The best gardening books to give this Christmas
Winter has its icy grip on the garden leaving little for the gardener to do except pick up a good book
Wild about Weeds, Garden Design with Rebel Plants by Jack Wallington
The late Beth Chatto revolutionised the gardening world with her ecological approach to garden design as well as with her painterly eye for subtle, unusual plant combinations.
Personally authorised by Chatto before her death last year at the age of 94, Catherine Horwood’s new in-depth biography of this enduringly influential British horticulturist (Beth Chatto: A Life in Plants, Pimpernel Press, hardback, £30) is a fascinating portrait of one of the true gardening greats from her early childhood in rural Essex to her groundbreaking work as a nursery owner, award-winning author and multiple gold-medal-winner exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Chatto’s pioneering work paved the way for a new generation of nature-based garden writers such as Jack Wallington, the young British garden designer whose intriguing new book Wild About Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants (Laurence King, hardback, £19.99,) takes a fond look at 50 common weeds – or “misunderstood outsiders” as he describes them – and offers compelling reasons for why we should make room for them in our gardens.
Meanwhile Dave Goulson’s brilliant new book The Garden Jungle; or Gardening to Save the Planet (Penguin Books, £16.99) is an environmental call-to-arms that takes the reader on a voyage of discovery, showing how even the smallest garden can work to combat climate change and act as a precious nature reserve teeming with life.
Gardening in a way that’s respectful of our fragile planet is also the central theme of The Land Gardeners: Cut Flowers (Thames & Hudson, hardback, £39.95) a beautiful, informative and sumptuously illustrated publication by authors and organic gardeners Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld who together have transformed the long-neglected walled garden of Wardington Manor into a sustainably-managed, properly productive, commercial cut-flower garden that now supplies many of London’s top florists.
Also on the subject of cut-flower growing, In Bloom: Growing, Harvesting and Arranging Flowers All Year Round by Clare Nolan (Kyle Books, hardback, £26) is an inspirational book that’s brimful of practical tips on how to fill your home with homegrown seasonal arrangements throughout the year.
Sustainable cut-flower-growing goes hand-in-hand with sustainably floristry; The Flower Fix: Modern Arrangements for a Daily Dose of Nature (White Lion Publishing, hardback, £20) is an excellent guide to the latter by Anna Potter, the chief floral designer of UK-based Swallows & Damsons, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to create the most artful of flower arrangements while avoiding the use of environmentally-harmful pollutants such as floral foam/oasis.
Meanwhile, for those looking for both inspiration and instruction on the nuts and bolts of designing their own garden from scratch, two recent publications stand out. One is RHS How to Create Your Garden: Ideas and Advice for Transforming your Outdoor Space by Adam Frost (DK, hardback, £20), the Chelsea gold medal-winning garden designer and affable BBC Gardeners’ World presenter whose reassuringly practical, down-to-earth approach is reminiscent of the late Geoff Hamilton.
Also for the RHS and also by an award-winning British designer, Matt Keightley’s RHS Design Outdoors: Projects and Plans for a Stylish Garden (Mitchell Beazley, hardback, £25) uses 35 real gardens as templates, in each case providing in-depth analysis of the clever design solutions used to create that all- important “sense of place”. From plantspersons’ paradises and child-friendly spaces to transforming small, dark basement areas and windswept rooftop terraces, there’s something among its pages for everyone.
The complex challenges of designing a garden that’s at one with the natural landscape is the subject of British landscape architect Kim Wilkie’s Led by the Land. First published in 2012 and considered a garden classic, an updated, expanded version featuring some of Wilkie’s recent design projects as well as his musings on farming and settlement was published this year by Pimpernel Press (hardback, £35).
Garden designer Isabel Bannerman’s Scent Magic (Pimpernel Press, hardback, £30)is a gloriously sensual diary of her garden’s smells, magically charting the turning of a growing year from the intense frankincense-like perfume of the winter-flowering witchhazel, Hamamelis ‘Advent’, to the sweet summer fruitiness of honeysuckle. A book to treasure.
The British ornithologist and plantsperson Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram’s life is the stuff of legend, from his exquisitely illustrated WW1 diaries and plant-hunting expeditions to far-flung countries to his rediscovery in 1926 – by then a renowned authority on cherry trees – of Japan’s fabled Taihaku (great white cherry tree), believed to be extinct. Cherry Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms by Naoko Abe (Chatto & Windus, hardback, £18.99) is the fascinating biography of this remarkable man who devoted his life to preserving and cultivating some of the world’s loveliest flowering trees.
The Artists’ Garden: The secret spaces that inspired great art by Jackie Bennett (White Lion, hardback, £30) is a beautifully illustrated, well-researched and thoughtful exploration of the special relationship between some of the world’s most famous artists and artists’ communities and the gardens, many still in existence, that nurtured their unique talents.
The Garden Chef: Recipes & Stories from Plant to Plate (Phaidon, hardback, £29.95) takes readers on a gastronomic tour of the food gardens and kitchens of 40 of the world’s best-known chefs including Alice Waters, Michel & Sébastien Bras, Manoella Buffara, Magnus Nilsson, Matt Orlando, Simon Rogan and Ben Shewry. Generously illustrated with atmospheric photographs and featuring 100 recipes, it’s a mouthwatering read.
The young Welsh vegetable gardener Huw Richards has a devoted following on his Youtube channel, where he posts weekly video tutorials on all aspects of organic food growing. Now he’s condensed much of that knowledge into a fantastically informative book, Veg in One Bed: How to grow an abundance of food in one raised bed, month by month, DK, hardback, £14.99), showing how even the tiniest of plots – just one bed measuring 1m x 3.2m – can be made impressively productive.
Recently awarded Practical Book of the Year at the prestigious annual Garden & Media Guild Awards, Cork-based organic gardener Joyce Russell’s New Vegetable Garden Techniques; Essential skills and projects for tastier, healthier crops (White Lion, £18.99)is a supremely practical, user-friendly guide to creating a properly productive, sustainably-managed kitchen garden, handsomely illustrated with over 400 photographs by her husband Ben Russell.
Last but certainly not least, Wicklow-based gardener Jimi Blake’s new book A Beautiful Obsession , which he co-authored with British designer Noel Kingsbury (£25, hardback, Filbert Press)is one that every Irish gardener will treasure. Instructive, inspiring and illuminating when it comes to both the art and the craft of great garden making, it’s proof of the enduring joy that comes from nurturing a deep connection with the natural world.