Reference book reviews


Another of my hobbies is reading, so I can“t help collecting lots of gardening books as I go along! This listing isn“t necessarily all recommended books - see each review for how useful I find each one!

First of all, the RHS Encyclopedias. They are pretty hefty tomes, but have a lot of the basic techniques in enough detail to be useful. A lot of their smaller specialist books are based about the entries in these.

The Encyclopedia of Gardening                      RRP £35 
New expanded and revised version has just come out, full of the latest AGM cultivars of fruit and vegetables and has also been revised to allow for the pesticides that are now disappearing. I guess if nothing else, the EC will persuade more folk to go organic!

The A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants        RRP £55
Picture book for reference. One I like to have on my knee while listening to Gardeners“ Question Time :-)

New Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers       RRP £30
As the A-Z, except this one“s useful for identification of flowering plants as it“s colour coded and indexed by season. Great if you see something you like but it doesn“t have a label...

Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses             RRP £30 for the revised edition which I don“t have
I got this as part of a set, and have been pleasantly surprised at the number of medicinal plants and herbs we have. But I still wouldn“t have bought it if it hadn“t been free, as my herb growing is limited to potted mint,  chives and basil, and sage up the allotment.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening.                       RRP £20
This I love. It“s mostly text, with when to plant diagrams and cultivar lists and all sorts of information. It“s also fairly organic. If you want pretty pictures, go for other books. For facts, this is hard to beat.

Day-by-day guides
Now these are my workhorses. I have three - the first of which was published in 1947 and might be found on the web somewhere.

AGL Hellyer:  Your garden week by week. Collingridge 1947
Percy Thrower: In your garden  Hamlyn, 1976 (originally 1959)
Peter McHoy: The Gardeners“ Year  Hermes House 1995

I grab them in date order! The Hellyer book is exquisite, both for its rationing years outlook and detail. Percy“s pretty good too. Both of these well known old gardeners spray about an incredible amount of chemicals and fertilisers and of course the veg and flower varieties have changed out of all recognition over the years, but techniques don“t. And there weren“t the labour-saving devices then, either, so they tell you the best way of doing it without having to shell out on strimmers, rotovators, gizmos and gadgets. And they make me laugh, too, given their cultural assumptions!

Allotments and vegetable gardening

Caroline Foley: Practical Allotment Gardening
  New Holland, RRP £12.99    
Not really worth the money, as it“s only got 96 pages. And the allotments look like they“ve been ironed compared with the hilly stony plots we have! Another one for getting with special offers in book clubs or getting for a present. Most of the stuff is in the RHS books, and it doesn“t really tell you what varieties to go for.

Other books

Steven Bradley: Propagation Basics   Hamlyn, 2002 £12.99
And another expensive book that is very nice, but again you can find out most of the contents using the RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening. There are a few more detailed sections, but not that many. I find it most useful for the reference section of what is propagated by which technique.

Reader“s Digest Container Gardening for all Seasons  RD 2001, £26.99
Now this is a biggish book, with lots of glorious photography but not skimping on text either. Plenty of inspiration, from bog-standard window boxes to planting vegetables in pots and indoor displays. Expensive but this time I“d say worth it, as it also doubles up as a coffee table book!

BBC Gardeners“ World. Yes
I do read Alan T first. Followed by the `This month“ section. The rest I find variable, the bits on the TV programmes a pain in the bum (ok waste of space) as I think they need to put more real gardening in.

The Garden. I“ve taken this for years, ever since I discovered RHS Student Membership and buzzed off to my first Chelsea. It was often left unread and thrown out in those years. Then I got a garden and had a mad scrabble trying to locate all my old copies so I could read them. There has been a noticeable shift in the last year to the style more favoured by BBCGW. Pity.

Amateur Gardening. I started getting this from the supermarket on and off last Feb. A few weeks later I realised I was going in on the way to work on the day it came out in order to not miss it. I gave in and subscribed (a lot cheaper too) and now I get it ahead of the newsagent deliveries AND usually on a Saturday morning. Perfect for breakfast reading! Lots of practical advice, the only garden showing off is a weekly amateur garden that is nearly always open under the NGS and isn“t full of ugly bits of concrete or bizarro nouveau sculpture (get off that soapbox right now, girl!)...

The Journal of the Alpine Garden Society. This one comes with membership, and is strictly for looking at and going wow! as far as I“m concerned. I love alpines, but in a heavily chalk area and a garden hung over by massive sycamores, alpines have to be pretty rugged to survive more than a season here!

If I had to drop one, I“d lose the BBCGW, probably followed by the AGS.

How to get cut price books

With a bit of hunting about (and sharing gardening book club memberships!) I managed to get most of the latest books for much reduced prices. The most recent, the updated RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening,  I got for £5 instead of £35 by joining the Gardeners“ Society. Admittedly I now have to buy four more books, but it“s not exactly going to be hard... I“m currently awaiting Bob Flowerdew“s Organic Bible and the HDRA Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. I“ll post a review if the courier doesn“t lose them again... I *was* supposed to have them before Christmas but they said they had no idea where the shipment had got to...I suspect my parcel was diverted and someone else got a nice Christmas present. Hint: if you do join one of these clubs, keep the flyer with the introductory offer books on. You can also order them later as part of the commitment at a higher price. I just find that the good books only ever seem to appear on the flyers and not the actual monthly selections!


Bob Flowerdew“s Organic Bible

I read this through in a couple of sessions. It“s a book which sets out to tell the read about the organic ethos, and how it all links in to give gardens which thrive with the natural world rather than fighting against it. It“s not an encyclopedia of what to do, that is admirably fulfilled by the next book. But it is a justification of why to be organic in the first place. And it“s a darn good read. Recommended.

HDRA Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

This one is the encyclopedia of what to do! And it does it well. It“s not just vegetables, it“s the whole picture. And even though there are 416 pages, they still don“t say it all. Just a large chunk. Suitable for those who are starting to go organic as well as a reference for those who have been for years. At a time when available pesticides are disappearing rapidly, this is a timely book.