Finding your go-to gardening books

September 04 2020
Finding your go-to gardening books

The City Gardener, by Tim Barton

I WAS in a friend's kitchen recently, absent-mindedly browsing the titles of a fair pile of cooking books, some of which, incidentally, I also own. One book in particular caught my attention, as it’s one that I have, but in all honesty have cooked maybe only one or two of the recipes in it. For whatever reason, be it that the meals are too faffy to bother making or that I would need to buy a supply of one ingredient that I’m unlikely to be able to finish, the pictures on the pages remain just fanciful ideas. Others, however, have become so well used they have a fairly equal dried-on-food-to-book ratio. These are the go-to books that have stood the test of time, mostly fairly basic cooking but the things that matter most to the owners. In our house, it’s several books on pies and preserving.

This train of thought led me then to books on gardening, and how similar they are. Essentially there are very few ways that a certain seed can be sown or a specific plant can have cuttings taken. Mostly it’s the same information, with a different book cover. Gardening magazines are the worst, as they recycle the information annually: if you have 12 copies of Gardeners World, you’ll not need another for at least 10 years. But returning to the books, I find that one good gardening manual will last a lifetime, avoiding anything showing you how to lay a fancy path like this or that. There are whole books on that topic alone. Inspiration can be garnered from a multitude of sources these days, too, more than any book will ever be able to offer. Along with many online resources, they can also offer some questionable advice; at least with print you hope that someone else has had a look over it before it hits the press. So among the books on laying fancy paths and how to garden in a small space that I have on my shelf, there are the well-thumbed copies from places such as the RHS that keep me coming back for that detail that I can’t remember.

When you’re starting out you certainly need instruction, in any subject. This is made all the more difficult with the dizzying array of sources that are vying for your attention. There are some, like The House Plant Expert by Dr DG Hessayon, that in my opinion render all future publications on the subject redundant. Having recently had a purge of excess possessions, what we’ve found ourselves left with are the specific titles, books that give an in-depth level of knowledge but in subjects that interest you. ‘How to garden’ isn’t going to cut it, but ‘How to take cuttings’ is.

Times do change, though, as do fashions and our understanding of environmental issues along with them. With the advent of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, there was a drive to make the perfect garden. We seem now, however, to be returning to a less intensive and more natural way of gardening, and this is a trend that I’m firmly in agreement with. And with this, there are new shining stars in the horticultural world, each one hoping to stamp their mark. This usually comes with a publishing deal, though, and you can be certain that, come Christmas, there will be a few familiar faces on the shelves at your local bookshop.