The After-Dinner Gardening Book, by Richard W. Langer

Richard W. Langer
Illustrations by Susan McNeill
The Macmillan Company, Toronto, Ontario
1969, 198 pages, (Hardcover)

On a recent trip to a favorite used book store, my son, an aspiring gardener, bought this book, and it is definitely the find of the summer.  We had made a small attempt at container gardening on the deck of our condominium.  We had planted some heirloom tomatoes, and beans and peppers, but were feeling the restrictions of having no yard of our own where we were free to experiment on a grander scale.

He quickly read this book, and encouraged me to do the same, and we were both hooked.  The object is to start plants from whatever is left after dinner.  The top of the pineapple, the pit of the avocado, or the seeds of the papaya can all become a mini indoor or outdoor garden in no time.  In the case of the author, and his long-suffering wife (who illustrated the book), the indoor garden was not so mini.  He referred to it as “living in a jungle.”  An avocado tree had to be moved to larger quarters – twice!  This, in a New York apartment, with less than perfect sunlight.

While Langer was experimenting with new varieties of plants, he did his research.  And that was not as easy in 1969 as it is today with the Internet.  He frequented the New York Botanical Gardens Library, and contacted experts in Illinois and Hawaii for assistance with problem plants, as well as his local library.  The book boasts an ample bibliography, which could provide some interesting further reading.

All of this research is distilled and offered to us beginners at one plant per chapter.  Langer gives explicit directions on how to proceed from table to pot, and his wife, Susan McNeill, illustrated the plants at various stages of growth.  He offers insight on the best way to germinate the seeds, the best potting mediums for the various plants, how often to water, how much sun is needed, etc.

Also, don’t be afraid of a large initial investment in pots, special growing mediums, or tools.  Langer believes in using what is at hand.  Sand from constructions sites, juice-can lids to cover drainage holes in the bottoms of pots, a knife, fork, and spoon for tools, and some disposable containers, such as cut-off milk cartons, were some of the ways he kept the cost of his jungle in line.  He rarely found it necessary to purchase special materials, and his results were spectacular.

The real fun of the book, though, is Langer’s retelling of his own first attempts at each variety of plant, and the mistakes inherent in that process.  In his funny, self-deprecating style, he makes us aware that most of the fun is in the process, not in a particular result.


1 Comment

  1. August 12, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    […] of which, her newest review, The After-Dinner Gardener, was suggested by yours truly. So if you take her advice and pick it up, tell her I sent […]

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