Garden Secrets

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I've just closed the covers of a book that I have read, almost without stopping, since the US post office brought it to my door early yesterday morning. It does more than interest me; in fact, it excites me because it has told me a lot that I never knew before.

Vegetable-gardening books consistently roll from the presses of publishing houses, and the better ones invariably have something new to say even to the most experienced backyard food grower. But few have as many new gems of knowledge packed between the covers as the 315 pages of ''Garden Secrets, a guide to understanding how your garden grows and how you can help it grow even better,'' by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press. $14.95).

Most garden books tell us how to grow vegetables; ''Garden Secrets'' does that and also explains why cabbage, carrots, corn, and the like grow the way they do and why they respond in a particular manner to certain conditions and treatments.

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It includes a crash course in botany, and explains how and why soil types, nutrients, water, mulching, and so forth may affect plant growth. In short, it goes that one step further to provide us with an understanding of why something grew so spectacularly this year or why it failed to produce at all.

Armed with this information we are better able to steer the garden our way in the future.

Both Patent, with a PhD in zoology, and Bilderback, with a BS in botany, have the scientific backgrounds that lend authority to the book. But most important, they are backyard organic gardeners of long standing.

In gathering material for this book, they have turned to research papers from noted agricultural colleges everywhere, as well as drawing on the practical experiences of scores of fellow gardeners.

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