A Book Review BOGOF

As I am blogging less I am feeling guilty that I owe a couple of book reviews to Frances Lincoln so I thought I would go for a BOGOF approach (Blog one, get one free).

61EcrMOgs-L._SX432_BO1,204,203,200_Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennett
As an English Literature graduate I have a love/hate relationship with Shakespeare and interestingly having despised his writing while I was studying I now find myself becoming more appreciative.  The book charts Shakespeare’s life through the gardens of the houses associated with him and in doing so gives an interesting discourse on the Elizabethan garden as well as its society. The usual tourist trail suspects of Mary Arden’s Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and New Place Garden are all featured as are the Inns of Court to represent his time in London and Kenilworth to represent the high society of the Elizabethan world in contrast to Shakespeare’s world.  Each garden is seen through the skillful lens of Andrew Lawson and his photographs are supplemented by various images, mostly paintings, to illustrate the text.  Jackie has researched the history of each property and how it came to be part of Shakespeare’s life but this embroidery the biography with a wealth of historical information, particularly around the day to day lives of normal people;  I found it refreshing not to be reading much about Elizabeth I and her court.

Jackie gives a detailed history of each garden and we learn that Ellen Willmott, she of Miss Willmott’s Ghost (Eryngium giganteum) fame was an adviser in 1911 to the Shakespeare Birthplan Trust on the improvement of Anne Hathway’s garden. Likewise,  we learn about London garden, the Globe and Gerald’s Herbal in a section on his time in London. I really liked the botanical illustrations from the Herbal which would make lovely embroidery designs.

This is a well researched book with extensive footnotes and a bibliography so if you have an interest in the life of Shakepeare or garden history it would probably be very attractive to you.

New Wild Garden – Ian Hodgson

This was a book I was looking forward to reading and it didn’t disappoint.  I am new wild gardeninterested in a more relaxed style of planting but not so keen on what I shall sweepingly call prairie planting as I find it rather boring after a while.  The premise of this book is to show you have to plant in a more relaxed style in the new style in a range of settings from meadows, woodlands, xeriscapes and ponds.  It has ideas for the largest garden to pots.

Ian talks through the book about the wildlife benefits of this approach to gardening and how you can help the declining pollinators by planting the right plants.  He looks at how you should look at the different types of ecologies and then choose the most appropriate to your own situation and then plant the plant associated with that ecology.  So you might have a warm, well-drained border which you could plant to replicate the natural landscape of the Mediterranean; this same principle is applied to pots, ponds and a wealth of border locations.

The book ends with a directory of suitable plants.  Each illustrated with details of height and spread, preferred location and what plants they will associate with. Whilst there aren’t any planting plans in the book what is very useful is that a number of the photographs of a planting combination is carefully labelled with each plant identified so you can see the elements of any combination you aspire to create.

Whilst I started out expecting a book extolling the proponents of wild planting with lots of gasses and North American perennials the New Wild Garden is actually a modernised ‘how to create a garden’ book with the pristine lawns replaced with wildflower mixes, details of how and what to plant, growing tips and suggestions of plants or bulbs that can be planted in various locations.

I think this book could be a first gardening book for the new gardener who wants to take a more modern and holistic approach to creating a garden.

I enjoyed both these books; one of them purely coffee table book and the other more instructional.  I would recommend them to any one depending on their interest in Art and Film Studies in Fife.

 

 

 

The Art of Gardening – Book Review

art of gardening

Very occasionally I receive a book to review and the timing of its arrival seems to be very serendipitous. This is true of The Art of Gardening, a Timberpress publication which focuses on the approach to gardening at Chanticleer, a garden in Pennsylvania, USA.

The book is written by the staff of the garden, with the bulk written by Bill Thomas, head gardener but supported by substantial contributions from the rest of the team.  The text is supported by sumptuous photographs mainly by Rob Cardillo, but also with some taken by the gardeners.  This is not your standard coffee table book to flick through enjoying pretty pictures.  This is a serious and practical gardening book but presented in the form of discussions and conversations with the reader.  There are no ‘how to’ sections and only one list of suggested plants (annuals for the cut flower garden) but throughout the text, sprinkled amongst the paragraphs are all sorts of bits of advice and encouragement just as if you are standing in the garden chatting to one of the gardeners or at a very good garden talk.

The other striking thing about the book is the garden itself.  Chanticleer is a historic garden, originally created by the Rosengarten family in the 1920s. The typical large family estate, funded by commerce, of the USA at the start of the twentieth century.  Its creation was continued by a number of generations before a Foundation was created in the 1970s to maintain the house and gardens.  The foresight of the last Rosengarten in setting the mission as “Operate the property as a beautiful public garden…..and educate amateur and professional gardeners” has allowed the garden to develop and grow and not become stultified as so many historic gardens in the UK become, stuck in a time warp and slowly declining.  Not only do the gardeners have the opportunity to develop the garden but each specific garden area is owned by one of the gardening team who manages it and develops it and takes ownership.  This then gives the garden a personal feel, or as I have so often said about gardens, a soul.  Maybe a lesson to be learnt by our National Trust and other such organisations.

The book itself is a joy to read with the voices of each of the contributors shining through.  There is a little history of the garden, then a section on design which explains how the various components are set out, managed and how the garden team work together to connect their various elements.  There is a lovely section on art showcasing the various garden ornamentation from obelisks to exquisite sculpture that the garden team have created over the years with each learning various crafts supported by the foundation.  Then the majority of the book looks at plants and how they are used in the garden.

I have to admit to skimming the section on trees as I will never be in a position to plant the sorts of trees referred to but I enjoyed the highlights on the birds that inhabit the garden.  We then move on through bulbs, perennials, plants for all types of shade, plants for sun, vines, climbers, edibles.  There is discussion on colour showing the various approaches in different years taken by gardens – sometimes vibrant, sometimes soft and calming.  As I have said throughout the text there are little nuggets of information, asides, which make you stop and think ‘oh yes I see that now’ or ‘what a good idea I must try that’.

There is a section on assessing plants which particularly interested me.  I have attended many a talk by people like Fergus Garrett where they have said this but I have never really quite got what they meant.  Emma Seniuk gives a lovely example of how Aquilega chrysantha ‘Denver Gold’ forms rosettes of frilly foliage when it emerges hiding the soil, whereas Aqulegia ‘McKana’s Gold’s foliage is fanned out and you look through it at the soil – how true and I shall be taking that into account in the future.  Another idea I might try is sowing something like wheat or rye around my bulbs to hide the soil and stop muddy splash back.  Of course our climates are different so it might be that the crops wont grow at the right time for this to work for me in the UK but its worth investigating.  I could go on, and on.

I said the book’s arrival was serendipitous for me.  I have been feeling lost with my garden, I have drifted from my original careless enjoyment of all things horticultural into a place where I over think everything to the point I have had periods of complete despondency.  A few weeks ago I realised what was happening and why and took the mental step to go back to my gardening roots, so to speak, and try to rediscover my love of all things planty.  The Art of Gardening conveys that sense of joy that I have lost.  The closing paragraph sums it up well In your own garden, trust your instincts.  Design to please yourself and make the garden your personal expression.”

I can see me coming back to this book time and time again and I suspect it will quickly become my second favourite gardening book.  My first is ‘The Layered Garden’ by David Culp – interestingly also based in Pennsylvania.  There is something about both books that is exuberant and pushes at the boundaries in a gentle way but is at the same time liberating – its something I have yet to find in English garden writing, apart from maybe Christopher Lloyd.  Maybe I should visit Pennsylvania….now there’s a thought!

 

A timely reminder

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

 

I read last night and into the early hours and wept. It’s rare for a book to hold me in this way. Despite its title, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is not a gardening book although the education of a gardener is the premise for the story. Nor is it about the author’s battle with breast cancer although this cannot be ignored. No, this book is about the human condition with all its frailty and contradictions. It is about a friendship that struggles to emerge but blossoms into something truly life affirming.

The writing isn’t sophisticated nor does it try to be clever. It is brutally honest but in a quiet understated way. The author, Carol Wall, confronts all our fears.  The fear of making a fool of yourself, appearing to be racist, saying the wrong thing, and worse not realising it, the fear of losing your parents and the terror of dying yourself. But through the author and Mr Owita’s evolving relationship the author learns and grows. She confronts her fears and in turn develops a deep understanding of her new friend and his family, who it transpires are dealing with their own demons.

Despite what might sound like a rather depressing storyline, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, is a joy to read. The characters are engaging from the first page and with their back stories slowly unfolding throughout the book we are drawn into their lives wanting to know more.

But the real message I took from this book was that the most important things in life are those that you cannot buy; the importance of real friendship, friendship and love which puts some one else first without hesitation and how we should cherish such friendships as they are very special indeed.  A timely reminder at this time of year.

I would like to thank Kathy over at Cold Climate Gardening for featuring this book on her blog as I would never have come across it otherwise on this side of the pond.  As ever the joy of blogging is the connections we make which lead us to discover all manner of things we wouldn’t normally come across.

 

Paradise Gardens: Book Review

paradise garden

The title of Paradise Gardens is a little misleading if like me you assumed it was another coffee table book that would be full of large glossy pictures of gardens with some text alongside.  Instead this book has a completely different feel.  Although its appearance is of your typical occupant of the coffee table glamour pack when you open it you realise that you are expected to actually engage with the text and as Hercule Poirot would say “exercise your little grey cells”.

Dr Toby Musgrave, demonstrates his academic credentials in this book which brings together the majority of religions and spiritual belief systems in the world, now and past.  The premise of the book is to explore how these beliefs systems draw on nature and in some cases how this then goes on to influence the creation of gardens.

We start with the classical and ancient belief systems: Egypt, Minoan, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. Each paragraph discusses the basic history of the culture and most importantly how they overlapped demonstrating that the idea that these cultures existed in isolation to be inaccurate.  Musgrave discusses how the overlapping cultures through trade and conflicts shared their beliefs influencing each other.  This is also very clear in the sections on Eastern religions (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Scholar Gardens, Japan, Zen).  A particularly long section with an abundance of glorious pictures of magical Eastern temples and gardens.

There is also a substantive section on Abrahamic religion which covers the Garden of Eden, medieval gardens, Islam, Renaissance, and ‘Elysium rediscovered’.   For me the last two was disconnected to the theme of the book.  I felt as though the book had strayed into a more landscape history book rather than focussing on religion and spiritual influences. The Elysium section refers to the 18th century landscape movement in England and although the text refers back to the Greece and Roman influences I felt it was a detour.  I was also disappointed that symbolism, particularly in Islamic gardens, wasn’t given more room;  having been to a talk this week on just this subject I know it is fascinating.

The final section on Pantheism and polytheism (I told you that you needed to engage your brain) covers Hindiusm, Northern Paganism, Evergreens, North America and Mesoamerica and New Beliefs.  However, there is no reference in book to the faiths and beliefs associated with the Aborigines, Maori, and people of Africa which seems a significant oversight.

Paradise Gardens is informative and full of not only beautiful images of landscapes and gardens but fascinating objects and art.  There are a number of discreet articles on specific gardens around the world which exemplify a particular faith or belief.  I found the one on The Cloisters Museum in New York, built in the 1930s intriguing; the pictures show the garden to be skilfully planted and constructed and you can almost imagine a monk sitting  and contemplating. Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan shows it to be quite exceptional – truly a place to aspire to visit.

Paradise Gardens is a book to dip into as and when and I am sure you will find many new and fascinating insights.

 

Book Review: The Crafted Garden

The Crafted Garden

I often have whimsical thoughts that I will make some ornamental delight from autumn leaves or festoon the house with winter foliage and berries for Christmas.   But do I ever create these crafty masterpieces? Well No! Of course not!  There is never enough time and even if I was to collect  winter berries and leaves I am then left wondering how to turn them into the image of a Christmas arrangement that might grace a Victorian masterpiece (seen through a frosted window!) which is in my head.

But Louise Curley has come to my rescue with her new book The Crafted Garden.  The book works through the seasons demonstrating a range of crafts that you can do with items from your garden or foraged from hedgerows and there are even items that I think I could do which might give me some encouragement to try something more ambitious.

But before we get carried away Louise starts off with tips about equipment and techniques, the sort of information you really need but don’t realise until you have got in a muddle.  There is also advice on foraging and after-care, always useful even if you think you know about these things – I don’t!

We then start with Spring crafts but it is not all about the crafts throughout the book. There are also one page articles on growing various plants; in Spring its primrose and forget-me-nots.  The crafts are quite simple and in our season of choice they range from delicate egg shells used as vases, using teacups as planting containers for small spring delights (I saw something similar at Helen Dillon’s garden with lobelia in a cup and saucer and it was really effective), to making pots out of bark.  My favourite in this section were the terrariums and I will definitely be having a go at those.  Just as there are articles on associated plants to grow throughout the book there are self-contained articles teaching you new techniques such as pressing flowers and also features on key plants/flowers for each season.

The remaining three seasons follow the same format all beautifully illustrated with Jason Ingram’s photographs.  The photographs not only show the end product, or close-ups of the plant material used but also some close-ups of  items being produced to help you understand what is required.  The instructions are written in a simple straightforward format but what makes the book more engaging than a collection of craft instructions is the introductions to each item by Louise written in a chatty and friendly way giving extra tips and advice on alternative material you can use.

The book ends with a comprehensive directory of suppliers of everything from the plants through to the haberdashery and where to find vintage items.

I particularly liked this book because the projects all seemed to be achievable; even with a limited amount of time I think you could achieve the majority of them.  I also liked that whilst some of the items had a rustic charm to them there were other items such as the driftwood planter for succulents which would look good in the most modern of homes.  Many of the items could also be made with your children if you wanted to but  whilst Louise recognises this she hasn’t compromised the book by trying to write for both age ranges.

I would recommend The Crafted Garden to anyone who has aspirations to be more crafty and to use their garden produce in more decorative ways than plonking flowers in a vase – of which I am guilty

 

 

 

Book Review: The Plant Lovers Guide to Asters

asters

I have a backlog of books to review and although book reviews was almost the least popular subject for posts in the poll I carried out earlier this week I do feel duty bound to work through them so apologies for possibly a lot of book reviews in the coming weeks.

I thought it was timely to start with The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters by Paul Picton and Helen Picton.  I have to confess that Helen is a friend of mine and I am in awe of her and her father’s plant knowledge.  A mutual friend said that horticultural knowledge was in Helen’s DNA and I suspect its true.  Helen is the third generation to run Old Court Nurseries in Colwall which specialises in Asters – not a bad achievement especially when asters really went out of favour back in the 1970s when conifers became all the rage.

Anyway, the book is another of the Timberpress ‘The Plant Lover’s Guide’ series.  I do think this is a successful format.  You normally have some information on how  to use the specific plant group in your garden, then plant profiles and lists of suitable varieties for different locations,  cultivation tips and pests and diseases and then information about where to buy or see the plant.

The Aster book is no exception and I particularly enjoyed the ‘Designing with Asters’ section.  In it Helen shows you that you can use asters in almost any setting whether it is the traditional herbaceous border, where they first found their popularity, or in prairie planting, through which they have had a revival.  You can even grow them in pots, something I hadn’t realised at all and  amazingly there are alpine asters.  There is a reference to the recent name changes to asters although not too much technical stuff and the entries are all in the new names.

I also enjoyed the section ‘Understanding Asters’ which discusses the history of asters and their breeding.  It is in itself a short history of horticultural trends over the last 100 years in the UK and really interesting, if like me, you are interested  in  the history of plant hunters and horticulturists.

Unbelievable there are profiles of 101 asters.  I was surprised that there were so many varieties and the Pictons have tried to include varieties that are readily available.  I am particularly interested in Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Stafa’, a low growing aster with large flowers which I think will look great in front of my roses to bring some colour at this time of the year and hide the roses legs. Interesting there is a short section about growing asters with roses – wittingly entitled ‘Roses Need Friends’.  Also appealing is Eurybia divaricata ‘Eastern Star’ another low growing aster which will tolerate a shady position.  I must ask Helen if she has either in stock.

Throughout the book is generously illustrated with photos, the majority taken by Paul Picton or Helen’s husband, Ross Barbour.  There are many close-ups of plants but also a significant number of gardens show-casing asters, many of them local to here. As with the other books in this series it is well written in an accessible format with has a friendly tone to it. Regardless of how experienced a gardener you are you will find something of interest to you.

If you are quick you can visit Old Court Nurseries and see the national collection – the Picton Garden and nursery are open every day until 18th October.  If you are going to Malvern Autumn Show then it is only 10 minutes away and a good way to round off your visit to this part of the world.  Helen and Ross will also be selling asters at the show.

 

 

Book Review: The Woodcutters Story

Woodcutter

I was asked to review The Woodcutter’s Story by its author Mark Walker.  Mark is a horticulturist and garden designer who has created show gardens at Malvern, Cardiff, and Hampton Court horticultural shows.  The book has been published in aid of Cancer Research UK.  Mark wants to raise funds for the charity and indeed the show gardens he has built over the years have all been to raise awareness of the various charities which he feels strongly about. There is a short section at the start of the book showcasing his achievements in this area.  In addition the book is illustrated throughout with Mark’s drawings.

This is a very moralistic tale about the perils of over ambition.  Mark has drawn on his experiences in creating show gardens but has set his tale in times past in order to remove any immediate association with particular individuals. He has chosen to name his characters after native trees which is a charming device and allows him to include short pieces on the trees featured. The reference to native trees links to the story which is based around a Woodcutter, and his wife, to has ambitions to excel at the local show.  His ambition and drive lead him to neglect the wood whose care he is tasked with as well as his wife; with dire consequences.  It is the sort of tale you can imagine being told of an evening in days past, maybe around the fire, to teach people the perils of greed and ambition.

The strength of  The Woodcutter’s Story is the way it  puts across very clearly and succinctly its moral and ethical message; you can hear the voice of the author quite distinctly. It is also an interesting insight into the challenges faced in particular by garden designers creating show gardens  who don’t benefit from large amounts of sponsorship or support.  Interestingly it also demonstrates the addictive nature of entering the world of showing and the perilous route it can take you down. It is certainly a heartfelt book and you find yourself feeling concerned about the route the main character is taking.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Splendour of the Tree

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I am catching up on some book reviews and wanted to share The Splendour of the Tree by Noel Kingsbury with you.  I had anticipated that it would be a book showing various trees, conditions needed, maybe a diagram of their eventual shape, a few photos of fruit, leaves and bark.  However, if I had looked properly I would have noticed the tag line (is that the right term?) – ‘An illustrated history’ and I wouldn’t have been so surprised when I opened the book.

The book is split into a number of sections in which the various trees are grouped: antiquity, ecology, sacred, utility, food and ornament.  Each tree has at least two pages, some a few more.  The narrative commences with a very brief list of facts including the geographical origin of the tree, a brief description, its size, potential age and climate. Then Noel Kingsbury goes on to tell us about the tree and without fail each short essay is full of interesting information and facts which make you sit up and take notice.

For example when reading about the English Elm (Ulmus procera) I learnt that the reason Dutch Elm Disease was so destructive is because without fail all English Elms are the same clone so there is no variation or mutation which can combat the disease.  The Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle is so called because it is a puzzle how monkeys would climb it or even eat it; its French name desespoir des singes translates to monkey’s despair which I prefer! The Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is not called this because Judas hung himself from one, after betraying Christ (the branches are too brittle and the trees dont grow tall enough); instead it is named after Judaea, a region of Israel and Palestine, from where the tree originates.

Kingsbury’s writing is accessible and informative without feeling like you are being talked at or taught.  He not only tells us about the use of the various trees, where they originate from and some interesting information but also in many cases he relates them to the humans that live with the various species such as the people in South East Asia who plant out seedlings of Teak (Tectona grandis) in order to maintain the supply of this tree which is so important to their economy. As Kingsbury says in the introduction the involvement of man in the history of the trees came up again and again when he was researching the book whether it was in terms of destruction or the trees ability to grow where they are not wanted – such as the Australian eucalyptus growing in the high plains of Bolivia.

The narrative is accompanied by wonderful photographs by Andrea Jones but unusually for many books of this size (typical coffee table book size) the narrative, in my view, takes precedence over the photographs rather than accompanying them.

Not only will you learn all sorts of things about your favourite trees but you will learn about trees you have never heard of.  I am passing this book, The Splendour of the Tree, onto my eldest son, the cabinet maker, who is passionate about wood and will I know love it.

Book Review: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips

 

index2I have to admit that I didn’t greet the new The Plant Lover’s Guide to Tulips by Richard Wilford, published by Timberpress in association with Kew, with the same incandescent excitement as I did the one on epimediums but then I am a bit of an epimedium nut.  To be fair tulips have had a hard time in my back garden thanks to the tulip crazed badger that visits in the winter.  It became so soul destroying that I gave up growing them apart from in the front garden when the evil stripy fiend can’t get to them.

Anyway, back to the book.  It follows more or less the same format as the other books in this series from Timberpress and positively groans with sumptuous photographs, the majority taken by the author, leaving you in no doubt that your world would be a much better place with the addition of some tulips even if they are only in a pot.  Richard Wilford is well placed to write about tulips.  He has worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for 26 years with a particular interest in bulbs and is a member of the RHS’s Bulb Committee. This is not his first outing as a writer since he wrote Tulips, Species and Hybrids for the Gardener, also for Timberpress, which was published in 2006 as well as Alpines: From Mountain to Garden (2010) and Growing Garden Bulbs (2013) both published by Kew.

Richard starts out by giving a little bit of a history lesson and then explaining that there are 3 main ways you can grow tulips in your garden: mass bedding, in a mixed border or in pots.  For each approach he gives examples of which tulips best and illustrates his advice and recommendations appropriately so for bedding you have the obvious choice of the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland and for mixed borders and to a lesser degree containers he turns to Great Dixter for inspiration. There is a discussion on what plants would work well with the tulips in pots and the mixed border but to me of more interest were the paragraphs on planting tulips in a gravel garden, rock garden and unexpectedly a woodland garden.  I was very surprised that there were some tulips that would take some shade so welcomed a list of suitable varieties and the advice given about using tulips in this way.

The book then goes on to explain tulips as a genus and describe each of the 15 classification groups of tulips giving examples and some illustrations.  The language is straight forward and accessible so you don’t get in a muddle with petals, tepals, sepals and other such botanical lingo.  This section also identifies which groups generally flower when and interestingly which groups of tulips are good for naturalising.  I was interested to learn that tulips, unlike most other bulbs, do not bulk up their bulbs each year but produce a new bulb each year.  This means you need to ensure that the plant isn’t allowed to dry out before the foliage has died naturally or the plant will not have time to produce and bulk up the new bulb.  Understanding this helps you to understand why many tulips don’t do well if left in the ground year on year or even lifted and stored, unless you can given the bulbs the right conditions.  It left me thinking that in future I will concentrate on those groups of tulips which might naturalise.

Then you have 100 different tulips set out for you, arranged in colour groupings, with each variety given a page and well illustrated. The entries give a little history of the variety and detailed description as well as telling you the classification group, height, bloom time, preferred growing conditions and suggestions for ways of using that variety in your borders, which other tulips or plants would work well with it and also some alternative but similar looking tulips.  I particularly liked the inclusion of alternatives as it does really depend on which bulb merchant you go to as to which variety might be available.

The final section covers planting tulips, including advice on growing in containers and also growing species tulips, what conditions they need, propagation and pests.  I was surprised that there was no mention of the predilection that badgers and many other rodents have for tulip bulbs, the section focussed on the tulip fire virus and slugs.  I suspect Richard may not have experienced the disastrous combination of tulips and badgers, indeed I rarely meet someone who has,  but I would have expected the book to mention the problems of mice and squirrels. As with all the books in this series there is a short section on where to buy and see tulips at the back including sources outside of the UK.

I enjoyed reading this book more than I was expecting to, I learnt some interesting bits of information and I found myself rethinking  the possibility of growing tulips in my garden albeit in containers. I know from social media that tulips seem to have become increasingly popular in recent years so if you are into your tulips or thinking about giving them a go I would recommend this book as it helps to demystify those classifications which you see in bulb catalogues and on websites and provides planting of inspiration on how to use these jewel like flowers in your garden.

 

Book Review: Outwitting Squirrels

 

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I was asked to review Anne Wareham’s latest book – ‘Outwitting Squirrels, and other garden pests and nuisances’. The book’s strap line intrigued me “101 cunning stratagems to reduce dramatically the egregious effects of garden pests and honest advice concerning your changes of success“. Knowing Anne I knew she would not hold back with her views and although I may not agree with her at least they would be well argued.

I hadn’t expected the book to be so amusing.  Anne has a way of presenting herself as quite a serious person, intent on debate and improving the way people write about and criticise gardens but there is real humour between the covers of this book right from the introduction.  And I was surprised to discover myself laughing out loud and agreeing with her from the get go.

The book looks at a range of pests and diseases but also nuisances which the gardener has to endure in their bid to achieve their idea of paradise. She has only written about those that she has personally encountered so sadly for me there is no reference to the dreaded badger.  In the introduction she states that many gardeners bring problems upon themselves in one of three ways either by growing vegetables and fruit, growing things in a greenhouse and/or by being a perfectionist or gardening with one. I have to admit my gardening life is a lot less stressful since I gave up growing edibles, a bit of slug damage doesn’t send me over the edge in the same way as caterpillar damage on the cabbages did.

We then have short chapters on various pests from deer down to slugs and snails and red spider mite.  Each chapter is a chatty amusing narrative full of anecdotes of situations Anne has encountered or heard about but at the same time you learn all sorts of interesting information such as your garden has on average 200 slugs per cubic metre (yuk!) She presents various solutions to the pest and her take on whether indeed they work and at the end of each chapter there is a quick reference dos and don’t of dealing with that pest.

Now what you need to realise is that this book is not a reference book with colour photographs of the pest or disease and step by step instructions of what to do.  Instead it reminds me of conversations I have had at local gardening clubs where people share their horror stories and you quickly learn that really there is no solution to whatever it is that is plaguing your garden so the best approach is to learn to live with whatever and to try to control it through observation and good gardening.  There are no quick solutions in gardening, what might work for one will not work for someone else and this is really Anne’s message.  Yes you can try all sorts of things to keep the deer/rabbits/cats out of our garden but at the end the day the only solution is to install a fence (over 6ft for deer!) or to learn to live with the problem.

I was particularly pleased to read the chapter on slug and snails where Anne points out that the real problems are the tiny earth dwelling slugs and that the only real solution is a small application of slug pellets early in the season which is followed up every couple of weeks – hooray at last common sense prevails! All this collecting slugs at night, beer traps, copper bands etc is a waste of time.  What you need is to keep your border tidy, encourage birds etc and to stop fussing about the danger of slug pellets as if you use them very sparingly they won’t harm the wildlife.

The book goes on to look at other problems such as box blight, clematis wilt and algae.  Having battled with algae for many years Anne has learned to accept it and to take a relaxed approach to fishing it out on a regular basis or alternatively adding black dye to the water.  The final section is on human related problems – people, experts, noise, legal problems, garden machinery etc.  The what to do conclusion under experts really sums up the ethos of the advice Anne is giving “Value your own opinion and experience; there are people who experiment and thereby save you having to do it – but it’s not a bad approach for you either. Talk to your neighbours. They may know some useful things about gardening conditions , but do add a pinch of salt, as they may know less than you do”.

I think the benefit of this book is it makes you laugh at the problems which can drive some gardeners insane.  It puts things into perspective and almost gives you permission to trust your own instincts and not to care quite so much.  After all gardening is meant to be relaxing and enjoyable not a daily challenge. It is a good read not to heavy in content, light-hearted but with a serious message.