Category Archives: Books

RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

Editor-in-chief Christopher Brickell.

If I want to identify a plant that I have seen somewhere this is the book I turn to. It has sat on my bookshelf for over twenty years and has been referred to on numerous occasions.
The book is in two main sections; the Plant Catalogue and the Plant Directory. There you will find photographs, descriptions and cultivation advice for thousands of plants.

Illustration from the RHS encyclopedia.

The Plant Catalogue has 4,000 plants divided into groups: Trees; Shrubs; Roses; Climbers; Perennials and many, many more. If you know a plant but cannot recall its name, have a specimen that you want to identify, or simply wish to choose plants for your garden based on their size or colouring, the plant catalogue is the place to start.

The headings on each page reflect the way in which each plant group is subdivided – usually by size and main season of interest. Colour photographs assist in the identification and selection of plants.

The Plant Directory contains entries on every genus in the Catalogue section and expands on the information contained there, such as the distinctive characteristics, hardiness, cultivation, propagation and so on. It gives the botanical names, synonyms and common names for the plants. If you know the name of a plant and want to find out what it looks like the Directory is the place to start. Look up the plant name and then associate it with a picture in the Catalogue section.

First published in 1989 and now in its fifth edition, it has sold over 3 million copies. I would say this was an essential for any gardeners’ bookshelf.

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Small Garden by John Brookes book review

Hundreds of brilliant ideas for small spaces.

Photo copyright Small Garden by John Brookes.

If you have a outside space, however small, in town, suburb or country, design and style can transform it for your use and delight, writes this books author John Brookes.

In a chapter called ‘Living Rooms’ the book suggests that planting is just one of the design elements of a garden. It might contain sculpture, some water and a minimum of planting. On the other hand there can be an enormous attraction in creating a dense jungle in a tiny urban space.

The key to realizing the potential of your small space, in both visual and practical terms, is design. This involves planning and styling your space so that it suits your way of life, as well as the character of your home and its surroundings. This book is packed with pictures of attractive patio and garden areas from which to get ideas.

John Brookes tells us to “Think of your space as an extension to your home”. An outside room where you can eat, read, admire a view, or watch your children play. The key is to ask yourself how you want to use your ‘room’ and then set about making it a pleasant place to be.

This is a must have book for a small garden or a small designed area. There are detailed photographs to inspire the reader with styles and designs for most types of outdoor space, whether you love partying, cooking, drinking, playing or relaxing.

Right Plant, Right Place by Nicola Ferguson book review

Over 1400 Selected Plants for Every Situation in the Garden.

This book has been my plant bible for over 20 years. I use it to suggest plants for those places where regular plants do not do well. For example, part of my front garden only gets a glimpse of the morning sun and then spends the rest of the day in the shadow of the house. When we moved here our back garden was heavy clay with all the top soil scraped away by the builders. Years of plant growing and composting has improved the soil but at the beginning I was glad of some suggestions as to what would do well.

Illustration from Right Plant Right Place.

The book is divided into sections such as ‘Plants suitable for heavy clay soils’, ‘Plants suitable for dry soils in hot, sunny sites’, ‘Plants tolerant of dense shade’, and so on.

Each plant suggestion has a photograph and information about its flowering season, colour and height. This is followed by a paragraph describing the plants particular features and where it is best grown.

The large pages generally have six plants to a page. The way I have used the book is to go to the section that best describes the area I want to plant, such as damp shade, and then choose some plants from the suggestions. I can then go to my local Garden Centre and select the plants from of position of knowledge.

My version of the book was published in 1986. It was re-published in hardcover in 2005. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is planting out a new garden or to someone who is going to make major changes to their planting scheme.

Patio Produce book review

How to Cultivate a Lot of Home-grown Vegetables from the Smallest Possible Space.

A recent survey suggested that five million people wanted to ‘live the good life’ and keep chickens, grow some of their own food and somehow achieve a level of self sufficiency, writes the books author Paul Peacock. He sets about showing the reader in simple practical terms just how much is possible in the smallest space.

In the first chapter called ‘The environment of the patio’ Paul Peacock writes about the basics of growing in pots and containers. He tells us that containers should provide all the requirements for a plant to grow well with the added bonus of being able to move them around to suit your needs. As a plant grows too large for a space you can move it elsewhere, or you can rotate your pots so that the plants might get their turn of good sunlight.

There is some useful advice about watering. Rain that falls on the open garden will be soaked up by the soil like a giant sponge; where as much of the water falling on the patio will not benefit the pots and containers. For this reason they need more watering. Unfortunately any excess water tends to wash out the nutrients in the soil. For this reason they need feeding more. The suggestion is to water with a weak solution of fertiliser.

Carrot growbag.

In a section on grow bags there is a useful tip for growing carrots; put the bag on its side and open the upper edge. We are told that carrots grown this way are long, thick and fantastically tasty. You can also grow potatoes this way.

The ordinary plastic bags from the supermarket are also useful to the patio gardener, writes Paul Peacock. You can hang them up by their handles and use them as impromptu hanging baskets. They are also good for lining wooden tubs and planters.

The gardening suggestions are easy to follow and clearly presented by an enthusiastic author. This is a great book for anybody growing their own vegetables no matter how much space they have.

Illustrations copyright Patio Produce.

Vegetable Growing Month-by-Month book review

The down-to-earth guide that takes you through the vegetable year.

In the introduction to this book author John Harrison says “When I set up my allotment website I became aware of how many people were growing their own vegetables for the first time. These new vegetable growers were looking for a simple, straightforward guide, written in plain English that told them what to do and when to do it.”

This is exactly what John Harrison has provided in the paperback sized book. Don’t expect a coffee table book with lots of glossy pictures. This is a handy sized, low cost book that you can keep in your potting shed to refer to as needed.

One suggestion that appeals to me as a self confessed idle gardener is “little and often”. Half an hour with a hoe one evening and half an hour sewing the next evening is better than planning an entire day in the garden at the weekend. This short time in the garden gives you time to wind down from the stress of the day.

The opening chapter answers the question “Why grow your own vegetables”. The first suggestion is that gardening is a wonderful form of exercise, and it saves the expense of going to the gym. Another suggested benefit is to the environment, because the food has not travelled far to get to your table. Then there is the fun and satisfaction you can get by growing your own.

In the chapter entitled “Where to grow and preparing to grow” the author tells us you don’t need a huge garden in which to grow your own vegetables. He tells of a friend who lives in a third floor flat and grows salad crops, tomatoes, carrots and beans on her balcony and even managed red cabbages in a pot. If you get on well with your small garden you might decide to expand on to an allotment as John Harrison did.

However small your garden, this book will help you to get started with vegetable growing.

Grow Your Own Garden book review

I have been reading Grow Your Own Garden: How to Propagate All Your Own Plants by Carol Klein. It is a pleasure to find a book on propagation in plain English that I don’t need a degree in horticulture to understand. Carol is obsessive about propagation. I have seen her own garden, Glebe Cottage in Devon, on Gardeners’ World and it is almost grown entirely from cuttings and seeds. In this book she’s on a assignment to share her enjoyment in working with nature to cultivate the plants she loves.

The illustrations really help to see what the words are saying and follow through from start to finish. Carol’s style of writing is infectious and makes you want to get out there and actually do it rather than thinking you might get around to it one day. I’ve got several pots of fledgling cuttings within a week of getting the book as evidence.

Too often gardeners are intimidated by propagation, assume it’s not for them and go for ready-grown plants from the garden centre. But Carol, a gifted communicator with her infectious enthusiasm, boundless horticultural expertise and easy practical explanations, shows just how simple and satisfying it is to grow your own plants, not to mention sustainable and cheap.

She demonstrates, step-by-step, how to divide herbaceous perennials, nurture seedlings or grow new stock from root cuttings, stems or leaves, showing how there is no mystique involved and anybody can do it. Unlike many books that tell you how to take a cutting etc but they don’t tell you what to do with them afterwards, in “Grow Your Own Garden Carol” offers a refreshing new approach to propagation, and, just as she did with “Grow Your Own Veg”, she brings her own unique style to an inspirational, accessible and practical guide that will have great appeal to novices and more experienced gardeners alike.

Grow Your Own Garden is a well designed and illustrated, clear, practical manual, which is also beautiful and readable enough just to browse. It is useful for both novices and experienced gardeners.

A brilliant book, full of detail and all the information you need to get you up and running with all things concerned with propagation. It is a must buy book for the enthusiastic gardener. It is available from Amazon UK.