Review of The Good Dirt – Xanthe White

Posted: December 20, 2017 in nonfiction, Review

In The Good Dirt, landscape designer Xanthe White goes beneath the surface to reveal the secrets to successful gardening. As the title suggests, this book is all about the soil we find in our garden and more particularly how we can maximize its growing potential.

If you’ve ever wondered why some plants thrive in one location but struggle in your own backyard you’ll be likely to find explanations in the soil below. Xanthe White examines the five main soil types found in New Zealand and offers advice on how to get the best from each one by working in harmony with nature.

Complete with ingredients guides for each soil type and ideas and design features to enhance its fertility, this is an essential companion for anyone looking to establish a new garden or improve their existing one.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Okay, now this is something different. It’s a gardening book, and I have a few of those; but it’s also intended to be a science book. It is a book about the science of soil, specifically about New Zealand soils, which are notoriously deficient in a whole bunch of nutrients.

Now, I’m hardly an expert in the field, but I do have a background in both science and education, and I have to say that this work is somewhat inadequate in both departments. The author is a landscape gardener, and clearly very experienced in her field, but I can sense a certain lack of depth to her understanding of the geology and chemistry that underlie soil science.

The book is organised by the types of soils; but what is missing is the section at the beginning that describes soil types, how they come about, and how to tell them apart so you know what you’re dealing with. I have misgivings as a science educator when terms like pH are used without explanation, because I know that many people have forgotten what chemistry they learned in high school, and some won’t even got far enough to have come across that concept.

There’s a lot of wordage given over to anecdotal material, which might be interesting, but isn’t always relevant. It all seems a bit superficial.

If you’re looking for the good dirt on New Zealand dirt, this book might entertain you for a while, but I think you’d soon be looking elsewhere for something more solid.

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