Although I write book reviews for several of my regular markets, there are some books that simply need to be recommended to the widest possible audience. That's not to say that hundreds and thousands will read this blog for my book suggestions, but good books ought to be promoted wherever possible. Poorly written books, on the other hand, don't deserve reviewing at all. I'd rather ignore a book completely than give it a negative review, which gives it attention. Far better to spend time to applauding and promoting well written books, rather than venting spleen on one that is poorly written, inaccurate or otherwise scorn-worthy.
Bob Flowerdew is the sort of gardening neighbour I would dearly love to have. Yes, he gardens 'across the pond' in England, but don't let that put you off. This is no garden snob: he's the sort of garden cheerleader I try to be, with all the knowledge I hope to one day have. The first thing Flowerdew does is be reassuring: "Your garden is better than you think", he writes, continuing:
"All real gardens always have something that has still to flower or has gone over, a patch that needs weeding, and without doubt, a plethora of pests and diseases if you make the effort to look for them. Yet these same gardens are beautiful and beloved, productive of fruit and flower; many are considered superb by most of their visitors. The point is: a garden is surely to be enjoyed, not fretted over."
AMEN! If you take away nothing else but this from his book, or from my blog or scads of other garden writings, clasp these truths to your heart and your grubby, callous and dirty-nailed hands. Most of us are gardening for the sheer joy of watching plants grow--perhaps to help feed ourselves and beautify our surroundings too, but not as a matter of life and death. If the tomatoes get blight, well, then we'll buy tomatoes from a local farmer or hope our neighbour's are unscathed. If a plant dies, we'll figure out why and plant another one or something different.
With this gentle encouragement laid out, Flowerdew sets the stage for making our garden as successful and problem-free as possible. There CAN be problems with a garden, of course, and the trick is to determine what are real problems versus what are little annoyances. For the little annoyances, a little laissez-faire is in order; for the more serious problems, there are remedies.
Prevention, we are told, is a good medicine, and Flowerdew outlines some mistakes to avoid, from planting more garden than we can handle to falling for every garden gadget under the sun. As with any talent, gardening is a skill and we learn to refine those skills from weeding effectively (without killing our backs) to learning whether, what and when to prune, to the gentle wonderful art of making more plants. There will still be bad things that can happen to good plants, and Flowerdew is good at explaining the what and why of these things as well as what we can do about fixing them. He does so from an organic perspective because he has been gardening organically for most of his life, but he is also qualified in pesticide use so that he knows all the options for dealing with garden problems.
Sometimes English gardening books are a little too UK specific, as much of the climate there is rather different from those of us in most of Canada and the US. Flowerdew's books tend to be broad spectrum in their wisdom, although some of his entries in his calendar of pastimes' are the exception: I can't imagine cutting grass in late winter 'if no frost is likely' and the ground is not going to be workable here for planting out shrubs and trees. However, these are minor quibbles that most of us will be aware of, and that novice gardeners can easily check on by chatting with other local gardeners or their extension offices.
The cheery, encouraging tone of Flowerdew's writing coupled with his prodigious knowledge is what brings me back to his books, and I wholeheartedly recommend this for any gardener, flower or fruit and vegetable, who wants to grow great plants without making a chemical assault on the earth and its denizens.