IT'S midwinter. Gardeners pore over the newest seed catalogs with visions of next summer's bountiful harvest. They dream of tomatoes as big as cabbages, of roses and raspberries and ruffled petunias. This year some may dream of a "Martha Stewart" garden.
Martha Stewart, the first lady of good taste and entertaining, has inspired thousands with her book "Entertaining," with its attractive table settings and plans for weddings and parties.
Author of nine best-selling cookbooks as well as syndicated columns, star of four videos and speaker at seminars, she now has a new book for the American home, "Martha Stewart's Gardening" (Clarkson Potter, $50).
Stewart's six-acre "place in the country" in Westport, Conn., has for the last 20 years been the center of her gardening.
"Actually, I've been gardening since I was very young," she said in a Monitor interview at Boston's Ritz Carlton. "My father taught me a lot and I've kept on learning on my own, and from experts and friends."
Demystifying gardening as she did entertaining and decorating, Stewart's book quotes from her own journals and gives month-by-month garden advice that will appeal to anyone with a 10-square-foot plot or a 10-acre estate.
"In the '90s, people will be taking more time to make their surroundings attractive and to get closer to family and friends," she predicts. "The home and garden will become more important than ever. Gardening is a family-oriented activity that anyone can do."
Her several lucrative businesses are conducted from her restored 19th-century home, where she works with two gardeners, four office staffers, and help from her family.
"My sister-in-law is office manager and my mother - a retired school teacher - helps with sewing whenever necessary and special projects, such as preserving," she explains.
Martha's sister, Laura, previously in charge of the kitchen, is now pregnant, and the kitchen staff "once important for catering, has not been needed for about four years. It's all very compatible," she says.
Five years in the making, the new gardening book is a large, handsome, colorful volume. It's a serious guide to gardening. Stunning combinations of old English engravings have been combined with superb photographs by Elizabeth Zeschin.
"I suppose I've been influenced by the English school of gardening more than any other; I am constantly amazed at what fine and thoughtful gardeners that small country produced," she said. "It is where I have found much inspiration, as well as more practical things."
An antique brick path leads to the house, work studios, and pool. There's a small smoke house by the herb garden, a vegetable garden, a Belgian fence, and a shade garden near the woods. A different entrance through the stone wall leads to the barn, past the berries on one side, a new orchard on the other side of the drive, and daffodils and other spring bulbs along a six-foot-high stone wall.
But it was not always this way.
From begonias to botrytis blight, Martha Stewart knows the ABCs of planting and has learned much from "doing."
She talks as easily about how to detect whiteflies and beetles, thrips and scale, as she does about the 30 varieties of sweet peas available from the Thompson & Morgan seed company. She is knowledgeable about companion …