Book Review: Park’s Success with Seeds

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My Planting ‘Bible’

It seems I’ve always known gardening – introduced by my mother, her mother, and my father’s mother as well. These ladies worked hard always as farm wives, and especially diligently when they were in the garden. So when our local ag advisor visited our place on a sunny summer day between my eighth grade and freshman years to help me choose an FFA ‘SOEP’ (Supervised Occupational Experience Project? Gosh, it’s been a long time…) we discussed all the common options (sheep, pigs, crops, cows, mechanics and equipment), but briefly. He suggested a greenhouse project that was such a natural fit it stuck with me, and my mom, as we supplied our small town with bedding plants for the next twenty years. Among the various reference materials we used to construct the greenhouse and develop our processes, I owe a lot of our immediate and long-lasting success to this book, Park’s Success with Seeds. It is the most comprehensive reference I’ve ever used for selecting and propagating seeds and plants.


From the introduction to the glossary this book is easy to read, with detailed, accurate descriptions of practically every process you might use for choosing, propagating, and planting seeds. Beginning with the variety of supplies you will need on hand, the author, Ann Reilly, steps through the why’s and how’s of containers, lights, soils and other planting media, watering, temperature control, humidity and fertilizer. Her suggestions for alternate materials can save you time and money, proving that much can be accomplished with items you already have on hand (or in the trash can!) to start your own garden or houseplants.


As a fourteen-year-old embarking on an endeavor even her gardening grandma’s had never really explored in depth, this was foundational information that made an impression. Our greenhouse was built, supplied, and used for years based on the basic information in Success with Seeds. It was as much a textbook as any I’ve ever used in a class.


Ann’s detailed plant identification material in Success with Seeds is exemplary. If you never intend to plant your own seeds, this book is still a fabulous help to choosing the plants you will use for your windows, gardens, and beds. Starting with a listing of plant families, the book includes pictures of not only mature plants by genus, but photos of sprouts and first true leaves with individual descriptions on about one thousand specific species. (This has helped me distinguish weeds from keepers for many years!) The descriptions include genus and species, common name, origins, hardiness, uses, habit, germination needs, and culture. This large section is the part that was recommended reference in the recent January newsletter to accompany seed catalogue shopping. It is as relevant now as it was in the seventies when this book was published. There are many current books and magazines available for newer varieties, but this book is still a reliable starting point and includes basic information that is helpful in understanding the origins and growing requirements of modern hybrids as well.


The appendix seems page-thin compared with the photo section, but the information there is incredibly helpful. There are excellent listings for “PLANTS FOR EASY CULTIVATION (Perfect for beginners or children)”, “SEEDS THAT REQUIRE SPECIAL TREATMENT” (darkness, soaking, light, stratification, scarification, etc.), and “PLANTS FOR SPECIAL PLACES”. It also includes a glossary, and a cross reference index to help you find the botanical name if you only know a common name for a plant. There are garden layout and plant recommendations for several types of gardens, and then a great pronunciation guide and hardiness map (1978) at the end.


There are other titles in this Park’s Success series – Success with Herbs and Success with Bulbs – which I have never read or used but which may be equally valuable reference books. It seems there was only ever one edition published, which makes finding any copies a challenge and new copies are sort of like hen’s teeth. My daughter has my first copy now, so I searched the world and bought a used copy recently for myself on Amazon. Now I can refresh my memory as I sort through these seed packets and catalogues…



Submitted By Corinna Sinclair