Book review: The London Gardener

The London Gardener: Guide and Sourcebook
The London Gardener: Guide and Sourcebook

There is something very exciting about London gardens and London gardening.  The gardening tends to be on a fairly small scale, unless you are really lucky, space being at a premium.  Many Londoners seem to start with a window box and once bitten by the gardening bug are forever moving in search of bigger and more flexible spaces to fill with fruit, veg and flowers.  As a garden fan, there is so much out there, hidden away in nooks and crannies around the city, but it is difficult to know where to find them.

Elspeth Thompson has compiled a fantastic book offering a wealth of inside knowledge for gardeners around the capital.  The London Gardener discusses the challenges of London gardening and points out some excellent urban gardens, from squares and churchyards to ‘secret’ gardens and parks.  The book ends with an really useful sourcebook with details of nurseries, garden centres, specialist shops, societies, designers, courses and even tree surgeons.  This isn’t just a big cluttered list, but like a section of Thompson’s personal black book of gardening, a real treat in which she explains a little about what can be found from each listed service.

It was last revised in 2006, so some of the information may be out of date.  The price of entry to the Chelsea Physic Garden is listed as £3 but it is now £8, so be warned!  Even so, this is definitely worth getting hold of if you can, for the sourcebook, and the great info on ‘proper’ London gardens which you can take your friends to and pretend you found yourself.

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Book review: 21st Century Smallholder

21st Century Smallholder

From window boxes to allotments: how to go back to the land without leaving home

by Paul Waddington

This is a great little book which starts off by acknowledging that the dream of ‘four acres and freedom’ will now be impossible for many people.’Today, only the rich can afford to be peasants.’

The book includes sections on growing your own food; raising your own food – bees, chickens, pigs, ducks, fish and other livestock; getting the most from your home harvest; building biodiversity; making your home

more self reliant and ‘going all the way’. There’s also a year planner, setting out sowing, planting and harvesting tips for each month.Paul Waddington considers the pros and cons of each option within these sections and then sets the various possibilities out in table form for easy comparison. Compare installing photovoltaic panels with putting a wind turbine on your roof in terms of cost/hassle, payback time and ‘green’ value. Or compare meat curing with air-drying or cold-smoking, in terms of time, space, skill and kit required. Everything is boiled down for easy ‘at a glance’ decision making.

He also includes information on how to make your own compost, provide habitats for various types of wildlife within your outside space, pond building, as well as energy saving techniques from a bit of simple draught stripping, to installing ground-source heat pumps.

The book tackles some advanced concepts in an accessible format. It is beautifully illustrated with prints by Gillian Blease, published by Eden Project Books and is of course made from wood grown in sustainable forests.

Book review: Window-box Allotment

Window-box Allotment

A beginner’s guide to container gardening

by Penelope Bennett
This book is a little gem. Penelope Bennett writes with great excitement and love about growing fuit and veg from seed on her tiny roof garden. It’s difficult not to be swept along by her boundless enthusiasm. The story of her germinating parsley or tomato seeds reads like a roller coaster ride. One moment she is rushing home from a party to whisk them in from the window ledge, another racing ‘at ambulance speed’ to water them as she sees they are drooping slightly.

This book is a must read for anyone who considers themselves restricted space-wise. Bennett will dissuage any fears about not having room to do any ‘proper gardening.’ In her own 5 x 2.5 meter ‘plot’, she has grown an enormous variety of fruit and vegetables. She even finds space for a pond, compost heap, wormery, antery and mushroom cultivation.

The sections on wormeries are unsurpassed in any other book I have found. She goes into great detail about the lives (and sex lives) of the worms, and suggests that everyone should have access to one. There is even a description of a ‘desktop wormery’.

Re-reading the book now as a proud owner of a wormery, I share her pain and shame as she recounts various wormery disasters. She has cremated her worms by putting them in the greenhouse, and poisoned them by giving them cat food as a ‘treat’.

There are sections entitled ‘whether or not to talk to plants’, ‘pond confession’ and ‘bean diary’. The author’s humour and love of her subject matter makes the whole book all the more of a joy to read.