Wednesday, March 5, 2014

REVIEW: Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour

67 Food Gardens Revealed: An Inside Look at What Passionate Gardeners Grow (or Want To!)Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Advanced e-copy from Net Galley, free in exchange for a fair review
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2014
Genre(s): Non-fiction, Gardening
Series: NA
Awards: None

Suggested Subtitle: A Garden Plan for Every Eventuality. Ever. And some more.

I love to grow vegetables and herbs but unfortunately I am the queen of gardening handicaps. Okay so I am being a little melodramatic but I really do have some serious gardening obstacles. My yard is small and the garden must share the limited space with my two gigantic dogs but the real killer is that, my yard, front and back, is very shady mostly thanks to neighbor’s trees. I was very excited when I saw that this book included a couple of plans for growing edibles in shady conditions! That’s what drew me in and prompted me to request the book but in the end this lovely tome provided me with all kinds of ideas and inspiration beyond just my current situation.

My winter saddened handicapped garden, pic 1

My winter saddened handicapped garden, pic 2.

My winter saddened handicapped garden pic. 3.

The garden in happier times so you don't get as depressed as I do looking at the previous 3 pics. That's Garlic!

The book is a collection of garden plans for almost every conceivable situation. It felt like there was something of interest for every gardener’s unique situation or desire. One of its strengths is that each plan is contributed by a different source which translates into a huge variety of creative ideas. The contributors range from gardening professionals to bloggers and they garden in a wide range of locales and conditions. It also really felt like the plans being presented were not just ideas formulated by the contributor but were actually  the tried and true methods they use in their gardens. Each plan is narratively communicated in an interview type style, focusing on highlights and key concepts and advice and then is depicted with a nicely rendered and easy to interpret illustration of the layout and plants included. The artwork is nice. I liked that  the author insisted that the contributors name some of their favorite varieties of different vegetables even though she indicated they were resistant to doing this.

I also loved that there was a recurring theme of gardening naturally and creating a garden that produces edibles for people but also is a friendly place for beneficial insects and pollinators. For example, several of the plans mention planting pathways between beds with clover to attract and support pollinators which is not an idea I had encountered before. There are even a few plans that focus on creating a full on wildlife friendly garden which I especially appreciated.

While each plan is only 4-5 pages long and doesn’t go into too much detail I still felt like I learned quite a bit. I learned the difference between a Potager and a Kitchen Garden, how to make and about the benefits of Comfrey Tea (a natural soil amendment like compost tea) and how to plant a knot garden. I’ve only been gardening seriously for about 5 years and most of that time has been in less than ideal conditions so I am definitely still a novice but I have tried to read extensively on the subject and experiment every year. So, it's possible very experienced gardeners may not find anything new here, but I definitely felt like it presented some unique ideas and provided inspiration for trying some new things with a gardening space.

My vote for the quirkiest and most unique plans in the collection:
- Hot Dog Garden: shaped like a hot dog with all the fixins’ and including the plants for all the toppings
- Elizabethan Garden: growing 6 vegetables that were common in Elizabethan times but are unknown now (Skirret, Salsify and Rampion - what fun names!).
- Backyard Brewer’s Garden: how to grow hops in your backyard as well as some interesting flavorings for beer.
- Gutter Gardens: A hanging multi-tiered planter for shallow rooted edibles made from gutters.

The plans I particularly enjoyed:
- Partially Shaded Vegetables and the Urban Shade Garden: both of which gave me good ideas and expanded what I knew about shade-tolerant veggies.
- Circle of Life: innovative and symbolic circular design with the outer ring being a run for chickens.
- Founding Fathers Garden: a design with plants inspired by Monticello, Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg. I love history and am from Virginia so particularly appreciated it. I’ve gazed in envy at many of the Colonial Williamsburg gardens.

In short it gave me some ideas that I’d like to play with now, in my less than ideal space and ideas to dream about doing in my future “perfect” gardening space. It includes concepts of interest to the budding homesteader as well as the urbanite who’d like to include more edibles in their well-groomed yards.

Final Verdict: I’d recommend this book as a fun and informative perusal for any gardener but particularly those that are looking for inspiration for playing with their space. I really enjoyed it!


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to review the book.. it is much appreciated!! It was quite a project and involved a lot of wonderful folks! I'm thrilled that it is now available in Canada and soon in the US (just another week or so)

    And on a completely unrelated note, I'm a bit of a Whovian myself, so I've really enjoyed reading your posts. :)

  2. Thanks for writing an awesome book! I did keep thinking how much work it must have been to compile all that information from so many people but it sounds like it was a labor of love. Thanks for doing all that labor because I got a lot out of it!

    Also glad to "meet" another Whovian! I wish season 7 would show up on Netflix....

  3. This looks something definitely up my alley (assuming I ever move into a place with my own garden)! It also looks like something my mom would love, although she's moving out of having a place with her own garden in a few months, so the timing on this sucks. But one day! One of us will have this book haha

    1. I'm sure someday all your gardening stars will align! Just make sure it's in a place with sun for 6-8 hours a day:) Actually this book has a few plans for very small spaces (aka balconies and patios) as well as some other container gardening plans. As I said - every eventuality!