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2022 Gardening books round-up with Mat Coward

UNABLE to get an allotment in London, Mark Ridsill Smith began using his flat’s small balcony to grow food instead. 

The Vertical Veg Guide To Container Gardening (Chelsea Green, £25), distils the author’s experience of a decade of urban gardening in small spaces, not only balconies but rooftops, patios and even windowsills. 

It’s not just about the odd salad, says this very thorough 300-page book — if you go about it the right way you can make a significant contribution to your family’s food supply.

Cucurbits, the plant family that includes cucumbers, melons and squashes, are among the most rewarding crops for the amateur gardener to grow, but they can also be among the trickiest. 

So Melons & Other Cucurbits by Richard Brown (Prospect Books, £15) fills a real gap in the literature by concentrating solely on this group.

Gardening can look off-puttingly complicated to those who’ve never tried it, but GROW5 by Lucy Bellamy (Mitchell Beazley, £22) contains 52 “recipes,” arranged by season, for use in a small, inner-city garden, each consisting of just five different plants. 

The five are chosen to form a combination that provides different effects or uses — such as flavour, scent, blooms for cutting, late evening colour, or a destination for bees and butterflies. It’s a really neat idea, well thought-through.

And here’s another one: A Plant For Every Day Of The Year (DK, £20). If you find yourself staring out of your window, thinking your garden’s looking a bit dull this week, you can turn to the appropriate season in Philip Clayton’s book and he’ll show you what to plant so that in future, at the same time of year, you'll have a livelier view.

Cold-Hardy Fruits And Nuts by Allyson Levy & Scott Serrano (Chelsea Green, £30) is an in-depth and experience-based description of growing 50 trees, bushes and other plants — some familiar, some not — which produce edible fruit. 

The species have been selected for their lack of vulnerability to pests and diseases, unlike some of the more common garden fruits. The authors’ garden is in upstate New York, so British winter temperatures shouldn’t be a problem.

For ethical and environmental reasons increasing numbers of gardeners are trying to cultivate their plots without using any animal products at all. 

Traditional organic gardening involves the use of animal manures, as well as slaughterhouse by-products as fertilisers. The Vegan Gardener by John Walker (Lorenz Books, £15), a 250-page hardback, contains practical techniques for avoiding that as well as keeping clear of artificial chemical additives and plastic.

After decades of experience as a market gardener, Charles Dowding collects what he’s learned in No Dig (DK, £30).

Along with a detailed guide to most of the vegetables you’re likely to grow, Dowding explains the increasingly popular no-dig approach to soil management. 

He’s become Britain’s leading expert on the method, which its exponents say results in healthier soil, ecological gains, fewer weeds and much less work for the gardener.

For gardeners who haven’t got a garden, an allotment, or any other outdoor space, How To Garden Indoors by Kim Roman (Fox Chapel, £18.99) is an unusually comprehensive handbook, imaginative and practical, to growing food in your home. 

It even includes instructions on how to make self-watering pots for nothing, out of the contents of your recycling bin.

An impressively easy-to-use identification manual of the insects we’re likely to see in our gardens, as well as an admirably realistic guide to steps you can take to encourage them in every garden from smallest to largest, Attracting Garden Pollinators by Jean Vernon (White Owl, £25) is my gardening book of the year.

It’s concise, but full of information both functional and fascinating. Properly referenced and indexed, it includes lots of excellent photographs. 

There are recommendations of suitable plants for all garden situations and for all seasons of the year, covering fruit and vegetables, trees, shrubs and herbs, as well as flowers.

Invaluable for down-to-earth environmentalists, this book will also introduce gardeners to a rewarding aspect of their hobby which they may previously have overlooked.


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