Garden(ing) books and reviews


It’s always worth having some standard reference books on your shelves, ready to dip into when you need an answer straight away. We’ve reviewed just some of the books we’ve come across over the past few years – the titles speak for themselves, but read the reviews for more details. We’re planning more reviews – so come back again.

We’ve also listed popular books and newly published books for you to browse through. No doubt there are a lot more that we’ve missed, so let us know of any that you think should be on the list.

Top ten borrowed gardening books
Ground Force Practical Garden Projects by Tommy Walsh
Living with Plants by George Carter
Low Maintenance Bonsai by Herb Gustafson
Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants by Stefan Buczacki and Keith Harris
The Art of Japanese Gardens by Herb Gustafson
NGS: The Garden Visitor’s Handbook 2017. NGS Gardens Open for Charity (i.e. The Yellow Book)
Water Gardening by Philip Swindells
The Pocket Expert Series by Dr D G Hessayon

 Top ten borrowed gardening books

These are the latest figures published in 2013 by the Public Lending Right and relate to 2011/12 library lending figures.

1. Grow Your Own Veg by Carol Klein, Mitchell Beazley, 2007, ISBN: 9781845332938

2. How To Garden: Vegetables And Herbs by Alan Titchmarsh, BBC, 2009, ISBN: 9781846073960
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3. The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It by Alys Fowler, BBC, 2010, ISBN: 9781846079740
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4. Grow Your Own Garden: How to propagate all your own plants by Carol Klein, BBC, 2010 ISBN: 9781846078477
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5. The Kitchen Gardener: Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg by Alan Titchmarsh, BBC, 2008, ISBN: 9781846072017
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6. Joe’s Allotment: Planning and Planting a Productive Plot by Joe Swift; foreword by Toby Buckland, BBC
2009, ISBN: 9781846076725
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7. Allotment Month by Month by Alan Buckingham, Dorling Kindersley, 2009, ISBN: 9781405340854
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8. The Thrifty Gardener by Alys Fowler, Kyle Cathie, 2008, ISBN: 9781856267779

9. Small Garden by John Brookes, Dorling Kindersley, 2006, ISBN: 9781405312868

10. Grow your Own Fruit & Veg in Plot, Pots or Growbags by Steve Ott, Emma Rawlings & Roxanne Warwick, Foulsham, 2008, ISBN: 9780572034948

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Ground Force Practical Garden Projects
by Tommy Walsh

For a change, the builder of the Ground Force trio gets a look in with his own book of projects.

The format follows that of other Ground Force books and the TV show itself. Completed projects are there to inspire you, and step-by-step information enables you to copy various elements in your own garden. The time needed, a shopping list of materials required and their likely cost provide an invaluable addition to the description of each project.

Whatever the project, there’s a great deal in common, so the first chapter is devoted to general principles, safety considerations, hints, tips, and tricks of the trade. But surprisingly, considering the amount of Tanalised timber sawn up in the name of landscaping, there’s no mention of the care needed with dust and off-cuts. A material impregnated with compounds of arsenic, cadmium and chromium needs respect from sawyers who should always wear a dustmask and bin the sawdust and offcuts (never burn this waste).

Beginning with boundaries, the author competently covers walls, fences and screens before tackling turfing, which came as a surprise ingredient in such a book. Paths and steps from a variety of materials are other essentials that are dealt with, along with the inevitable timber decking. Techniques for decks direct on the ground and those that are elevated are both described.

With the garden infrastructure in place, the author then moves on to the frills. Arbour, pergola, obelisk, windowbox, raised bed, garden table and storage bin are all dealt with in a workmanlike way.

The whole approach to this book is to show you the principles to apply to any garden project that takes your fancy. So if you can drag yourself away from the TV, you can put the ideas into practice in days, if not hours.

Order details: Paperback published by BBC Books (ISBN 0 563 555147 X).

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Living with Plants by George Carter

At first glance, this book appears to be yet another for the coffee table. But a closer look reveals a bookful of ideas that will alter your approach to pot plants forever. Not so much a book about houseplants, this is more a book about displaying plants, often temporarily, in certain settings in the home.

The stunning photos of exactly the right plants and containers in beautifully designed and clutter-free interiors put us off this book to begin with. After all, most of us just don’t live in these sort of homes. But then the text reveals the thinking behind the ideas and suddenly you find that you can apply the same thinking to your own surroundings.

It’s not just the plants but the pot covers (cache pots) and the positioning that start you searching out spots in every room for something suitable.

Combined with the plant directory of over 120 photos plus descriptions and details of essential growing conditions, it’ll set you off to haunt florists and plant centres until you can find exactly what you need.

You’ll also discover new uses for ordinary household objects. Woven wastepaper baskets, old pots and pans, trugs and tumblers are just some ideas used so well.

Highlighted plants include ferns, grasses and herbs in addition to cacti and bulbs. Not just traditional indoor plants either, but plenty of garden plants are shown at their best. You just have to become used to the idea of temporary displays along with something that’s strangely alien to many houseplant gardeners – throwing out a plant that’s no longer attractive.

A range of styles is covered in the book, so most readers will find something appropriate to their interior decor. We certainly have.

Order details: Hardback published by Mitchell Beazley (ISBN 1 84000 181 X).

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Low Maintenance Bonsai by Herb Gustafson

Many a gardener must have cast an envious glance over the bonsai displayed in other people’s gardens and at shows, then decided against growing these elegant miniature trees for fear of dismal failure.

But with the help of Herb Gustafson’s book, you can take on bonsai with confidence. However busy you might be, it is possible to grow bonsai with success, and the author spells it out clearly and concisely with colour photographs to emphasise his point.

The author launches into the subject by first dealing with containers and their pros and cons. With such shallow roots compared to top growth and foliage, bonsai can easily die of drought during hot weather unless you can water them throughout the day. So for low maintenance, the choice of container is critical, although the author doesn’t abandon traditions and aesthetics.

He suggests suitable plans for the busy novice, with advice on choosing from the range on sale. He also gives a guide to the right mix of compost, plus re-potting instructions. Feeding and watering are also covered, with time-saving tips, such as automatic drip irrigation. Common pests and diseases are also described and, where necessary, remedies are suggested.

In addition to the simple guidelines to ensure thriving plants, the author also explains the how, why and when of pruning and shaping, which is the very essence of bonsai.

Enough detail to encourage you, but not enough to overwhelm a beginner, this book serves as a good practical introduction to the art of bonsai. By following this professional advice, success is much more certain, so be warned – you could be heading for an all-absorbing hobby.

Order details: Paperback published by David & Charles (ISBN: 0715309870)

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Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants by Stefan Buczacki and Keith Harris

The most common question in gardening must be: ‘What’s wrong with this plant?’, closely followed by: ‘What do I do about it?’ This recently-revised edition (the 3rd so far) goes a long way to answering these eternal questions.

It’s a bewilderingly wild world in the garden, with our plants facing an onslaught from pests, fungi, viruses, bacteria, not to mention the weather and underdesirable soil conditions. And the rows of potions at the garden centrea are equally bewildering.

To guide you through the maze, the authors have drawn up a key to particular problems and their solutions. First you look up the plant name. Common or garden names are given, cross-referenced to Latin names, so you don’t need to know the plant’s scientific name at the outset. Then you check the details of the symptoms, matching them up with one of over 600 photos of more common problems. The key directs you to the relevant page, where general blurb gives you the background to the pest, disease or disorder, before suggesting an appropriate treatments, if necessary.

If you’re looking for organic remedies, these are explained in the introductory chapter. This is because they are general (such as choosing resistant plants or picking off pests) and would be repetitive if included in each pest and disease entry. The introductory chapter also gives a very good overview of plant problems and how to prevent as many as possible from blighting our garden.

A book to dip into rather than read from cover to cover (the sheer number of potential problems is frightening), it’s a valuable up-to-date reference for gardeners. There are plenty of pictorial guides to pests and diseases, but this one goes that much further to help you time your treatments correctly and prevent future problems.

Ordering details: Hardback published by Harper Collins (ISBN: 0007196822).

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The Art of Japanese Gardens by Herb Gustafson

If you’ve been inspired by Japanese-style gardens then you’ll find this book will help you choose those Japanese elements that will enhance your garden in general and your pond in particular.

The sub-title says it all: ‘Designing and making your own peaceful space’. Written for readers with no prior knowledge of the Japanese style, there are plenty of photographs to illustrate the author’s points. He’s well qualified to make them too, having worked and studied in Japan and China.

The book’s layout, text and photographs reflect the style that he describes, clearly guiding readers from one vital aspect to the next without cluttering up the pages or your mind.

The explanations and ideas move logically from boundaries, so often ignored by gardeners and so often spoiling the effect, to the use of rocks large and small, water, structures and ornaments.

The chapter on water concentrates on construction and design, with some pertinent observations from a USA viewpoint. Fortunately, we don’t face the problem of attracting apparently undesirable raccoons and opossums, to name a few.

Having covered the detail, the author turns his thoughts to the different styles of garden possible, gives tips on training trees, and lists plants in groups according to use. The plant list includes botanical names, which is useful since the common names are those of North America and don’t always ring a bell with us British.

With his explanations of why certain elements are included, instead of just listing what, interspersed with practical tips, this book will help you to adopt the Japanese style to suit your site and your pocket.

Ordering details: Published in hardback by David & Charles (ISBN: 0715309862); paperback by Sterling (ISBN 0806917784).

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NGS: The Garden Visitor’s Handbook 2017. A guide to thousands of gardens in England and Wales.

Review by Alec & Val Scaresbrook

Foyles for booksYellow Book cover page

No matter what the winter has been like, there’s one yellow herald of spring that appears without fail. And yellow is an appropriate colour for a book containing a gold mine of gardens.

The Yellow Book (now called NGS: The Garden Visitor’s Handbook) reveals private gardens from Kent to Cumbria that are opened for charity. Whatever your level of interest in gardens, these places make excellent afternoons out in superb surroundings. Also listed are the many gardens that are regularly open to the public and donate a percentage of the takings to the National Gardens Scheme.

This charitable trust is run solely by volunteers so that every penny possible can be handed over to the nursing, caring and educational charities that it supports (over fifteen million pounds have been raised over the last ten years).

Arranged county by county, with a summary of opening dates, it’s a simple matter to see what options there are for your next free day. With over 3,700 gardens to choose from (including new ones for this year), this descriptive directory is invaluable wherever you are.

To help you visit around the country, there’s even a list of around 150 gardens where accommodation is on offer – self-catering, bed & breakfast, or hotel.
Buy from Foyles for books, Waterstones or Wordery (UK)

Scottish/Scotland’s Yellow Book

Contact details for similar schemes in other countries (including Gardens of Scotland 2018 (Scotlands Gardens Scheme) are also given in the book.

Ordering details: Paperback published annually in February (but can be pre-ordered) by The National Gardens Scheme .

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Water Gardening by Philip Swindells

Part of a series of books that together make up The RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening, this book provides thorough coverage of the nuts and bolts of water gardening. If you only have room for one water gardening book on your shelf, this is it. However, Koi keepers will need to look elsewhere for their one-and-only reference.

This workaday manual doesn’t concern itself with glossy photos but gets stuck in with do’s, don’ts and how-to’s accompanied by plenty of line drawings to support the text. First published in 1993 and reprinted three times, this 191-page book has obviously been well thumbed by many aspiring water gardeners and is just one legacy of this highly respected author, who died in 2007.

The author includes a water-gardening glossary, explains the pool ecosystem, covers area/volume/flowrate calculations, lists tools and equipment and discusses lighting. Siting and design are dealt with thoroughly before the chapters on construction of various pool types, moving water features, bog gardens, containers, stepping stones, bridges and indoor pools.

Plants, fish and pool maintenance are also covered in plenty of detail (for non-Koi keepers, that is), with the piece de resistance being the step-by-step drawings to show you how to collect ants’ eggs to feed your fish.

This is the book to use once you’ve gained inspiration from all those coffee-table books and gardening programmes. With a clear aim in mind, you’ll be able to install your water garden competently by following the sound advice of this experienced water gardener.

Order details:
Paperback published by Mitchell Beazley/Octopus (ISBN 1 84000159 3)

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The Pocket Expert Series by Dr D G Hessayon

Review by Alec & Val Scaresbrook

The Expert series of books covering the major topics in gardening are good value reference guides, so it’s no wonder that they are best sellers. Written by Dr D G Hessayon, they are available as paperbacks, and more recently some of these have been redesigned as slim pocket books for easier use when gardening or choosing plants and products in the garden centre, where it’s so easy to be dazzled by the selection and distracted from your purpose.

There are currently five titles in the Pocket series, all illustrated in colour:

The Pocket Tree & Shrub Expert is the one we turn to most often as a quick guide to the care of the commonest garden trees and shrubs (but excluding roses). It’s a particularly useful aide-memoire for ultimate size, flowering times and pruning.

The Pocket Flower Expert similarly deals with a myriad of flowering gardening plants.

The Pocket Vegetable Expert contains general instructions for vegetable growing plus the essential details for particular crops including a calendar with sowing, growing and harvesting periods.

The Pocket House Plant Expert provides at-a-glance information on preferred room temperatures and sun or shade needs, watering and other essential care details.

The Pocket Garden Troubles Expert is about all the things you hope won’t happen to your flowers, fruit, vegetables or lawn. However, it’s useful to have this book on hand to identify a problem and a solution quickly before more damage occurs.

Publishing details: Paperbacks published by Transworld Publishers.


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