Few people know more about houseplants than the British garden writer, blogger, former gardening editor of the Guardian and On The Ledge podcaster Jane Perrone. Her latest book, Legends of the Leaf (Unbound, £14.99) takes a fascinating in-depth look at 25 “iconic houseplants” and is a delight. How intriguing, for example, to discover that the aspidistra’s popularity in the Victorian era is due in large part to its ability to tolerate the large quantities of ethylene that were a by-product of most household’s gas lighting and coal fires. Or that the famous German poet Goethe, was a huge fan of the spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. And that the millions of specimens of the oh-so-fashionable houseplant known as String of Pearls (Curio rowleyanus), in circulation around the world, can be sourced back to just one single specimen sent to a British grower back in the 1950s. Perrone’s infectious enthusiasm and almost boundless knowledge makes for a very entertaining and informative read.
The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables (Hodder Press, £12.99) has been resoundingly praised by a slew of leading cooks and horticulturists (Ballymaloe founder Darina Allen called it “one of the most inspirational books I have encountered in a long time”, while the British gardener and writer Mark Diacono described it as fascinating, enlightening, informative and entertaining). Author Adam Alexander’s love affair with vegetables – their history, lore, cultivation – has led him all over the world, on a journey that starts off with the discovery of a particularly delicious sweet pepper in Donetsk in Ukraine, a moment that seems especially poignant given recent world events. First published in late 2022, I’m including it in this year’s line-up to make up for missing it first time round.
It’s impossible not to see trees in an entirely fresh light after reading How to Read a Tree by Tristan Gooley (Hodder Press, £22) who is a modern-day adventurer, writer, natural navigator and the only living person to have both flown solo and sailed singlehandedly across the Atlantic. A Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Royal Geographical Society, who’s been described as the Sherlock Holmes of nature, he explains how trees can tell us everything about the environment in which they’re growing if only we’re prepared to open our eyes.
Handsomely produced, informative, and elegantly walking that fine line of being accessible without being condescending to its readers, the British broadcaster, writer and gardener’s latest book The Gardening Book (BBC Book, £28) is a hands-on, practical how-to guide for people who want to create a lovely garden but just don’t have the experience when it comes to how to go about it. Or, as Don puts it himself, “I wanted to write a book that shows non-gardeners how to create a garden, how you can gently manipulate and tweak an outdoor space to be this place where nature flourishes as well as being somewhere beautiful and productive for you and your family to enjoy.”
For any gardener who adores flowers, the British gardener, grower and flower-farmer-florist Rachel Siegfried’s first book, The Cut Flower Sourcebook: Exceptional Perennials and Woody Plants for Cutting (Filbert Press, £35), is a brilliantly useful and informative read. Honing in on those plants that earn their place in the garden by virtue of their vigour, ease of cultivation and dependability, their generally undemanding nature and their long season of interest. Siegfried’s vast knowledge and first-hand practical experience of growing flowers for market and events allows her to write with an authority that can’t be bettered.
The Wicklow-based art historian and author Patricia Butler’s magnificent new book, Drawn from Nature: The Flowering of Irish Botanical Art (Acc Art Books UK, £35), charts the history and evolution of Irish botanical art from the early work of seventeenth-century artists such as James Gwim, to the thriving world of contemporary artists. Meticulously-researched and beautifully-illustrated, it’s a fascinating and comprehensive history of a legacy that stretches out far beyond the world of botany and horticulture into the realms of craft and design as well as ecology and natural history.
Authored by Henrik Sjöman, who is a scientific curator at Gothenburg Botanical Garden, a senior researcher at the Swedish University of Agriculture and an honorary research associate at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Arit Anderson, the award-winning British garden designer, writer and presenter on BBC2′s Gardener’s World, The Essential Tree Selection Guide for climate resilience, carbon storage, species diversity and other ecosystem benefits (Filbert Press, £50) skilfully guides its readers through the process of what it takes to choose the right tree for the right site. Lushly illustrated, truly thought-provoking and impressively comprehensive, it’s a must-read for tree lovers everywhere.
A Year Full of Veg: A Harvest for All Seasons by Sarah Raven (Bloomsbury, £27). Following on from its excellent sister publication A Year Full of Flowers which came out in 2021, the well-known British gardener, grower, writer, podcaster and botanist Sarah Raven’s latest book A Year Full of Veg doesn’t disappoint. Beautifully produced with oodles of lush photography by her long-time collaborator Jonathan Buckley, its month-themed chapters are brimming with information and useful tips on how to successfully grow even a little of your own food.
Winner of this year’s Garden & Media Guild’s prestigious Peter Seabrook Practical Book of the Year Award, Things to do with Plants: 51 ways to connect with the botanical world by Emma Crawforth (Kew Publishing, £18) explores the myriad of ways in which plants touch our world. From providing our essential needs, mitigating climate change, purifying the air and soil and providing essential ingredients for medicine to beautifying our indoor and outdoor spaces, the author shows readers 51 life-affirming ways to celebrate our connection with the world of plants.
A gardening superstar in his native country Denmark, the author, gardener, florist and broadcaster Claus Dalby is known for his joyful, expert use of colour and his boldly beautiful container displays. In his latest book The Cottage Garden (Cool Springs Press, £28), he traces the evolution of this enduringly popular garden style from well-known proponents such as Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West and Margery Fish (all of whom have inspired the design of his own large garden in Risskov), to contemporary examples in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the US and the UK. Very generously illustrated and informatively written, it’s a charming amble down the rose-edged path of garden history.
A coffee-table book in the very best sense, Garden: Exploring the Horticultural World, (Phaidon, £44.95, introduction by Matthew Biggs) is a gorgeous, glossy gallimaufry of all things horticultural. From seed catalogues, film stills and centuries-old manuscripts to famous paintings, photographs, frescoes and book cover designs, it delves with delight into the fascinating archives of the work of garden writers, designers, artists, creators and scientists. A charmingly eclectic mix that includes the use of Biopods to grow plants on Mars, Frido Kahlo’s Casa Azul, Bulgari’s Garden of Eden watch and the design of Versaille’s royal kitchen garden, it vividly celebrates how the world of plants has inspired and informed humankind down through the ages.
Flower Philosophy: Seasonal projects to inspire & restore by Anna Potter (White Lion Publishing, £20) As the founder and face of her UK-based floristry business Swallows and Damsons, Anna Potter’s work has reached audiences around the world through her popular Instagram feed. This is her second book and it’s a beauty, filled with lushly-illustrated recipes for creating the sort of decadently beautiful, garden-inspired arrangements for which she’s become so well known. Seasonality and sustainability are two of its central themes, both of which constantly inform and inspire Potter’s own work and which she writes about with a deep-bedded respect.
Cold-Hardy Fruits and Nuts, by Alysson Levy and Scott Serrano (Chelsea Green Publishing, £30), is a brilliant reference book for any kitchen gardener looking for a reliable guide to hardy, disease and pest-resistant, reliably productive varieties to cultivate in their allotment or kitchen garden, this handsomely illustrated publication covers fifty edible crops including notes on recommended cultivars, propagation harvesting and use. Written by two very seasoned growers (Alysson Levy and Scott Serrano are founders of the Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in the US), Mark Diacono recently named it in Gardens Illustrated as his book of the year.
To Stand And Stare: How to Garden While Doing Next to Nothing, by Andrew Timothy O’Brien (DK 16.99). Tired of being told what you should be doing in your garden? O’ Brien’s book gives its readers a reassuring take on how to gently tend your plot, a planet-friendly one where nature is our collaborator, rather than an adversary that we must repeatedly attempt to pummel into submission. As he wryly observes in his introduction, “Next time you find yourself weeding, ask yourself why?”
Dates for your diary
Saturday December 9th-Sunday December 10th (10am-4pm), Sustainable Christmas Market at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, with over 70 stalls featuring an array of sustainable gift ideas
Also at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin on December 14th (7pm-9pm), Flower Arranging: Christmas Florals from the Winter Garden, a practical demonstration by the horticulturist and florist Aiva Veinberga, see botanicgardens.ie for booking details
Monday December 18th Ballymaloe Cooking School, Middleton, Co Cork, a one-day, hands-on sustainable Christmas wreath and table centrepiece-making workshop with Irish Times garden writer and flower-farmer-florist Fionnuala Fallon, see ballymaloecookeryschool.ie for booking details.