Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book Review: James Wong's Homegrown Revolution


This is a fabulous book. James' easy and infectiously enthusiastic TV style translates well to the written page. Homegrown Revolution is all about more than 80 unusual fruits and vegetables James has trialled extensively in his Croydon garden (alongside 120 others which didn't make it) and knows are viable for growing in the UK.

Some of them may already be familiar because you either grow them already (e.g Globe and Jerusalem artichokes), or you've caught one of James' popular talks at the last two Edible Gardening Shows. However, I guarantee you'll be eyeing up your garden differently when you learn garden familiars such as Dahlias and Cannas are also edible and if you're growing the right kind of bamboo, that's exactly what you've been eating in your Chinese takeaway. It could be a novel way of taming the latter's invasive nature in your garden!

In the first part of the book James gets down to gardening basics with his Top Ten Commandments. The Tips and Tricks section outlines some easy and speedy ways of growing at home. A lack of space isn't a problem and some of the projects would be great for getting kids started.

Then comes the 'meat' of the book where over 80 varieties are described in the following sections:

  • Leaves and Greens
  • Fruiting Veg and Grains
  • Buried Treasure
  • Experimental Herbs, Spices and Flavours
  • Dessert Fruit
James is very good at the 'one liner strapline' describing why a particular plant is a 'must grow'. At least 2 pages is devoted to each of them and the accompanying illustrations are appealing. All have growing, harvesting and eating guides and many of them are also followed with recipe ideas. NB James uses the common name he feels is the most popular in the UK right now, so you'll find you'll know some of the entries by a different name. Latin names are included for universality, as are any different common names in use, where applicable.

The final chapter is Garden Essentials, which briefly describes the kit you may need, plus a glossary, places for inspiration and a directory of suppliers.

My only minor criticism is the book's index. I would have liked the latin names, plus common name alternatives (when they occur) to be included as well as the main common name James chose to feature. It would have made it much easier to check whether the 'Karella' I found at Harrogate Show is included. After searching through the entire book, I now know it isn't.

That hasn't stopped me wishing I'd written this book, nor writing out a long list of things to try next year :)


At Harrogate Show last week I was surprised to find the cucamelons James showed on Breakfast News earlier in the week had made their way onto one of the trugs entered into the vegetable competition via the entrant's garden.

Since then I've been musing on whether this is signalling a major change in our growing/eating habits. I'm thinking back to the 1960s when peppers (plus aubergines, chillis, garlic etc) were almost unheard of, never mind being available in the shops. Then we started travelling abroad for our holidays and started to demand the foods we'd tried there when we got back home. No-one blinks an eye today when peppers et al. appear on the allotment, or indeed in the pictured trug.

Are we seeing something similar happening all over again today with these more unusual varieties? James' exciting new book makes it more likely, I'm sure.

Find out more:
  • James Wong's Homegrown Revolution website. James is currently on tour (Sept 2012) and will be joining the Edible Gardening Show again next year
  • Sutton Seeds' James Wong Homegrown Revolution seed range. NB they currently have a book and seed bundle which works out much better than buying the book from Amazon + seeds from Suttons. Their plant range is also due out shortly.
  • Emma Cooper's blog - Emma's been writing about growing unusual fruit and vegetables on her fab blog for years. She's also reviewed James' book as well as attending Suttons' launch of the Homegrown Revolution range (sadly I couldn't go as we were in Yorkshire) and visiting James' garden (I'm deeply envious). She starts a Masters degree in Ethnobotany tomorrow and if she still finds time to blog, I'm sure her posts will continue to be fascinating.
  • Radix - Rhizowen's adventures in growing root crops, which are often unusual and hail from South America. He's a fascinating, informative and dryly humorous (often puntastic) guide as well as kindly sending me some Mashua to grow earlier this year :)
  • Claire's Allotment tries Electric Buttons (aka Daisies in the book) with hilarious results (found via Weeding the Web). This shows not all the varieties in James' book will be popular with everyone, but I'm sure a number of them will form part of our mainstream growing and eating habits in the years to come.
Related book and post: My review of Marc Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected - Mark's Otter Farm blog also has interesting insights into trying to grow some of these more unusual fruit and vegetables on a commercial basis.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Homegrown Revolution for honest review purposes.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Rhizowen - it's grown a bit and no flowers as yet. I nibbled a leaf last week and I'm hoping the tingling sensation I had in my mouth later that day wasn't to do with it!

    I'm going to put it under frost protection soon in the hope it's gained enough strength to overwinter so I can plant it out properly next year.

    Update post to come :)

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  2. I had been waiting to have a sneaky peek into this when it arrived at our local branch of WH Smiths. Your timely review though has persuaded me to go ahead and spend the last of my Amazon Christmas gift vouchers :) Thanks muchly VP.

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  3. Hi Anna - this is my favourite book of the year so far. My wish list for later this year includes Joy Larkcom's though as I've yet to get my hands on a copy. Have you read it yet?

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  4. I saw this book the other week and added it to my wish list straight away. Glad I'm no the only one whose eye it caught :)

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  5. Pookledo - welcome! I hope you enjoy it - I've just received some of the seeds ready for next year :)

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