Garden Library Profile #3: Gayla Trail

Gayla Trail The first book I always recommend to crafty gals who've been seized by gardening fever is You Grow Girl, Gayla Trail's hip yet completely unpretentious guide to organic gardening. It's the physical counterpart to her fantastically informative blog of the same name, which she started in 2000 and has grown into a community of like-minded gardeners. As a graphic designer and DIYer with an eye for the lovely and unusual, Gayla goes beyond the basics of soil prep, planting, and pest vanquishing to more creative projects, like making leafy stepping stones and carnivorous plant bogs. You Grow Girl A Torontonian, Gayla has especially clever advice for urbanites coaxing a garden on a roof, balcony, or just a sunny windowsill. In all her writing and her talks across North America, she radiates an infectious excitement about growing. If she has her way, we'll all fall madly, deeply in love with nature, in our gardens and far beyond.

Thanks, Gayla, for sharing the best of your shelves. --Mari Malcolm
: How would you describe your garden library?

Gayla Trail: Colourful. As a designer and photographer, I have to admit that while I know better I can't help choosing a book by its cover. I expect a lot from the interior pages too. I am not drawn to 1- or 2-colour gardening books.

While my library is packed with full-colour, image-heavy books, these days I am most drawn to gardening memoirs and how-to books that include personal stories or a distinctly personable bent. What was your first gardening book?

Gayla Trail: I did not have gardening books growing up, although I did frequent the young scientist section at the public library. So while my memory leans more towards book about keeping praying mantises as pets and brewing up batches of paramecium, I must have come across one or two gardening books along the way.

The first gardening book I bought as an adult was horrible. I was overwhelmed in the bookstore and ended up with a book that had lots of pictures but was incredibly dull and uninspiring. I promptly gave it away and have absolutely no recollection of what it was called or who authored it.
Second Nature Which book do you wish you'd had in your early years as a gardener?

Gayla Trail: Second Nature by Michael Pollan and The Gardener's Manifesto by Lorraine Johnson.

They are not how-to's. What attracts me to both are their progressive ideas about nature and how that relates to gardening, especially in the city. As an urban gardener, I originally felt very left out and on the margins of any real gardening discourse--as if I’d never be considered a “real” gardener because I don’t own land or a backyard for that matter. Both of these books helped me to fully and finally let go of those prejudices. Who's your favorite garden writer?

Gayla Trail: I don’t have a favorite but there are several that inspire, including many of the writers I have already mentioned. Jamaica Kincaid is one of my favorite authors in general--I've read all of her books. She also happens to be a gardener with a couple of books on the subject to her credit: My Garden (Book) and the collection My Favorite Plant. I like the way her honest, direct, and unapologetic style translates to garden writing.

Monty Don is a British writer with a great sense of humor. I have only read one book written by him, a collection of essays entitled gardening= Gardening Mad. I really appreciate his relaxed wit. What book has most influenced your gardening style or philosophy?

Gayla Trail: My style is experimental and off the cuff. I’m not much of a planner and tend to move things around constantly, especially the containers. I grow in groupings rather than rows. My gardens are messy. Garden books can’t get away from photos of orderly gardens regardless of what they preach in the text (even I tidy up slightly when I photograph!) so in that sense no book has influenced me. I  suppose I am more influenced by those childhood science-experiments-for-kids books!

I will say however, that I really appreciated The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka because it validated an impulse I've always had to drop prunings and weeded plants in place on the soil surface rather than transferring to the compost bin. It was reassuring to find that this made sense to a farmer of such distinction.
: Which book has the most inspiring, luscious, or provocative pictures?

Gayla Trail: The photography in Planted by British garden writer Andy Sturgeon drew me to the book Gardening Madand later his writing and approach sealed the deal. It's a full-colour book, yet they dared to insert black and white photographs. It absolutely works! The pictures are eye candy.

I suppose it is obvious that I connect more closely with British garden writers than North American. It’s the dry humor and wit. What's your most essential reference book?

Gayla Trail: The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, edited by Barbara Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley. If I had to reduce my library down to one book, this would be it. Which volume in your collection has the most sentimental value?

Gayla Trail: There are two both signed by women that I respect and admire as gardeners and people of integrity. I won’t tell you what they say, but both inscriptions make me a little teary-eyed:

The New Ontario Naturalized Garden by Lorraine Johnson. She came to a presentation I gave about guerrilla gardening in which I mentioned her. To see her out in the audience as I quoted from her totally blew my mind. She’s been a real inspiration to me. A Way to Garden

A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach. We met online just recently and she sent me a copy of her book, which is absolutely brilliant and brimming with honesty, insight, and passion for her garden. What's your favorite recent addition? Heirloom Tomato

Gayla Trail: The Heirloom Tomato by Amy Goldman. I’ve been strapped for time recently and haven’t had a chance to read a single word since I bought the book. However, I have thumbed through the photos. I could eat those photos. Never mind that it’s also the middle of winter and I could eat my own hand in exchange for a decent tomato. A book filled with full-color, lush photographs of tomatoes at this time of year is like cruel (but wonderful) pornography for the space-deprived.

My spouse bought me a book called The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans that I’ve only been able to briefly skim but have been itching to dive into for months. What’s on your wish list?

The Compleat Squash Gayla Trail: I keep meaning to pick up The Compleat Squash by Amy Goldman. With so little space I never get the chance to grow all the gorgeous squashes I find in the seed trading catalogues. Instead, I’m forced to make do with one or two per year, slowly and painfully inching my way through the hundreds I covet. My eyes eat up books like this, but it also makes me crazy.

See all our garden library profiles at --Mari

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I was disappointed by this profile. I could have just gone to Gayla's wonderful blog (which I do all the time anyway). The questions are cookie cutter and robotic instead of a real discussion.

Posted by: Morgan | Thursday March 26, 2009 at 8:22 AM

I have loved reading this article and can't wait to order the books. My second hobby is reading which is a perfect match to gardening - when you can't get out there, read!

Posted by: Everyman | Tuesday March 17, 2009 at 3:44 PM

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