Plot-boilers: The latest crop of gardening books – Independent.ie

plot-boilers:-the-latest-crop-of-gardening-books-–-independent.ie

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There’s a sign for sale in my local garden centre that says: ‘Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.’ It’s a philosophy the population seems to have embraced.

ccording to Bord Bia we have spent €1.2bn on garden-related items in 2020. It stands to reason; our own patch is one of the few places we can go at the moment so we’re working on ways to make the most of it. Happily there’s a plethora of invaluable books to give us a helping hand.

An excellent guide is Diarmuid Gavin’s The Extra Room: Make Your Outdoor Space Work For You (Gill Books, currently available books.ie, €11.99)
The Dublin-born gardener is known for the spectacular, gravity-defying, thought-provoking and playful gardens he’s created over the years — including his Irish Sky Garden, which won gold at Chelsea in 2011.
He’s very big on each budding gardener developing their own style, and gives insight into how he developed his. It turns out everything has been an influence: street art, movies, architecture and other famous gardens.
This lovely book, written in Gavin’s easy conversational style, has many visuals to inspire those creating an outdoor space but it’s also full of practical advice, starting with the absolute essentials: soil, aspect, climate and size of your plot.
He outlines his golden rules, describes the merits of different materials like gravel, paving and decking, the value of different trees, shrubs, ferns and bamboo and there are many chapters on flowers and what to plant where.

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ in the Oast Garden from Sarah Raven’s ‘A Year Full of Flowers’

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ in the Oast Garden from Sarah Raven’s ‘A Year Full of Flowers’

There is also comprehensive advice on lighting, audio, WiFi, fire pits, heaters, water features and furniture.
Sarah Raven’s book A Year Full of Flowers (Bloomsbury, €29.99) should come with a health warning: readers are in danger of suffering from serious garden envy.

This is an extravaganza of delicious blooms, saturated in glorious vibrant colour, all grown in Raven’s two-acre organic garden at Perch Hill Farm in East Sussex.
To add insult to injury, the narrative is full of references to her travels: botanising in Crete as a child with her father; buying tulips in Holland; finding the original sweet peas in Sicily; buying dahlias at Monet’s garden in Giverny — all places we would kill to visit at the moment.
Raven didn’t become a professional gardener and writer until her thirties. She started her career as a hospital doctor but gave it up when she became a mother.
She loved medicine but hated the night shifts. When she first started to grow in the early 1990s it was fashionable to concentrate on the bones and structure of a garden and colour was considered a bit of froth on top.
While she acknowledges the importance of structure, she says it’s the colour that gives you joy.
Tulips, dahlias, crysanthemums, sweet peas, amaryllis and of course roses all get their own sections and it’s gratifying that she doesn’t hold back about which she found hard to grow — roses in particular — and the solutions. She grows everything from seed and cuttings: “Two of the best things you can do to improve your mental health.”
The book is very clearly laid out, starting in January and going right through to December, with sections on what blooms in each month, and what tasks are to be undertaken. There are wonderful tips throughout, even on basics like how to water pots properly, and the easiest plants to grow if you’ve only got a sunny but tiny patch (salvias, by the way). 
Sarah Raven was lucky: one of her mentors was the great Monty Don, a stalwart on BBC’s Gardening World for over 20 years.
His latest book, The Complete Gardener (Dorling Kindersley, €37.80), is actually an updated version of one he wrote 20 years ago, which he says he believed then contained everything he knew about gardening.

But over the last 20 years so much has changed. In those days, organic gardening was considered slightly subversive; there was an attitude that good gardening involved conquering nature. But, as Monty Don says, only the very ignorant believe that now and gardening organically is practically mainstream.
As he relates how his gardens have evolved over the last 20 years (he has two acres at Long Meadow in Herefordshire divided into a series of gardens), he gently expounds his theories about nature, ecology, weather and sustainability.
He also shares his successes and failures and his knowledge: who knew that all the Irish yews growing in the world — Monty has 18 providing structure in his herb garden — originate from a single female found on a hillside in the 18th century in Co Fermanagh?
His gardens — all nicely illustrated in the book — are many and varied.

As well as the fairly usual herb, cottage and spring gardens, he also has a dry garden, a damp garden, a jewel garden reflecting his original career as a jeweller, and a paradise garden based on the many Islamic gardens he visited for a TV series.
While there is a lot of history relating to his own gardens which avid fans of Gardeners’ World will know well — the series has been filmed in his grounds at Long Meadow since the mid 2000s — he also provides a guide to everything you could want to grow: trees, shrubs, flowers, and every type of vegetable and herb under the sun.
He also has sections on greenhouses and other garden structures and on the best tools. His favourite spade is one he’s had since the day Margaret Thatcher resigned on November 22, 1990; he happened to be watching it made as her resignation was announced on the Tannoy on the factory floor. He’s as proud of its history as its longevity — sustainability in action. 

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‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’ by Klaus Laitenberger

‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’ by Klaus Laitenberger

Self-sufficiency and sustainability have been the buzzwords of the last decade, but it’s taken the pandemic for many people to pause and consider how they can incorporate these concepts into their own lives. The Self-Sufficient Garden by Klaus Laitenberger (Milkwood Publishing, €14.95) is the perfect manual to get started.
The engaging Laitenberger is already well-known in the Irish organic farming world. Originally from Germany, he came to Ireland in the 1990s: “I heard there was a vacancy for the head gardener at the Organic Training Centre in unspoilt County Leitrim, as it was described. I thought that was romantic so I came over, but nobody told me about the rain.”
He’s made his home in Leitrim ever since. He married an Irish woman and they have five children. Klaus went on to become an inspector for organic growers as well as writing columns for publications like the Irish Garden.
He also gives regular YouTube demonstrations on gardening subjects, often aided by his 13-year-old son Thien (who has his own online cookery programme, Cut the Crap and Cook).
Klaus worries about us losing contact with nature but he’s hopeful that there is a shift in our thinking, now more people are growing their own vegetables.
He debunks people’s preconceptions about the amount of garden space you would need to become self-sufficient and he outlines three vegetable cropping plans, from 50m squared to 400m squared.
He’s very persuasive, insisting that the first two sizes require very little time commitment; a few days to get started and then just a couple of hours in the evening or at the weekend, though he admits the largest of the three would require more.
Laitenberger also covers the 30 most important vegetable crops, including basics like carrots, celery and onions and more exotic species like Jerusalem artichokes and Yacom from the Andes — which he’s convinced is going to be heralded as a superfood, as it is a natural sweetener.
There are chapters on ground preparation, soil improvement, composting, different methods of sowing seeds and weed control, as well as a chapter each on the 30 vegetables. 

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Liz Zorab’s ‘Grounded: A Gardener’s Journey to Abundance & Self-Sufficiency’

Liz Zorab’s ‘Grounded: A Gardener’s Journey to Abundance & Self-Sufficiency’

Liz Zorab’s Grounded: A Gardener’s journey to Abundance & Self-Sufficiency (Permanent Publications, €18.75) is another inspirational book. Liz worked in housing charities and community development in the UK until serious ill health made her reassess her life.
She had always loved gardening and so she and her husband bought a house on 0.8 of an acre, and set about becoming self-sufficient with their vegetables, fruits and flowers, as well as ducks and hens. Part-memoir/ part-guide, this is an engaging record of her entire journey.
It hasn’t all been rosy, and Zorab is honest and entertaining, and full of advice and practical tips.

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The RHS Book of Flower Poetry and Prose

The RHS Book of Flower Poetry and Prose

As every dedicated gardener knows, nothing blooms overnight, so to remind you what your seeds and bulbs will eventually look like, try The RHS Book of Flower Poetry and Prose (Francis Lincoln, £9.99).
It’s a selection of delicately crafted botanical art from the RHS’s Lindley Library with each illustration accompanied by an appropriate poem or piece of prose. Our own Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem Crocus opens the book.
There’s another sign in my local garden centre that says: ‘I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking prosecco in the garden.’ Sound idyllic? All you need to complete the picture is one of the above.

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