Brief, disarming, insidiously informative explorations into the unpopularity of parsnips, the perils of road salt, the necessity of woodchucks, and other homely biological matters--by the science editor of Horticulture magazine. Swain is part-essayist, part-sleuth; he has an instinct for the odd, intriguing fact (""if the British sailors had continued to rely on sauerkraut"" for their vitamin C, ""they might hay become 'krauts' instead of 'limeys' ""); but it's the commonplace that inspires his most imaginative and encyclopedic fancies. Witness his disquisition on the uneven distribution of dung, and remedies therefor--a dual tribute to the African dung beetle (which laps up Australia's excess) and the American gardener (who'd be glad to dispose of US agriculture's surplus). He'll also tell you, more or less applicably, how (and why) to collect wild swarms of bees; how to protect a favorite tree from lightning; why tomatoes picked green will never achieve full flavor--regardless of how they're ripened. But like most gardens, some of this is purely ornamental: read Swain, for instance, on the exotic origin and ""complex behavioral repertoire"" of the mundane split-leaf philodendron. Along with the ubiquitous seed catalogue (which, says Swain, might redeem the parsnip by calling it ""sweet""), a cheering way to wait out the winter.