The Casual Gardener: Best Books for Gardeners

From personal testimonies to hard info on tending cactuses it's been a pretty good year for books with a gardening bent

Monty Don's Down to Earth is the 'distillation of 50 years of gardening experience'

:: Success with Succulents by John Bagnasco and Rob Reidmuller

Succulents are a wonderfully varied family of plants that are great for indoors and out. Designed to help you pick the perfect plants and care for them, whether on the windowsill or in the rockery, this book profiles 100 of the most popular succulents and cactuses. Its pages are filled with both well-known and unusual species, all of which share an alien quality. From colour combinations, sizes and shapes, and placement to ideal soil selection, container growing, watering, fertilising, grooming, and propagation, learn everything you need to know about growing succulents.

:: Place-making: The Art of Capability Brown by John Phibbs

The hardback version of this book retails at £60 but then again Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was a big hitter in his 18th century heyday and his legacy prevails today across acres of landscaped England and Wales. Despite the offer of a handsome reward from the Duke of Leinster James Fitzgerald, Brown could not be enticed to Ireland. Apparently it was nothing personal, just that he believed there was still much of his homeland that needed ‘improving'. But we can enjoy his influence, evident on estates such as Castle Ward in Co Down and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park on the edge of south Belfast. As well as acting as a guide to the impressive roll call of parks and stately homes that Brown transformed, this book looks at what motivated and influenced the man many have compared to JS Turner. John Phibbs also explains how Brown's quintessentially English designs featured forward-thinking elements of agriculture and forestry.

:: The Salad Garden by Joy Larkom

Now in her 80s, Joy Larkom is known as the ‘The Queen of Veg'. For the past 15 years she's gardened in west Cork, not far from Clonakilty. Her strength lies in an extensive knowledge of vegetables, that crosses freely between horticultural and culinary perspectives. She is credited with popularising many new varieties of vegetable from 1970s onwards, especially edible kitchen crops from the Orient. The Salad Garden is a revised edition of a book first published in 1984, which was the fruits of her transcontinental 'Grand Vegetable Tour' of Europe. Its influence on chefs and gardeners alike can't be overstated. In a millennium BBC Food programme it was nominated by horticulturalist Michael Michaud as his ‘book of the century'. The updated edition recognises the growing numbers of gardeners with small spaces, and emphasises techniques and varieties suited to patios, window boxes, containers, and small raised beds. There updates too on the latest, improved varieties of salad plants, as well as new plants such as Cucamelon, marsh plant Salsola.

:: Down to Earth – Monty Don (Dorling Kindersley)

The Gardeners' World presenter describes this book as “the distillation of 50 years of gardening experience” and it includes all the tips and nuggets that should enable the reader to make a success of their garden. Written in his trademark conversational style, Down To Earth offers a month-by-month guide to maintaining a healthy and productive garden, while also providing advice on colour, design, pests, pruning, composting, containers, and much more. Illustrated with photographs of his Long Meadow garden, this book is an ideal gift for any aspiring gardener.

:: Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter's Year by Zoë Devlin

Dublin-based Devlin is the ‘queen of Irish wildflowers', who's been recording and mapping native flora across four provinces for the best part of five decades. Her books are as informative and detailed as any textbook yet they also have plenty of humanity. In Blooming Marvellous she sets out to bring the collector's zeal to life with a collection of passages documenting her encounters with particular flowers. Each chapter in this book, which is illustrated with Devlin's own photographs, celebrates a particular month, capturing the beauty and joy it has to offer: birds, butterflies, mammals and even tasty recipes, from nettle soup in April to blackberry-and-apple jam in September.

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