Saturday, 1 November 2008

Book Review - Gardeners’ World Top Tips – A Treasury of Garden Wisdom

Victoria contacted me earlier this week – would I like to have her review copy of the latest Gardeners’ World book published last week? She suggested it would be a suitable prize for my Open Garden fundraiser, so how could I refuse such an offer? I also rather liked the idea of reviewing the book for Flange readers seeing The Garden Monkey’s rather busy at the moment.

First impressions are favourable. It’s hardback with a rather jolly dustjacket harking back to simpler times in the garden. Even the snail on the cover looks friendly. It’s written by Louise Hampden – Gardeners’ World’s producer and announces itself as ‘Hints, tips and wisdom from TV’s longest running and most popular gardening programme…’ I met Louise very briefly at Gardeners’ World Live in June when we exchanged pleasantries during the filming of Gardeners’ World. She’s worked on the programme for the past 10 years, so knows the programme and the last few crops of presenters inside out. According to the press release that came with the book, it’s a tie-in with a 20 part daytime TV series due to start on 1st December. However, there’s no mention of this fact in the book itself.

It’s divided into 5 chapters – Flower Power, Food, Design, Pots and Gardens. Flower Power is further divided by season and looks at how to ensure year-round floral interest in the garden. Several of the book’s shortcomings quickly become apparent: a lot of the content whilst interesting, isn’t really tips at all – there’s potted histories, quotations from famous gardeners (not necessarily Gardeners’ World presenters) and plant trivia. The ‘Top Tips’ themselves (helpfully boxed, with a different font and background, so you can’t miss them) are often pitched at the pre-beginner level. I suspect most of the gardeners whom I believe this book is aimed at will feel a bit short changed. For a book that’s meant to be culled from 40 years of Gardeners’ World wisdom, it’s strange there’s not more tips to share, nor is there much in the way of anecdotes or content attribution to the presenters. I often found the best ‘Top Tips’ were in the non-boxed sections, for example there’s an organic slug repellent recipe I’d love to try using garlic. And that’s when I met another of the book’s shortcomings – there isn’t an index to find the useful bits at a later date. So if I want to return to the book in the spring to cook up my garlic slug repellent, I’ll have to remember the recipe’s in the Flower Power chapter, in the Summer section and somewhere in the part called Dealing with Slugs and Snails. Hmm.

The chapters on Food, Design and Pots are in a similar vein. I thought the Design chapter was the strongest and most coherent in its content and advice – probably because it’s documenting a journey from start to finish with some clearly signposted ‘things to think about’ along the way. In contrast, the Gardens section was woefully inadequate at just 4 pages. This is the chapter meant to reflect the hundreds of gardens and nurseries Gardeners’ World has visited and should give readers some must-see places to explore later. However, there’s no mention of Kew, nor the National Trust or English Nature. You could argue these are obvious, but if that’s so, then why mention the RHS gardens or the Yellow Book? The NCCPG is mentioned fleetingly, but no contact details are given if anyone wants to find out where to visit a garden with a specific plant collection. There’s two pages of suggested gardens to visit and I liked the way this is divided into places reflecting the other chapters of the book. However at two pages in length and with 10 sub-headings it means many readers won’t have anywhere to go nearby if they want to visit one with for example, Winter interest. Simply doubling the length of this chapter, with a better researched set of websites and contact details would have made it a much more useful resource.

You may think I don’t rate this book from what I’ve said so far. However, much of it is utterly charming. The plentiful line drawings are lovely and much of the information is interesting. I did have quite a few ‘Oh I didn’t know that’ moments which kept me turning the pages. It would have been so much better if the book had tried to be good at one thing instead of two. As a reference book it fails, but as a miscellany to dip into at bedtime, it works.

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