Dig in for winter
Long, dark evenings are the perfect time to get inspiration from new and classic gardening books. Here are some of the best
We ask an awful lot of garden books. They are expected to be informative and inspirational, thought-provoking, insightful and entertaining. It’s a tall order. Only a handful reach such dizzy heights of excellence. Those that do become classics that are a joy to read and that should have a place on every gardener’s bookshelf. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Christopher Lloyd’s The Well-Tempered Garden or Russell Page’s The Education of a Gardener, though both are now decades old. The same goes for any books by Joy Larkcom, Helen Dillon or Beth Chatto.
More recently, I’ve deeply enjoyed The New English Garden (Frances Lincoln, £40) by British garden historian and critic Tim Richardson. The book succeeds in being beautiful and intelligently written, and offers a fresh overview of some of England’s most interesting gardens.
The story of any garden is inevitably also the story of its owner. In the case of Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House (Jacqui Small, £30), author Caroline Zoob tells that story in a way that’s both vivid and moving.
Similarly Irish gardener and broadcaster Dermot O’Neill’s new book Clondeglass: Creating a Garden Paradise (Kyle Books, £25) tells the story of the walled garden in Co Laois that he rescued from near-dereliction and which he’s spent the past decade restoring.
“If it’s possible for a garden to be part of a person, then Clondeglass is part of me,” begins the book’s introduction, whose handsomely illustrated pages are filled with engaging stories of the plants O’Neill grows, from the intensely-perfumed rose Fragrant Cloud that he first smelled as a schoolboy to his collection of rare Irish primulas.
Gardens and their gardeners is also the theme of Barbara Baker’s sumptuously illustrated Contemporary Designers’ Own Gardens (Garden Art Press, £30). In this case the owners (20 in all) are garden designers of international repute such as Tom Stuart-Smith, Patrick Blanc and Dan Pearson.
A garden designer of note, Baker does a fine job of analysing the creative process of professional garden-making when it’s unfettered by the expectations of a client.
In the case of influential Dutch designer and plantsman Piet Oudolf, that process is a highly technical one which challenges gardeners to forsake a conventional approach to planting in pursuit of something more naturalistic, as skilfully explained in his and Noel Kingsbury’s Planting: A New Perspective (Timber Press, £30). To “intermingle” or not to “intermingle”; that is the question – at least for some gardeners.
But enough about what I’ve enjoyed reading this year. Here are some suggestions, both old and new, from some of the country’s best-known gardeners.
JUNE BLAKE garden-maker
The New English Garden by Tim Richardson was my most enjoyable read this year. It looks like a glossy coffee table book but when you read it, you realise that it’s a serious critique of the most interesting gardens in England today. As for a classic garden read, Making the Modern Garden by Christopher Bradley-Hole is a book I return to again and again. I really enjoy his style of writing and have huge respect for him as a designer.
SEAMUS O’BRIEN, head gardener of Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens
Of the books published this year, my favourite is Aubrey Fennell’s brilliant Heritage Trees of Ireland (Collins Press, €29.99), which makes you want to jump in the car and go tree-hunting. My all-time classic has to be Plants With Personality by Patrick Millington Synge, a gem published in the 1950s, which tells the stories of some remarkable plants, from the giant lobelias of Kilimanjaro to the specimen of magnolia campbelli growing at Kilmacurragh.
KLAUS LAITENBERGER, author and owner of Milkwood Farm
I have had Ken Fern’s book Plants For a Future for many years and it’s a wonderful and inspiring book. So I really can’t wait to start reading Edible Plants: A Practical and Inspirational guide to Choosing and Growing Unusual and Edible Plants (Plants For A Future, £14).
NICKY KYLE, organic gardener and blogger
I haven’t had time to read any new garden books this year as I’m busy writing my own. But a classic I return to again and again is Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry whose main principle is “the right plant for the right place” – one of the classic tenets of organic gardening.
GERARD MULLEN, Waterford-based landscape designer
A book I first came across when studying design at university is John Brookes The Small Garden, which I still regularly use as a resource when brainstorming projects. Another that gets a lot of use is Joy Larkcom’s Grow Your Own Vegetables. It’s a fantastic resource from a true expert and I learn something new every time I pick it up.