Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Pleasing Perennials: The Curious Gardener

New gardening books come out every month, and all of them are competing for shelf space, attention and sales. I get sent a fair few to review, and most are well-written and informative and of interest to their target audience. Very few, however, have the individuality - the sense of bringing something new to the genre - that guarantees them a space on the shelf for life, and so I thought I would dig out and celebrate the books with which I have an emotional connection. These are the books I would replace if there was a fire (I don't have any books that I would rescue from a fire!).

First up is 'The Curious Gardener', which brings together three of German gardener Jurgen Dahl's works. Jurgen Dahl is (sadly) no longer with us, but I have the hardback edition of this book, which was the first place these three works appeared in English translation. A new paperback edition was published earlier this year.

There aren't that many photographs, and the ones it has are black and white. This is a book for readers - the text itself is what's important here, and it's well worth taking the time to read it.

The first work, "Gardening Virtues and Botanical Surprises", takes us through the four seasons in Dahl's eclectic garden. Dahl grew each and every plant because of a joy in all plants - he wanted to meet each species individually, get to know them and share his fascination. Some grew happily in his garden (in the author photograph he is all but hidden by an enormous gunnera). Others didn't, and Dahl kept a pot of old plant labels in remembrance of plants past.

In "The Stinking Garden" we meet all kinds of scented plants, from the common and pleasant scents of the mint family to plants that mimic body odour, or use their scents to attract prey. The same sense of wonder is present for every plant, fair or foul - Dahl certainly doesn't play favourites.

"How to eat a lily" is more concerned with edible plants, including blue potatoes, edible weeds and blackberries. There is a discussion about the longevity of seeds and notes about the beauty of faded seed heads.

His writing, even in translation, is so inspiring that it makes you want to rush out and check on whether a plant in the garden has started flowering, set seed or simply responded to a change in the weather. Your gardening To Do list will become ever longer as Dahl suggests plants to try and ideas will pop into your head whenever you dip into the book.

Everything is an experiment that can be repeated by the reader. Which is not to say that Dahl writes as a dispassionate, scientific researcher. His opinions are clear, whether he is talking about ground cover plants, weeds, or his hay collection. He obviously loved trying new and unusual plants, and spent a lot of time reading through old horticultural records.

This is not a conventional gardening book, because Dahl was not a conventional gardener. He was a man who had a life-long love affair with plants, and who tried to share some of his wonder and fascination through his writing. The photographs may only be in black and white, but Dahl's plants will shine in your imagination and send you outside to find the magic for yourself.

Book details (by request)
'The Curious Gardener', By Jurgen Dahl.
Paperback edition from Timber Press, Mar 2010, ISBN 978-1604692020
Available from Amazon UK.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Expect the Unexpected

Flange Member Mark Diacono’s new book “A Taste of the Unexpected” was published last Friday.

Those, lucky enough to get their mitts on advance copies, seem wholly enamoured with it as reviews here, here and here attest.

I’ve still to have a fulsome dekko myself , but I was quite amused at the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall quote on the cover “This book will change what you grow, cook and eat forever”. I suspect Mark was too.

But it did raise in my mind the questions “Do garden books change peoples’ lives? And if so which ones? And why?”