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Best of 2018: Gardening books

by MAT COWARD

 

WHAT did we call the activity of picking wild food before it was reborn as "foraging," back when every caravan holiday involved blackberrying along railway lines or mushrooming in horse fields?

Whether you find the rebranding of ordinary human activities sinister or merely irritating, Foraging with Kids (Nourish, £12.99) by Adele Nozedar, with superbly clear illustrations by Lizzie Harper, is a book every grandparent should keep in their coat pocket.

It covers 52 plants found in woods, commons, hedges, gardens or by the seaside, with advice on identification and safety, recipes and a seasonal calendar of what to pick when.

Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen (Chelsea Green, £32) also contains recipes, and some garden cultivation advice, this time for 36 wild plants. The author is US-based, so some of the species are tantalisingly unavailable to British readers but any book that teaches us how to eat Japanese knotweed, ground elder, dandelion and nettles is bound to be welcome. The writing has a ring of genuine expertise.

Damsons have been grown in gardens in this country, and picked from the wild, as far back as records go. Damsons: An Ancient Fruit in the Modern Kitchen by Sarah Conrad Gothie (Prospect Books, £9.99) is a very readable guide to their history and botany, how to grow them and, in particular, how to cook and preserve them.

For those who haven't got time to garden as a hobby but would still like to grow some food, The Ten-minute Gardener by Val Bourne (Bantam, £9.99) is an efficiently and attractively laid-out month-by-month manual of garden tasks. A 350-page hardback, filled with information, it's a real bargain.

Clare Matthews, in Low-maintenance Vegetable Gardening (Companion House, £14.99), promises "bumper crops in minutes a day." The book's time-saving approach is based on her own experience of wanting a vegetable plot but only being free to tend it for odd moments, rather than long sessions.

As a professional salad grower as well as an award-winning gardening writer, Charles Dowding is the well-qualified author of Salad Leaves for All Seasons (Green Books, £19.99), a thorough account of the techniques, plants and timings necessary to ensure a year-round supply of fresh leaves.

There have been quite a few books about growing unusual crops in recent years, many of which sacrifice down-to-earth usefulness for novelty. But the detailed and practical Incredible Edibles by Matthew Biggs (Dorling Kindersely, £14.99) is one of the best yet — an excellent gift for the keener gardener.

Organic Gardening Techniques (Fox Chapel, £14.99) by Nick Hamilton continues and expands the work of his much-missed father, Geoff. It's an ideal introduction to the environmentalist approach to home-growing, something which seems to become more urgently relevant with every day's headlines.

Meanwhile, The Super Organic Gardener by Matthew Appleby (White Owl, £16.99) is about what used to be called "veganic gardening," growing food without using any animal products at all, including dung, a mode which has been rediscovered as the climate emergency grows.

There are books that influence whole generations of gardeners and this mixture of polemic, science and instruction could turn out to be one of them.

It goes without saying that the better we understand the science of plants, the better we can persuade them to grow in the ways we want them to. How Plants Work, edited by Stephen Blackmore (Ivy Press, £30), is a large and lavish hardback which will painlessly increase your comprehension of plant construction and behaviour.

How to Propagate 375 Plants by Richard Rosenfeld (Lorenz, £15) would be invaluable to all gardeners, of every type and level of experience. As well as a directory of the reproductive needs of hundreds of ornamental and edible species, it provides an overview of the various kinds of propagation such as seed-saving, cuttings and divisions.

Lia Leendertz's My Tiny Veg Plot (Pavilion, £9.99) is a beautiful book, with photographs from around the world of plots both individual and collective— such as the man who put an allotment on top of his shed — and the little vegetable garden on the tarmac outside Chiswick Library.

Through inspirational examples and how-to advice, Leendertz insists that no space is too small or unorthodox for growing food, including balconies, steps, hanging baskets and even vans.

Unusual, charming and, at times, very funny — not something you don't often associate with horticultural writing — Gardening Notes from a Late Bloomer (Pimpernel Press, £12.99) is by keen grower Clare Hastings, who worries what would happen to her cottage garden if she was suddenly "struck down before elevenses." Hence this volume of both advice and reminiscence addressed to her non-gardening daughter, who will one day inherit the plot.

Gardening with Junk by Adam Caplin (CICO Books, £14.99) is an irresistible title. Gardeners tend to be keen on recycling — to keep costs down, of course, but also because of the sheer pleasure of finding a further use for an object that was supposed to be dead. Caplin describes how to grow in containers like tins, bags, boxes and ceramics bought from charity shops and which plants suit which vessels best. The photos alone will motivate you.

Speaking of saving money, Sally Coulthard's How to Build a Shed (Laurence King, £14.99) is my gardening book of the year. It's an extraordinarily lucid, step-by-step guide to everything from choosing the timber to installing a stove. Each job is designed to be done by no more than two people, even if they have no DIY experience — and at a fraction of the cost of buying a ready-made shed.

 

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