Our public library system might seem to some like a relic of a bygone age. After all, aren't we all accessing books via our Kindles now? Browsing images on our phones? Can't we get practically any book we want from Amazon, so who needs to schlep down to a library?
Well, libraries are amazing resources and we neglect them at our peril. Where else can you waltz in the door with an empty bag and waltz out having been issued with a hefty load of inspiring books without a penny having changed hands?
Most libraries have extensive gardening sections, and it's a great way to decide which books you'd like to put on your Christmas list, and which you're just happy to borrow, dip into then return.
If you've watched 'Gardeners World' then you'll be familiar with Monty Don's style. He writes in much the way he presents, getting enthusiastic and singing the praises of the plants and gardens he likes, and not sitting on the fence with the things he doesn't. 'Gardening at Longmeadow' and 'The Ivington Diaries' are good to dip into, and contain some lovely lyrical writing on the joys of gardening. The two Carol Klein books are ones to dip into as well. The books are nicely designed and contain lots of inspiring photos, plus some of Carol's good practical advice. 'Helen Dillon's Gardening Book' has a very accessible chatty style of writing where you really hear the author's voice come through. Loads of practical info and it's the one I'd buy out of the whole stack. Why not give it a read?
You can tell when I've found books useful. The inside pages at the front are home to sellotaped articles culled from magazines or newspapers. Recipes in the case of cookery books, and - with 'The Thrifty Gardener - print cuttings from Ms Fowler's Guardian column as well as pieces by Dan Pearson and an inspiring story about a green, ridiculously arty couple's drive to be self sufficient.
I find 'The Thrifty Gardener' immensely comforting. One of those books you can return to time and time again for practical help and that bit of romance that the best gardening books have. By romance I mean the love of growing and seeing plants develop, buds appear, flowers bloom, ferns unfurl, bumble bees and birds inhabit your garden. Gardens are inherently magical places, and gardeners who can communicate this are to be cherished.
I love the fact that 'The Thrifty Gardener' actually understands that being thrifty means 'not having much money to spend'. Well - durr! - some of you might think. But some books make out they're gardening (or cooking or sewing etc) on a budget, but feature things that're obviously expensive. Look how you can whip up a cheap curry at home, but first buy a dozen jars of spices in order to make it. Why not use cheap, unbleached calico to run up a pair of curtains, like in this photo where we've used ten metres of the stuff, plus a snazzy ribbon trim from V V Rouleaux. Or why not create a wonderful back garden by buying a large fruit tree, several mid sized shrubs, a dozen trays of perennials, a shed-load of spring bulbs ... blah blah blah.
Alys Fowler shows you how to build your own wormery or cold frame, how to grow successfully from seed, how to propagate, to make compost, to use up old wine boxes or CD racks as planters, and much more. Everything's explained clearly and the book's nicely set out, good as a practical book as well as pleasing for a bout of armchair gardening.
The book's been out for several years, so it's cheap to buy second hand. You can also find some really useful videos by Alys Fowler on YouTube. Very worthwhile viewing.
This is another of Pavilion's good looking books. It's sub-titled 'an inspirational guide to allotments and community gardens' and features a wide range of spaces, from traditional style veg plots to ones based on permaculture principles or used to grow natural dyes or provide a creative spark for an artist. There's a skip garden (literally a garden in a builders skip), a roof garden and an organic community orchard among the places featured.
I love the mix of people - young & old, from various ethnic backgrounds - all united by a love of growing things. It's a great book for browsing, and you don't need to be an allotmenteer or involved in a community project to get lots from this book. I was particularly taken by the Brussels edible garden which provided food for the gardener's bees. How I'd love my own hive!
There's are lots of very pleasing things about this book:
It's size and shape (a hardback that's ideal for browsing, not too big, not too weighty).
It's photo-heavy content - so many enticing pictures.
& the mix of the inspirational and the practical. Gardens featured include an allotment on a shed roof, a garden among the chimney pots of a Fitzrovia townhouse, a garden made in the back of an open truck, a garden on the front steps of a house, plus more traditional back gardens. There's even a garden created on a river barge. In fact, it's an orchard, complete with apple and quince trees, and nestling among them are herbs, strawberries, tomatoes and a couple of beehives. (Oh, how I'd love my own beehive.)
The gardeners themselves are featured, which is always interesting as you want to get to know the words from the people who makes these green spaces. They're creative spirits & deserve a hearing.
There're various ideas I'm taking from this book - planting thyme between cracks in paving is one. Love that idea, as the thyme will spread and you'll get a beautiful scent underfoot. There're also instructions on how to make a hanging alpine strawberry basket. Mmm, love that, and hanging baskets would keep the berries out of reach of those Evil Slugs.
'my little veg plot' (yup, the title is in lower case) is published by Pavilion, and It's a keeper. Why not invest in a copy?
I'd read about this book somewhere or other, and wanted a copy, but was holding back from buying it. Too many books on my shelves and too little cash to splash on yet more. But then happenstance meant it turned up in a charity shop. As if Fate was giving me a push to acquire it (and for a fraction of its RRP.)
It's subtitled 'Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London' and is a slight but very charming book, easily read in one sitting, and featuring beautiful illustrations by James Nunn.
It's not a strictly practical how-to gardening book, but one that's as much about daily living and navigating yourself around singleton city life as it is about growing plants. The book's about appreciating Nature while in a busy urban environment. About carving out your own tiny green space but also getting out on to the canal banks and into the city farms, looking up at the sky and down at the ground and marveling that wildlife and greenery still survives among the traffic and ever-increasing concrete.
It was written by a flat-dwelling twenty something, but your circumstances don't have to mirror the author's in order to enjoy the seemingly effortless prose.
I thought I'd start this page of book reviews and recommendations with an oldie but a goodie. My copy of Lesley Bremness's Dorling Kindersley book of Herbs has a different cover, but that's testament to how long it's been lurking on my bookshelves. But It's still as useful as ever (and it's one of those sturdy little books that doesn't fall apart from frequent handling too. No loose pages, even though my edition was printed back in 1990.)
When DK get their books right they really excel in clear text and excellent photographs. Just what you want from a book aimed to help you identify herbs and how to use and grow them. The first 100 or so pages give a page each to an individual herb. So, for instance, there's a page devoted to 'Meadowsweet'. A little paragraph about the folk lore or legend behind it, a summary of its decorative and culinary uses, pointers towards its particular leaf shape, seeds, root and stem.
You learn some lovely little snippets of info as you browse this book. Fennel was used by Roman warriors to keep 'em healthy while weight watching Roman ladies ate it to prevent obesity. Coriander gets a mention in Sanskrit texts, the Bible and 'Tales of the Arabian Nights'. Parsley was used to make crowns for victors at the Greeks Isthmian games, while the herb Mullein has over 30 common names such as hag's taper, velvet dock and Aaron's rod.
The book also has a section on cooking with herbs, a lovely bit on making posies with herbs and flowers - known as tussie-mussies, plus herbal homemade cleaning products and beauty preparations. Finally, there's a section on cultivating and harvesting your herbs.
If you're after a good all-round book I'd suggest you snap this one up.
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.