Of Rhubarb and Roses: Book Review

of rhubarb and roses

If you are ever, as I often am, in need of a quick garden writing fix – maybe a drop of wisdom from Beth Chatto, Vita Sackville-West or Dan Pearson – then Of Rhubarb and Roses is for you.

The book is a compilation of articles from the gardening section of the Telegraph.  Tim Richardson was tasked with the job of going through the cuttings, and you can imagine the pile of paper he must have been presented with particularly since the newspaper has had a dedicated gardening column of one form or another since the late 1950s.  I think he has done an excellent job bringing together a diverse and interesting group of articles all of them well written.  The authors include many of our well known and loved writers.  As well as the three above there is Christopher Lloyd (a personal favourite), Rosemary Verey, Roy Strong, Elspeth Thompson and Fred Whitsey who was the resident garden writer at the newspaper until his death in 2009.

The book, an impressive weighty tome of 448 pages, covers everything from growing vegetables and fruit, through wildlife gardening, gardening in the city, eccentric gardeners, trees, pests, weather, bulbs and alpines.  It is fascinating to see how views about such things as Leylandii have changed over the years and how some ideas aren’t as new as we think. Such as this view of meadows from the late 1980s

“Your little copse underplanted with spring flowers is a real pleasure but your new meadow garden, urged on you by conservationists, has not yet proved its worth,…”
Anne Scott-James 1988

The earliest article I found dated from 1938 ‘Tips for Window-Boxes’ by someone called H H Thomas and this leads me to my only real criticism of the book.  I would have liked to see a list of the contributors at the back of the book with a brief note of who they were – whether they were horticulturally trained, amateur gardeners or whatever.  Personally I think this adds an additional insight into the article and also history of gardening and garden writing.  But even without this addition the book gives you a powerful insight into the history of gardening over the last 60-80 years and you will discover that the language, terms, and fads may change but essentially advice given in 1955 is as relevant today as then.

So as I have said if you want to treat yourself to an anthology of excellent garden writing or are looking for a present for that special gardener in your life, although it is a bit late now for Christmas, then Of Rhubarb and Roses is the book for you.

Disclaimer: this book was provided by Aurum as a review copy

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About Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited
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6 Responses to Of Rhubarb and Roses: Book Review

  1. Anna says:

    Wasn’t sure whether to read your review as this is one of my Christmas presents to myself but you have whetted my appetite Helen. Looking forward to putting my feet up with a glass of something in one hand and this book in the other on Boxing Day :)

  2. Thanks for that again, Helen. I’m not really managing to keep up to date with what’s new, but you’re assisting. Looks good (and huge!), with the advantage that if you are not in the mood for one writer, you can switch to another. Merry Christmas!

  3. Oh, that does sound a treat. I might need it after Christmas. Silly me . . . I bought a book on hyacinth vases that is in German. Yes, I did. I don’t know how I think I will read it, but I can look at the pretty pictures. Also, I bought the gardening one about Beatrix Potter. Will read that too as soon as I finish the dang book I’m writing. Merry Christmas Helen.~~Dee

  4. Cathy says:

    Gosh – it really must be a chunky book, Helen! My Mum saves the Telegraph Gardening sections for when we visit, well the most recent ones anyway, and a historical selection like this must be fascinating. I would agree with you on the need for a potted biography of the writers though. Have a lovely Christmas, Helen – are you at home with your boys I wonder?

    • Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy
      Yes Christmas at home with both sons and my parents are coming for Christmas dinner. Despite the mad weather here it is nice and relaxing. Have a good Christmas

  5. Hi Helen,
    What a great looking book, I’ll put it on my reading list. May I also recommend a glance at The Potting Shed Papers, by Charles Elliott?
    It’s a collection of light essays on various gardeners, gardens and garden styles. Everyone from Henry Ward Beecher to Joseph Rock and with chapters ranging from ‘The Most Interesting Plant in North America’ to ‘Sex and The Single Strawberry’.
    I received it as a Christmas/birthday present a couple of years ago and dip in whenever I get a free half hour or so.
    Enjoy 2014 and may all your roses be rust free!

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