WITH SHORT, COOL summers and wet clay soil, my Vermont garden offers only one of the essentials melon cultivation requires: lots of room. Quel tragique, a French gardener might say, for even a hasty glance at the fruits -- 85 melons and 40 watermelons -- included in Amy Goldman's The Melon will have readers seeking a warm, sunny garden plot with well-drained, sandy loam.
While The Melon is large and lavishly illustrated enough to be considered a "coffee-table book," that label would be a disservice because it is also informative, well-written, concise, and clear -- in fact, a first-rate reference book. Tucked between photographer Victor Schrager' s gorgeous, seductive portraits of each melon are carefully researched variety descriptions and histories, advice on growing, primers on saving seeds and hand pollination, and a complete list of seed sources. There's even a thorough explanation of how to tell when melons are ripe, which, reminds us that what you pick is what you get: Melons do not get sweeter off the vine.
Goldman trialed 125 melons over nine years on her Hudson Valley, New York, farm. All are stable open-pollinated (OP) varieties whose seeds breed true (produce plants identical to their parent). Most are also heirlooms and date back a century or more. Selected for particular traits-usually by gardeners in a specific region-their seeds have been faithfully handed down from one generation to the next.
Eagle-eyed readers may notice that some inclusions have far shorter histories. These varieties, such as the green-fleshed 'Fordhook Gem', are known as "created heirlooms," stable OP varieties developed after 1945. (The year 1945 marks the year hybrids began to be widely used by farmers and home gardeners.)
In addition to throwing light on a favorite fruit, The Melon is also a plea for preserving heirloom and OP crops. Goldman is a longtime mainstay of Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), the preeminent seed preservation organization in North America. And who wouldn't want to save flavorful fruits with names like 'Collective Farm Woman' and 'Hero of Lockinge'? Or 'Georgia Rattlesnake,' the variety Mark Twain may have had in mind when he wrote in Pudd'nhead Wilson that when one tastes a southern watermelon "he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented."
Karan Davis Cutler is a garden writer based in Bridport, Vermont.
– Karan Davis Cutler, The American Gardener magazine, Jan/Feb 2020
The Melon features gorgeous color photos by Victor Schrager and profiles all kinds of melons; but offers far more depth than just a photo survey alone. It's a resource nine years in the making which gathers the latest research, facts, and ideas about melon growth and natural history, and will appeal to science readers, gardeners, and botany collections alike.
Chapters cover each melon's natural history, qualities, and botanical details, with some 200 images packing the book. Tips on choosing and using the melons (as well as growing them in a garden) round out the history and science, while a small selection of melon recipes addresses versatile uses for melon largess.
The result is an attractive book that will hold interest beyond specialty audiences, one which will reach into many general-interest collections.
– Diane Donovan, Donovan's Bookshelf November 2019 Prime Picks