the same time fleshing out a similar vision in the form of a picture book, The Curious Garden.  This little volume, published earlier this year and filled with Brown’s own rich color illustrations, traces the story of a young boy, Liam, whose home city begins as a dull, dreary place, “without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.”  In contrast to most of this city’s children who spent their days cooped up inside, Liam loved to be outdoors, splashing through the rain and exploring the urban terrain.  One day, in the midst of his explorations, Liam stumbles upon an old elevated railway bed that is no longer in use (which, as Brown notes in his afterword, is loosely based on NYC’s High Line).  Liam finds that up on this railway bed, there is the very tiniest in-breaking of color, in the form of a few wildflowers and other plants.  He feels compelled to begin nurturing these few plants, and as he cares for them – a trial and error process – they begin to spread along the railway, thus beginning a process that will ultimately transform the city out of its dreary darkness into a vibrant green and multi-colored locale.  Brown has taken a minimalist approach to the text here and much of Liam’s story is told simply and creatively through the illustrations.  In reading and re-reading The Curious Garden, I was struck by Brown’s idea that the transformation of the city is already at work in nature and that our job as humans is to seek out these burstings forth and to nurture them as they expand.  This fruitful combination of attentiveness and diligent care provides a solid foundation, I believe, for the practice of an urban naturalism.  The Curious Garden is, by far, the best book for children (of all ages) that I have found this year, and with time it will undoubtedly reign – with Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way For Ducklings and a handful of other books – as one of the finest ecological picture books of all time.


A Brief Review of Restorative Commons:
Creating Health and Well-Being Through Urban Landscapes.

Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen, editors.

Get this book for FREE from the US Forest Service!!!
(Print version or PDF e-book)

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

On one hand, Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being Through Urban Landscapes is the proceedings of the Meristem 2007 Forum and is published as “General Technical Report” of the US Forest Service.  But wait, before you write this book off, allow me to add that this book is typical of neither conference proceedings nor government technical reports.  Printed in full color, laid out with an edgy design and illustrated throughout with a host of photographs, Restorative Commonsis not only a beautiful book but also is written in a very engaging style and draws its readers into a conversation about how the landscape of cities can be redeemed.  Considering that we are called to be people marked by God’s shalom (health and wholeness) and considering the scriptural image that we are given of the New Jerusalem – in which all has been reconciled – as a city lined with trees (Rev. 22), this book promises to be of great interest to urban Christians.  Restorative Commons starts with three diverse essays that offer the “theory” behind this vision of restored urban landscapes.  Don’t let the term “theory” fool you, however, as these pieces are written in plain language and frame the conversation from the perspectives of history, psychology and urban planning.  The next section includes two “thought pieces” which again are engaging and serve to introduce the areas of green building and green infrastructure (landscaping, gardens, etc.) respectively.  The latter half of the book is narrative and serves to flesh out through stories and interviews the ideology offered in the first half of the book.  The interviews with practitioners, albeit brief, are perhaps the highlight of the book.  This book is a fabulous resource for seeding the imagination of urban churches who desire to seek the shalom of the particular places in which they find themselves.  From starting community gardens to promoting green buildings to participating in conversations about how public spaces should be planned and used, this book is an excellent resource for introducing these conversations and for making a case from the place of ecological health and well-being that such endeavors are well worth our attention and energy.  And if this book were cake, the icing would be its price tag; it is being made available for free in both printed format and PDF e-book thanks to our federal tax dollars hard at work.  Click here to get your free copy today, and if you are part of an urban church I plead with you to read this book, get others in your congregation to read and discuss it, prayerfully seeking how your church community can engage more deeply in God’s redemptive work in your city!


Two Recent Books on Gardening.

Like most of my American friends, I did not grow up a gardener. Unlike them, I grew up in God’s own garden, a shadowy and solemn rainforest cathedral choired by birds of paradise and guarded by poisonous vines, stink bugs, and death adders. Power chainsaws have desecrated most of the world’s rainforest temples during my own short youth, opening earth-wounds upon which farmers or palm oil companies smear the fertilizers and pesticides of agroscience, hoping to scab off fuel or a little food, survival or bio-profits, before the hard red clay puckers into dusty, sterile scars. Though many of my friends and acquaintances in Manila and Jakarta were exposed to third-eye levels of farming chemicals in childhood, few are interested in sacrificing the enticements of quick ‘n easy flower boxes for the perilous joy of a garden.


In the midst of a concrete jungle, Tim Stark and Robert Pogue Harrison have been helpful guides as I begin to discover the relationships between my dinner table, my soul, and the soil. Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford, has written the philosophical Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Stark, a failed freelance writer from New York City, has penned Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, a juicily written tale of his mad affair with the tomato.

Read the full review:

Robert Pogue Harrision.

Hardcover: U of Chicago Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]


Tim Stark.
Hardcover: Broadway Books, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Music Critic Andy Whitman
Reflects on David Dark’s New Book
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.

I write that, and quote from several sources at length, only to say that David Dark’s latest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, ought to be required reading for human beings, regardless of their religious or political stripes. David Dark is one of my favorite Christian thinkers, and his earlier books Everyday Apocalypse and The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea have, respectively, outlined the in-breaking of truth in popular culture, and our national overconfidence in our own righteousness. For his third book, Dark pulls out all the stops, and surveys the stories that we hear on a daily basis, stories about God and religion, our nation and its history, our self-defined passions, our sacred cows, our morality. We hear these stories in a thousand places; in television broadcasts, in classrooms, in the books we read, in our choice of friends and the viewpoints we are willing to take in, in the magazines we subscribe to, the music we listen to, the web sites we frequent. To a large extent, they define our identity.

Read the full piece:

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.
David Dark.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ] [ Amazon ]

Scott McKnight Briefly Reviews
Andrew Marin’s Love is An Orientation.

Andrew Marin has earned the right to be heard about gays and the Church. Why? His book, Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community , tells the story. That subtitle is what is needed next, and I think it’s the Third Way.

Some are wearied by this discussion.
Some are worked into passionate pronouncements.
Few are willing to sort out the issues, both biblical and relational, and then move into genuine Christian engagement. Andrew Marin does the latter.

Read the full review:

Love Is an Orientation:
Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community.

Andrew Marin.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ]  [ Amazon ]


ERB Editor Chris Smith reviews
Diana Butler Bass’s  A PEOPLE’S HISTORY

When I was a child my mom used to read me stories of Christian martyrs from an Anabaptist history book called Martyrs Mirror. As I have returned to these often gruesome stories at various stages of my life, I find in them an alternate version of church history that contrasts with the history taught in many churches and schools.

Similarly, in A People’s History of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass has spun another alternate history of the church. Taking inspiration from Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States, which offers a new slant on U.S. history, Bass presents here a fresh version of church history that stands in contrast to the militant Christianity she calls “Big C” Christianity, in reference to the key elements of that history: Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin, and Christian America.

Read the full review:

Diana Butler Bass.

Hardcover: HarperOne, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ]  [ Amazon ]

Alan Jacobs reviews   The Arcadian Friends:
Inventing the English Landscape Garden

For Books and Culture

Gardening marks, as clearly as any activity, the joining of nature and culture. The gardener makes nothing, but rather gathers what God has made and shapes it into new and pleasing forms. The well-designed garden shows nature more clearly and beautifully than nature can show itself. And this can be a model of politics: people left to their own devices can run riot, make themselves and their environment “ruin’d” and “disorder’d”; properly governed, though, they can flourish, they can become their best selves and make the most of their environment.

But the governor’s hand, like the gardener’s, can fall too heavy. If we grant that Richard has been careless and thoughtless, has failed to govern, has allowed weeds to overwhelm “our sea-walled garden,” we may also suspect this gardener, who is quick to appoint an “executioner” and is perhaps overly enamored with “evenness” in his realm. We need governors as we need gardeners; but not all forms of government are equally wise or equally beautiful.

These are among the themes of Tim Richardson’s delightfully expansive book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden. Richardson explores in apt detail the most eventful and meaning-rich period of English landscape gardening, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688—during which the English and the Dutch collaborated in governing and gardening alike—to the middle of the next century, when Lancelot “Capability” Brown strode onto the scene and made an impression that still dominates our sense of the English made landscape.

Read the full review:

The Arcadian Friends:
Inventing the English Landscape Garden

Tim Richardson.
Paperback: Bantam Press, 2008
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The NY TIMES of William Julius Wilson’s

When the nation’s first black president took the oath of office, surrounded by the grandeur of the National Mall, it was easy to forget that one of the country’s most isolated and impoverished black ghettos was a few short blocks away. The poverty, violence and hopelessness in America’s inner cities have become increasingly dire in the four decades since the height of the civil rights movement. But as Barack Obama’s victory suggests, racial prejudice is less severe today than ever before. Why haven’t the problems of the ghettos improved along with race relations generally?

Conservatives have a ready answer. Racism is not the problem; instead, a pervasive culture of instant gratification, violence and loose morals — think gangsta rap — keeps poor blacks from enjoying the American dream, not white racists. Liberals have a more charitable, but unfortunately more obscure, rejoinder. Poor blacks today suffer from covert racism, unconscious racism, institutional racism, environmental racism and a host of other theoretically abstruse “racisms” that don’t involve cross-burning white supremacists or crude Archie Bunker-style bigots — and may not even involve racial animus or discrimination. Each side has little patience for the claims of the other. Conservatives reject the idea of structural and institutional racism as an intellectual’s way of playing the race card. Liberals attack any emphasis on the dysfunctional culture of the poor as “blaming the victim.”

In “More Than Just Race,” the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson recaps his own important research over the past 20 years as well as some of the best urban sociology of his peers to make a convincing case that both institutional and systemic impediments and cultural deficiencies keep poor blacks from escaping poverty and the ghetto.

Read the full review:

Being Black and Poor in the Inner City

William Julius Wilson

Hardcover: Norton, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]


“Seeding the Imagination…
Guerrilla style”

A Review of
Guerrilla Gardening.
Richard Reynolds.


By Brent Aldrich.


Guerrilla Gardening:
A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries

Richard Reynolds.
Hardcover: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]


This past summer, on and empty and overgrown lot in my neighborhood, I mowed several trails through the vegetation, and planted nearly 100 sunflower seeds or starts with a friend, attempting to claim this abandoned space as a nature preserve, or park. The lot, unfortunately, was mowed over on occasion by the owner, so the flowers didn’t make it, but such was my first attempt at guerrilla gardening. At the time, I was aware of the original ‘Green Guerrillas,’ and vague stories of appearing by cover of dark for a night of horticulture on a public space. Richard Reynolds’s new book On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries outlines this movement further, and serves as a handy guide for anyone interested in cultivating a bit of land not your own.

            The simple definition of guerrilla gardening is “the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land,” although to flesh that out, Reynolds says, “I, and thousands of people like me, step out from home to garden land we do not own. We see opportunities all around us. Vacant lots flourish as urban oases, roadside verges dazzle with flowers and crops are harvested from land that was supposed to be fruitless” (15-16). As described from his own gardens and dozens of others, Reynolds outlines both a survey and manual for guerrilla gardening. He remains conversational and supportive to other gardeners throughout, narrating stories of many gardeners gathered online at

            As seen in this book, the motivations for guerrilla gardening, as well as the locations and methods, are as diverse as nature itself. From abandoned lots to road medians to unused lawns, one common thread is just the neglect of land in urban places. Living in London, Reynolds also describes ‘scarcity’ as another foe to be conquered, though I must say that I believe we live in an abundance, but the questions arise as to how the land is divided or shared (one could build a political manifesto of guerrilla gardening). Taking responsibility for neglected land, these gardeners are represented in stories and photographs planting medians, empty flowerbeds, and tree pits in bright flowers. An incredible photograph of a 15,000 square foot guerrilla garden in New York (demolished by the city in the 1980’s) is perhaps the largest scale in the book; most are more modest, but still remarkable for their incongruity to their surroundings. “Where there has never been colour, a guerrilla gardener finds a way to bring it into the environment, seeing potential where others saw blank, barren boredom” (30).


  Continue Reading…