Thursday, 16 October 2008

Book Review - The Thrifty Gardener – Alys Fowler

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. My expectations were of a book full of sensible, down to earth advice and ideas and I wasn’t, in the end, disappointed.

The book is divided into 9 chapters which lead the novice gardeners from ‘No garden gardening’ to pruning and propagating and includes a directory of easy veg and flowers to grow. However, unlike other gardening books I have encountered this one had a very urban and modern feel and certainly engaged with society’s current preoccupation with recycling and sustainability as shown in the section on ‘skip diving’ which rather surprised provincial me!! At first I though I wasn’t going to be able to engage with the book, being naturally drawn to those coffee table books with lots of sumptuous English country garden. I thought, as it was aimed at beginners, it couldn’t teach me anything new – how presumptuous of me!
Alys’ wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm shines through on every page as does her non-nonsense personality which is humorously demonstrated in the section about DIY tools ( I told you it wasn’t your normal gardening book!). Alys says that you need to find someone to teach you how to use tools and in her experience this shouldn’t be someone who "complain(s) about your driving skills" but rather "someone you are never going to go to bed with" – such sensible advice!

Whilst the book contains a number of DIY projects such as building your own compost bin and wormery, it also contains a lot of sensible gardening advice – some of which goes against everything else you will have read, such as her opinion that shop bought soil testing kits are a complete waste of time and money, the alternative either send a soil sample to a lab or use a home grown test kit complete with red cabbage leaf! I found Alys’ honest approach very refreshing and humorous.

Having encouraged the novice gardener to move from container gardening (which includes tips on growing Avocado and Papaya plants) into garden gardening the books then gives some tips on preparing soil, sowing and propagating and concludes with coping with gluts and how to make herb teas. This last section came as a surprise and this was one element of the book which I found frustrating. It touched on many subjects but not in great detail and you were left turning the page and finding yourself going in a totally different direction. I think there is a huge potential for Alys to develop some of the smaller sections in the book into a range of excellent companion books.

Although this book claims to be aimed at beginners, and it certainly doesn’t assume any pre-knowledge, taking trouble to explain various terminology, I do think that most gardeners would find it a welcome edition to their literature collection. If nothing else it makes you re-look at things you have taken for granted and introduces you to new points of view which can never be a bad thing.

Having started thinking I could learn nothing new from the book I am now itchy for spring to arrive so I can have a go at growing my own chickpea plant and I don’t even like chickpeas.



Yolanda Elizabet said...

Sounds like a great book to buy. I personally am not that keen on coffe table books with zillions of pics of perfect gardens. Perfects gardens do not excist, even Sissinghurst is not perfect and they have garden staff coming out of their ears. Give me a real garden, anytime. :-)

patientgardener said...

Yes but its nice to dream

VP said...

Great review Helen. I see that Gardens Illustrated have extracted the 'Make Your Own Compost Bin' chapter this month. I had a good browse of this book in Waterstones a few weeks ago and it looks a good buy.

NB Skip raids are essential when you've got an allotment!