If you saw my previous post this month, you’ll know I recently got an allotment plot and have begun to clear up its neglect with help from my other half. But what I haven’t revealed is why I chose to take on an allotment, and […]
It’s February. A shorter month than the rest, and definitely not as dark and dragging as January (although that said, this January flew by for us. I suppose it was the house move). It’s still too early for seed sowing here in the Pennines really, despite my chilli seeds having sprouted. I’ve also picked up two more packets of seed today – Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Psyche White’ and ‘Turk’s Turban’ winter squash seeds. I keep looking for red Ricinus communis in stores, but think I’ll have to order off the net.
Anyway, I digress. Being stuck indoors more at this time of year and unable to sow seeds yet, offers us time for introspection. It allows us to search for inspiration. There’s so much out there to inspire too, between the paper pages of books.
I have a fair few gardening books at home. I love them all pretty much, so this has been difficult. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to share with you my six favourite gardening books to date. They’re simply listed in alphabetical order, as I find it too tough to rank!
You’ll notice one element in particular that makes these books both motivational and soothing: they’re all extremely personal accounts. I find that gardening just is a highly personal pursuit, with emotions deeply rooted within. How can they not be, when we pour so much of our time and essence into our gardens and allotments?
‘A Year at Otter Farm’ by Mark Diacono
‘When we moved here… I made a list of everything I loved to eat or liked the sound of. Whenever I got sidetracked by plants, the recipes in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book reminded me to think with my stomach’ – p.10
I also own Mark’s ‘The New Kitchen Garden’ which is equally motivating and thought-provoking. Nonetheless, ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ wins for me on three counts: its appealing appearance; the month-by-month progress of the book; and the recipes accompanying the star ingredients of each month. It’s a handy reference guide, and I love the Seasonal harvest chart given on pp.24-5. Handy!
‘The Ivington Diaries’ by Monty Don
‘The truth is that this garden has always been a place growing from me and that I have grown into, the earth engrained in my boots and hands rather than viewed dispassionately from afar’ – p.10
The first of two entries to this list for Monty. You may know by now much I respect the chap. His amateur gardening enthusiasm and experience has landed him well-and-truly centre stage in horticulture.
It was a close call between this publication and his ‘Gardening at Longmeadow’. Why did I go for this one? Each chapter holds charming photographs. Each page margin contains not just the date from Monty’s handwritten journals, but a helpful topical subtitle too. Being a reflection on years of developing his garden at Longmeadow, this is a book with a wonderful sense of place. Monty’s infatuation with his plot is evident.
‘The Jewel Garden’ by Monty and Sarah Don
‘We have made this garden together; there is nothing in it that is not a result of that partnership… It is this precious thing that we are making out of life’s muddle’ – p.79
This semi-autobiographical account of Monty and his wife Sarah lands on my favourites list because it not only inspires my mind horticulturally, but also spiritually (for want of a better word!). The Jewel Garden, still a vital component of Longmeadow, is here a metaphor for the overcoming of difficulties in life. It is a struggle as well as an achievement.
Monty and Sarah both write candidly about their background together, including financial problems and mental health issues. That renders ‘The Jewel Garden’ all the more important to me. I especially admire the gentle revelation throughout that their garden is compromise and collaboration. This doesn’t come across on Gardeners’ World.
‘Life in a Cottage Garden’ by Carol Klein
‘What may work perfectly in one year may fail in another, but along the way there are unexpected surprises, unimagined effects and accidental loveliness that make the whole thing worthwhile’ – p.175
I love Carol’s buoyant persona and passion for plants. Her love of her own garden in Devon is also obvious when you read this book. It shone through if you’ve had the chance to see her BBC series of the same name – I find it a travesty it’s never been released on DVD… I’ve re-read this book several times, even if just flicking through the pages to see what’s going on in the Glebe Cottage garden each month. I can hear Carol’s voice singing out of the text every time.
If these points haven’t convinced you to check this book out, then how about this? There are snapshots of distinct areas of Carol’s garden in each season. It’s all beautiful, and it calls me to reach for such greatness myself.
‘Clondeglass: Creating a garden paradise’ by Dermot O’Neill
‘Before I did anything at Clondeglass, I planned how I wanted the garden arranged. In my mind, I saw large swathes and drifts of plants… I was keen for the borders to look good in any given month of the year’ – p.21
I’m not sure what else to say to persuade you of this book’s worth, besides who hasn’t longed for a walled garden? Dermot walks us through his journey of restoration and embellishment in chapters ranging from a background, to an overview, to detail on the plants he uses for flowers and foliage. You couldn’t be given simpler pointers to those perfect plants for your own outdoor space!
‘My Secret Garden’ by Alan Titchmarsh
‘This book…encapsulates my own passion for gardening… It will give you an idea of my tastes and predilections, my whims and fancies’ – p.8
Alan Titchmarsh purchased one of the painted cows Bestall & Co used at RHS Chatsworth last year. Just think – that cow statue will now stand in Alan’s garden. A garden that was so secret for so many years after he left Gardeners’ World. In this book he reveals that clandestine haven, opening the gates to us all via magnificent photography. He passes through the seasons, which are further divided by area of the garden. Another book I love to sit down and peruse with a coffee or hot chocolate in the depths of winter!
As you may have read previously, I’ve just been allocated an allotment about a 15-minute drive away from our new home. I’m over the moon with this, as I haven’t had my own space to garden for several years now. I’m itching to get designing, […]
I had the pleasure of visiting the Abbeywood Estate Gardens in Cheshire twice in 2017. Both occasions were markedly different in terms of the weather and flora. The first was a warm day in early August with interesting clouds flitting overhead and a great deal […]
I buy so many books – usually on gardening and grow-your-own – it’s unbelievable. So I thought to myself: why not share some book reviews online? Kicking off our bookworming is the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’, which I purchased for £14.99 from Waterstones along with the RHS ‘Genealogy for Gardeners’. I must confess that scientific botany hasn’t been on my mind much since A-level Biology. It was the pretty, tactile, muted covers which grabbed my attention. The fact that they were a beautiful duo appealed even more; I’m a sucker for an attractive matching set of books. I then discovered they’re part of a trio! My wallet’s throbbing…
Who would benefit from RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’?
‘Botany for Gardeners is written for those interested in gardening but with a desire to dip a toe into the science behind plants…Gardeners wishing to explore the practical side of these subjects in more detail are advised to read further afield’ – p.6
If I were to choose ideal recipients of the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’, three profiles spring to mind. First is the keen gardener with a desire to understand the processes happening beyond their backdoor a tad better. Next up, we have the A-level Biology student who needs information but not too much depth yet. Thirdly, we have the beginner student of Horticulture, Botany, Ecology or the like who requires a quick reference book.
How is the book beneficial?
As I’ve hinted at above, ‘Botany for Gardeners’ is an excellent overview of plant biology, without going into too much detail. It’s easy to navigate. It has not just informative but beautiful imagery; even the most basic of line drawings is captivating. Educational images aren’t the only sort included though. Plant paintings adorn almost every page, their forms filled in with subdued hues. It’s all very 18th-19th Century, which I love.
The book is also a handy guide to practical matters in the garden. You’ll discover how to assist your plants in their growth, propagation and prevention or control of pests and diseases. Furthermore, you’ll understand why we do what we have to do in the garden.
For the trainee, student, or dedicated plantsperson, this book includes introductions to some key historical plant hunters and advocates. Again, it doesn’t delve into too much depth, rather opting for an overview of their lives and achievements. It’s an excellent springboard for finding out more in future about topics which spark your interest within its pages.
I dislike picking out negatives about books. However, one fault I do have with the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’ is the size of its text. I don’t always have the clearest vision, even with contacts in or glasses on. Combine this with reading by lamp in an evening, and the tiny words can be a strain to pick over. It’s definitely one of the most minute texts I’ve read in a long while.
Perfect companion book
There are two perfect companions to this book: the RHS ‘Genealogy for Gardeners’, which I have yet to read, but which will expand upon the first main section of this volume. It goes into detail about monocots and dicots, among other classifications. It’s a topic I’ve contemplated learning more about for years now.
Since finding out about it, the RHS ‘Latin for Gardeners’ is on my list too, simply to complete the set. I was already gifted a book on botanical Latin – a pleasure for my linguist background anyway – but I just need all three of these RHS guides to adorn my bookshelves!
If you don’t want to venture into a bookshop – I know the temptation is real – it can be ordered from Amazon here for around £10.
If you read my last post, you’ll recall I mentioned visiting the marvellous Hunte’s Gardens during our two-night stay on Barbados in November. In actuality, marvellous just doesn’t cover how awe-inspiring this sunken space is.
While the entrance fee doesn’t seem cheap – 30 Barbadian dollars to be exact – this is in fact just about £11 at the moment. It’s worth every penny, without a doubt. If you head over to Barbados, I implore you to go and see this magnificent place.
The gardens are the vision and realisation of one man, Anthony Hunte. What foresight he has. Join to this an expert understanding of tropical plants and you end up with Hunte’s Gardens.
Anthony lives up in the converted old stable block at the top of this ancient sinkhole. He ran a garden nursery for many years, explaining some of his plant knowledge. The rest of it, plus his passion for plants, was acquired from an early age, through his family.
He achieved this extraordinary feat of horticultural pizazz over just two years, assisted by just one other person.
Anthony’s family arrived in Barbados back in the 1600s and has never left. He is rooted to this place, and in the heart of the island, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, he’s created a cultivated form of rainforest paradise.
Anthony himself is hugely personable and makes a great effort to speak with visitors when possible. He wandered down to the garden just as Matt and I were about to leave. A Germanophone tour group had arrived, and they were his mission. However, he had more time for us than I could have hoped. After enjoying some rum and a beer in his home with some friendly fellow Brits, Anthony had his photo taken with us and spent 15 minutes or so chatting. I am truly thankful for the insight he gave us into his gardening.
When you first reach the gates to the property, you’d be forgiven for wondering where you’d bothered going. It’s understated. You see palm trees – plentiful around Barbados – and a vibrant sign squashed beneath heavy black power lines.
Step over the threshold and the sense of something special begins to wash over you. There are industrial-looking, forlorn barns to your right, for sure, but to your left there’s a large taiche bowl (formerly for sugar production) used as a water feature. A colonial statue stands at its side. Anthony has created a small bed in the centre of the path – half-cobbled, half-gravel by the way – in which stands a narrow palm tree adored by more exotics at its feet. Already at this point, before paying, the abundance of “foreign” foliage is striking.
You take a left turn to pay the entrance fee, and are ushered first of all, guide sheet in hand, down the steep stone steps to the sinkhole below. Forget the guide for now – take in the breathtaking view before you.
Remember those commonplace palm trees you see from outside the boundaries? Well, they’re gigantic. They’re over 100 years old and go up and up. Even looking straight out from the top of the steps, all you see is their bare trunks. You still have to look upwards to find their leaves.
One of the best bits of this garden? No, not the classical music floating down from the house, although this does bring in an even greater sense of the surreal. For me, it’s the myriad little seating spaces Anthony has selected amongst the planting. There are a couple of spots as you descend the stairs. It’s permissible to bring a book and lose yourself in it and the garden for as long as it’s open. Thinking back, I could see myself doing just that. It’s imperative you walk along to each seating area. An excellent designer – which Anthony must be, naturally – positions these spaces with great intent. They highlight a view or a focal point. A specific feature such as a stream or waterfall may lend its soft melody to the space. As a keen plantsman, like Anthony, the designer may have used the seating area to showcase a particular range of notable plants.
As with other great gardens, pathways are marked out for you, and yet there are many routes to take. The garden conceals its secrets until you’ve explored every nook and cranny.
Much of the spectacle of Hunte’s Garden derives from the dazzling and well-blended array of foliage forms. This is the greatest aspect to take away. We can achieve so much splendour before even bringing in flowers. It’s a fact tropical plants really do underline boldly. The scale varies from tremendous, variegated begonia leaves down to spreading Adiantum cuneatum (Maidenhair fern).
Nevertheless, Anthony weaves in fantastic specimens that should be admired singly. What’s even more amazing about this, for someone from cooler climes, is just what plants are growing outside all year round. There are so many reds, oranges and yellows, really heating up the exoticness of the place.
- Hibicus rosa-sinensis – a red-flowered variety here which can reach up to 3 metres in height
- Justicia brandegreeana – “Shrimp plant” – here having yellowish bracts with white flowers, although the RHS says bracts should usually be ‘shrimp-pink’
- Anthurium – Anthony has hundreds, and informed us that he was awaiting a shipment of a couple of thousand more! He even grows a wonderful purple variety, found up near the house
- Guzmania musaica – a beautifully red-and-yellow bromeliad, like a beacon blazing out of dark green corners
- Dendrobium orchids can be found in lilac and pink, flitting above the beds and pots like exotic butterflies
- Nelumbo nucifera – Sacred lotus – another softly coloured flower, set in small container pools, waiting to be discovered by the roving eye
There were other species I found magnificent but have been unable to identify as yet, so won’t try sharing incorrect information!
The ancient soaring palm trees are testament to Anthony Hunte’s aesthetic eye, and the idea that we should work with what we’ve got, primarily. We could all acquire some land and, money-permitting, begin to tear down the trees and features which define the space. But that’s just it – such elements do define a place. If they don’t cause us problems, then they should be retained and cleverly incorporated into our new plans for our gardens.
The palms at Hunte’s Gardens couldn’t be replaced or replicated in any way; that’s often the case with the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) at the end of our driveway, or the Oak (Quercus robur) over the bottom of the garden wall.
Even the steep banking at the end of the garden is a unique feature. I’ve read books where gardeners have simply turned it into a woodland banking, or an alpine garden if rocky.
Never overlook the existing elements of your garden. Instead consider them as a source of inspiration and as historical links.