Book Reviews

It’s not just cookbooks that seem to be breeding in large numbers these days, gardening books are not far behind. Driven by the same ‘lifestyle’ marketing urge publishers are now targetting gardeners with the same high production value fodder that have previously been fed to the home cook.

Two books that I’m looking at today are certainly on the higher quality end of current offers. Monty Don’s The Complete Gardener and Meredith Kirton’s Harvest: the complete Australian guide to the edible garden. Both books come courtesy of the ACT Public Library system and I’d certainly recommend borrowing them for your personal assessment before leaping out and buying your own copy.

Following the screening of Around the World in 80 Gardens on the ABC last year Monty Don (Montydon, all run together it reminds me of the name of a friendly dinosaur) has quickly risen in the consciousness of Australian gardeners. Of course Monty is a well-established figure in the UK gardening scene. Not surprisingly his books, including the eponymous book of the TV series, The Ivington Diaries (the story of the development of his own garden) and now The Complete Gardener have hit our bookstores in rapid succession. The Complete Gardener is worked around all aspects of gardening using his own garden as the basis for this book. This is a great book. The general suggestions for laying out gardens and the broad information on plants is all good stuff – if only we all gardened in England. There is no denying that if it were as simple as just changing the dates by six months so you know when to plant your veggies and remembering to turn your south-facing into north-facing etc, I could live with this, but the general assumptions about soil conditions and watering are just too different to the majority of Australian conditions to be relevant. If you have read The Ivington Diaries and are desperate to re-create Monty’s ‘Jewel’ garden then this book will give you the information. Otherwise give this book the flick and try and find something that is relevant to the country you live in. PS if you are looking up Monty’s books in the ACT Library system you’ll need to do an author search on Montagu Don (none of this easy familiarity here).

I had hoped that Meredith Kirton’s book Harvest was such a book – but it is not to be. I really liked the start of this book plenty of sound and relevant information on setting up your garden, good planting guides, great tips (like composting in a bag if you don’t have soil to run a heap), chooks, insects both friendly and otherwise, organics, biodynamics, permaculture and so on. Where did it go wrong? I think the answer lies in the broad sweep of the book – remember that little word ‘guide’ in the subtitle? This book covers the complete range of contemporary edible gardening in Australia from Wild Foods, Edible Weeds, Aquatics and Spices not to mention all your common or garden vegetables. Somewhere along the line someone said ‘great lets get everything in – but you can only write 75 words on any one plant’ (I may exaggerate, but not much). Like those shallow lagoons you wade out into and wade and wade and never can get in deep enough to swim, that’s what I felt about this book. Given that the hard copy edition of Harvest weighs in at 1.7kgs already why not go the whole hog and go for the gardening equivalent of Stephanie Alexander’s Cooks Companion at 2.2kgs, or Maggie Beer’s Maggies Harvest at 2.5kgs. We’ve seen how well those books have sold because they really deliver the goods. I’m really sorry that in Meredith’s case that someone had a failure of nerve. Marlon I mean Meredith you could have been a contender!

As for me it’s back to the 1979 edition of the Readers Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening – until something better comes along.



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