Blogs, vlogs, Insta, Facebook, Twitter – they’re all very well but sometimes, and especially over Christmas and New Year, there’s nothing better that curling up with the comforting, tactile engagement of a good book. This week we’re each going to make some recommendations about the authors who make the best company on these long dark nights and Elaine’s up first.
A dear friend of mine is moving. She and her husband are downsizing and are determinedly chucking out or re-cycling furniture, crockery, linen ……..and books. But. She is a fabulous painter (do look in our Shop for the wonderful Christmas and greetings cards, even book covers, that she has designed exclusively for us). So she is totally refusing to ditch a SINGLE ONE of her beloved art books. Absolutely. I would feel just the same about my appallingly large collection of gardening books, which I, like my friend and her art books, I often pick up and browse through. There are certain authors who are represented much more than others, though
Do you want to get books for yourself or others to inspire a lifetime of gardening? Then the collection MUST include some Vita Sackville-West. She is, by turns, hilariously blunt (“Have you got Viburnum carlcephalum? If not, please get it at once”) and swooningly sensual: [the Old Roses reminded her of Persian carpets] …”rich they were, rich as a fig broken open, soft as a ripened peach, flecked as an apricot, coral as a pomegranate, bloomy as a bunch of grapes”. (Can’t you just sense Caroline rolling her eyes, as she flicks over another page of Cosmopolitan….)
No one has inspired my gardening life more than Vita. She may have been upper-class, but she was happy to get down and dirty, and laid down some important truths. “The true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future”. Dead right, but ah, so hard to do.
Christopher Lloyd never wrote a word about gardening that wasn’t worth reading either. He was famous for his gleeful icon-bashing, digging up rose gardens to make way for tropical exotics long before they were trendy etc. This is him on Chimonanthus, so beloved of lists of scented winter beauties: “[in October] my wintersweet was as scruffy and unprepossessing as an unshaven tramp. For the umpteenth time, I must wait upon leaf-fall for a merciful release.” Often rude and fun, yet still so informative – perfect.
One more thing – my go-to bible in my early days of horticulture was the Readers Digest Guide to Creative Gardening. It’s still as relevant, thoughtful and helpful as it was when it was first published in 1984, despite the plant-name changes. In our feature pic today, you can see me sharing it with a maniac, aka our new kitten Lulu. The book is out of print now, I think, but there is a thriving second-hand market for it (good for minimising de-forestation!) – it would make a great gift for a newbie gardener.
Now, Laura, have you got some stultifyingly boring scientific treatise to recommend to our readers…………?
It’s true I love a reference book and my RHS Encyclopaedia of Perennial Plants (aka ‘The Gardeners Bible’ ) actually fell to pieces through over-use, but these are more daytime tools of the trade and of an evening I’d rather share my time with someone who knows their stuff but has a sense of humour too and so my first recommendation would be:
Helen Dillon; I nodded and giggled most of the way through the first Helen Dillon book I acquired, (picture below), it’s like sitting down and having coffee with the horticultural equivalent of Miriam Margoyles – you never know what she’s going to say next. But her self deprecating writing style belies her gardening wisdom, and I’m now on the hunt for her earlier book ‘On Gardening’ – a compilation of the quirky gardening columns she wrote for The Sunday Tribune back in the 1990s which are still circulating as second hand copies online.
Dan Pearson is another fave, more serious minded but I love his interweaving of horticulture and ecology and you feel utterly immersed in his landscapes as you read. I have his book ‘Natural Selection’, but I’m sure there are others equally worthy, and Louise has put me onto his blog site Dig Delve (link at the end)
Marianne North is my final offering and a fabulous tonic if you want to be transported from the quiet palette of a British winter to vibrant colour-drenched countries around the world. Marianne North was actually a painter not a writer and at a time when Victorian ladies were supposed to stay at home and do embroidery she travelled the world with her maid to paint glorious and accurate botanical portraits of plants, many of which had been not recorded before, in their natural setting and you can see them for real in a dedicated gallery in Kew Gardens.
Being younger than my sisters I get most of my gardening information online. Vita Sackville West, Christopher Lloyd and Ms North + her maid were no doubt horticultural icons but they are also, by a country mile, deceased, and gardened in a different age.
So when I go to bed I am actually far more likely to be scrolling through Facebook forums such as ‘Gardening UK’ or ‘My Scottish Garden’ where we corporately struggle with the realities of cat poo, neighbours’ fences, collapsing greenhouses, recycling pots and Lidls’ plant offers (the amaryllis bulbs have landed by the way).
I know books have a ‘winter’s evening’ charm about them and I’ll put money on you getting a book by Monty Don this Christmas. Be warned though, if you don’t have a similar acreage in Herefordshire or southern climate, you’re about to feel outclassed.
No, personally I need to know what to plant, when to plant it and how to get it to survive in pretty dodgy conditions rather than purple prose about its charms at maturity. So if I do curl up with a book it will be ‘Garden Plants for Scotland’ by Ken Cox. After some brief notes about overcoming gales, salt, and rocky outcrops, you’re into a no-nonsense A-Z of plants that stand a chance of surviving in the North + occasional views on whether they’re worth the bother.
If it’s vegetable growing you’re after, obviously there’s only one book you need…. ‘Beginner’s Veg, Easier to Grow than you Think’ by The3Growbags! Perfect for every aspiring veg grower this Christmas and wonderfully complemented by the gorgeously photographed ‘A Plant for Each Week of the Year’ by our columnist Louise Sims. They’re both stocked in our expanding shop below.
Can you feel a note to Santa coming on?
We’d love to hear who your go-to gardening authors are!
You can listen to a podcast chat based on this post here
NB Here is the link to Dan Pearson’s Dig Delve blog
Another NB – Plenty of tasks in the garden to do – here are a few of them!
Another NB Louise has chosen a little geranium that keeps on giving as her Plant of the Month, click on the box below to find out which one.
More NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.