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.