The shortest day, the longest night
December 21, 2012
Today – the Solstice – so it’s now officially Winter, when the night (or hours of darkness) far outstrips those of daytime. Today is so benign yet the ground is far too soggy to work out of doors. Wet is oozing out of the orchard grass, mud clogs the feet of the hens. But it’s the festive season too, and for many the start of an extended holiday – maybe a time for a quiet read in snatched moments.
It’s at this time of year that I re-organise my gardening books, notebook in hand – I always mean to catalogue them all but as they ‘move’ around it would take forever. Books litter our house, are stacked on shelves, lie on tables or the floor, sit on stairs. Favourites of course, and newcomers. And I cannot pass a good bookshop without browsing in the gardening section. Will something tempt me? (It usually does!) We are all urged to support independent bookshops (I particularly love those with a seating area and a tiny café offering home-made treats), but also one cannot fault Amazon for their ‘Prime’ service. As a writer, speed is of the essence and for me, living some distance from town, to have a book in my hands within 24 hours of ordering online is essential.
New or old, there will always be favourites; titles one turns to time and time again. I acquire more than I discard through charity shops (I once had to buy back one I had thrown out by mistake!) or by recycling them as ‘altered art’. Books currently on my desk for pleasure and research, or because they continually inspire me, include all the ones in the pile above, plus the following oldies which I am working my way through of an evening for fresh inspiration.
‘Veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook’ by Gregg Wallace is perfect for anyone new to growing veg, although it is not for gardeners! As well as presenting TV shows and writing about food, Gregg began his food-related career running a successful fruit and veg stall in south London’s Borough Market. He believes in using food in season and sourcing locally, a philosophy that shines through his writing and his methods of preparing fresh produce when at their very best. Forget the celebrity hype and snide reviews, this book is worthy of being on the cook’s bookshelf. Published in 2006 by Mitchell Beazley.
‘The Complete New Herbal’ edited by Richard Mabey is another golden oldie which I acquired in 1988. Published by an imprint of Penguin Books, it was described then as a ‘new herbal for the modern age’. It’s a practical guide to herb applications in everyday life and the identifying photos are as stunning today as they were then. A book you can trust and a good companion for anyone who is interested in the herbal properties of wild plants for medicinal or culinary purposes.
‘Bringing a Garden to Life’ offers a topical and realistic approach to gardening for wildlife, whether you live in the centre of London, on the outskirts of Leeds, or in idyllic rural Herefordshire. Or anywhere between. Written by incomparable plant ecologist Jenny Steel and published in 2006 by Wiggly Wigglers, it explains step-by-step just how simple it is to bring wildlife into any plot, to the benefit of all else that grows.
And back to food: ‘a taste of theunexpected’ by Mark Diacono is a book for today’s changing climate and the most recently published of today’s selection (in 2010, by Quadrille Books). Amongst other activities, Mark runs Otter Farm in Devon, home to orchards of olives, peaches, almonds and apricots, forest garden, vineyards and vegetable patch. So his tips on growing, harvesting, preparing and eating the sort of produce varieties that are increasingly becoming available from Dobies of Devon, could not be more appropriate.
Don’t forget as your read and make notes to keep re-visiting the Dobies website for latest special offers on seeds, plants and equipment.
It’s here – and wildlife time, too!
October 19, 2012
The unexpected arrival just after lunch of the Dobies 2013 catalogue has taken me unawares and out-performed my scheduled topic for this week. Indeed, as I removed it from the postal wrapper, I realised just how clever the package is. For it is so much more than a catalogue – it is a Wallet, into which slot TWO main ‘annual’ brochures incorporating seeds, plants and equipment for 2013: one focusing on fruit and vegetables, and the second on flowers. Then additionally, there are three special leaflets covering ‘bedding, basket and container plants’, special offers, and ‘easy steps to grow ‘potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots’. The latter is packed with recipes produced especially for Dobies by Michelin-starred chef, Simon Hulstone.
June 16, 2012
The long light evenings of Summer always seem to me to be a good time to catch up on reading. What better opportunity is there when gardening tasks are done than to sit down with a good and informative book? Time to discover more, new techniques perhaps, for with gardening there is always something new to learn. So here is a gardening book update – not new (for I always have a pile of books on my desk waiting to be included) but each of the three titles is worthy of re-visiting if you already have it on your shelf. Links are provided for you to purchase online at reduced prices.
‘No Nettles Required’ by plant ecologist and university lecturer, Ken Thompson, is sub-titled ‘the truth about wildlife gardening’. It’s highly informative and written as a series of very readable chatty essays – and just the right size to slip into a pocket if you are headed for the beach or other holiday venue and wish you were still at home in your garden! KT quite rightly states that “encouraging wildlife is entirely compatible with ordinary gardening, costs next to nothing and is entirely effortless. Don’t leave home without it. Published in 2007 by Transworld Publishers, buy it here.
‘Making the most of your Glorious Glut’ is more recent, but one that has been awaiting a suitable slot – and of course Summer is the perfect time for “cooking, storing, freezing, drying and preserving your garden produce”. On far too many occasions we just do not know what to do with all we grow. Indeed, it was a gift of a bag of runner beans that inspired the author, Jackie Sherman, to write this book. There are dozens of tasty meals – warm salads seem perfect for the wet June days we are experiencing as I write. Variations on a theme and unusual recipes will prevent your partner and offspring from commenting “not again!” JS covers storage methods, preserves, dried fruit and beg, sauces and spreads, drinks, and, on the recipe front, starters and salads, side dishes, main meals, desserts, bread and cakes. She also offers tips on actually reducing gluts and planning what you sow and grow according to harvesting times. Published in 2011 by Green Books, buy it here.
‘The Herb Garden’ is one of those books that you never tire of re-reading, if you are passionate about herbs. I was reminded that I had at least two copies sitting on my bookshelf when the author, Sarah Garland (whom I had never met) unexpectedly turned up at the end of our drive to buy eggs and started asking about keeping chickens! We got talking about gardens, as one does when gardeners get together; and the fact we were both authors emerged as we chatted. Looking at SG’s book again, I realised why I so love it, for it is a complete (and scholarly) illustrated guide to growing scented, culinary and medicinal herbs in beautiful garden settings. The history of herb gardens is included plus plans for creating a number of topic-related herb plots with instructions for constructing different features. Cultivation is attended to as well, plus a catalogue of over 250 herbal plants; and an excellent index. Published by Frances Lincoln in 1984 (hardback) and 2003 (paperback), it is sadly no longer in print but second-hand copies are readily available online.
The greening of late Spring
May 26, 2012
At last – sunshine! And warmth, sufficient to sit outside; sufficient for my courgette seeds to germinate in only a week after sowing. Foxgloves (Digitalis) in the courtyard potager are flowering, grown from plant plugs supplied last year; their tall green spikes ‘navigating’ towards the sun. Everywhere are the signs of a late Spring – a hum of bees in the orchard, and in the wild area by the ‘eco-garden’ a female blackbird collects a beakful of moss, tugging it from a thatch of over-wintered plant detritus. She hops into a tangle of honeysuckle growing through a Jargonelle pear. Cow parsley and honesty have colonized the space around a century-old fallen apple tree – a magnet for orange-tip butterflies. Wild flowers and weeds abound in this acre; tolerating their existence whilst keeping them under control benefits the garden, bio-diversity and the environment.
End of month miscellany
January 29, 2012
With the mild weather we’ve had this January, I should have been out in the garden, titivating the potager and beginning yet another reclamation project of areas that escaped me last year. But circumstances have made this impossible, though I do enjoy our outdoor space every day when letting out, feeding and shutting in the hens. Crocuses and snowdrops already in flower, hellebores of various types with lime-green or deep purple buds ready to open, and the modest shrubby winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) releasing its delicious scent whenever I walk into the sheltered patch where it is growing.