Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book Review: Three From Haynes

Haynes are well known for their car maintenance manuals with their anatomical-style cut-away pictures and step by step guides for home car care. However, the increasing complexity of our cars means we're more reliant nowadays on garage mechanics rather than doing it at home.

So Haynes have diversified their offering into other areas; adapting the style where needed, but generally keeping to their philosophy of using clear, colourful diagrams and pictures to get the information across to readers. I've been  offered the pick of their catalogue a couple of times this year, and have chosen three* garden related manuals to review.

First up is the Garden Landscaping Manual by Paul Wagland. This is aimed at gardeners who are considering the DIY approach to a major hardscaping project. It would be a good start for anyone who's bought a new-build house and is looking to create a garden from the brown, muddy patch or wall to wall lawn the builders have left them with.

Pretty much every element of a garden is included, from a simple hanging basket, through all manner of hardscaping projects to pond construction. The pictures are clear and the text explains each job well. There's also an excellent introduction to the tools needed and advice on health and safety.

The chapter on design however, is sketchy, so readers will need to look elsewhere for more guidance or get a professional in to help them. This isn't really the book to help with more complicated projects either, such as dealing with a slope.

This is a good book to help decide whether the project you have in mind is do-able, or whether some expert help is required.

The Allotment Manual by Paul Peacock is aimed at beginner allotment holders or anyone considering allotment life. There are plenty of similar guides on the market already; this one differs because it also includes introductory chapters on how to find an allotment and one describing the community aspects of allotment life, including running a tool share and holding a show. These are useful in helping a potential allotment holder decide whether having an allotment is for them. However, not all of these aspects apply to a particular site, so the reader should bear this in mind.

There are the usual chapters on plot planning and soil preparation and guides to fruit, vegetable and herb growing, plus a month by month guide to the tasks required to look after the plot. The usefulness of the chapters on livestock (hens and bees) and greenhouse/polytunnels will depend on what an individual site's regulations allow.

Overall, this is a well thought out guide, with clear text and plentiful pictures which holds up well in comparison with similar books on the market.

Mr Digwell: A Year in the Garden by Paul Peacock is slightly different to Haynes' usual approach. Mr Digwell is a cartoon character from the Daily Mirror and the bulk of book's content is cartoon strip driven instead of Haynes' usual photograph/diagram based approach. This is a general gardening book covering both herbaceous gardening and food production.

The book is calendar based, divided primarily into the four seasons, then into the appropriate months for each season. Each month starts with a week by week list of tasks followed by various guides to looking after plants or general gardening tasks appropriate for that month.

If a reader is looking for overall guidance on soil preparation, they will find some of it in the autumn to winter section at the end of the book, whilst making compost and soil conditioning are in the winter to spring section at the start. It means that getting an overview of what's needed for general soil care comes out rather jumbled. There are gaps too - there's nothing on soil pH and testing for instance.

Gardeners who prefer a monthly calendar to work from will feel most comfortable with this guide. However, care still needs to be taken. For instance the guide to tomato growing is in January's section (which in itself is a bit strange), but the bulk of the care described happens in the summer months. I believe the author has missed a trick because the weekly tasks guide for each month could have included a reminder of the tasks (with a cross-referenced page) described in other months.

Anyone considering organic gardening should note that pest control errs on the chemical side and the general emphasis isn't peat-free.

Overall, this book comes out too muddled and lacking in content to be the encyclopedic guide claimed in the introduction. It's a fun idea, but there are far better general gardening books on the market.

In conclusion

The first two books reviewed are good for beginners. The Mr Digwell guide is also better for beginners (not expert alike as claimed) and is probably more suitable for someone who's a fan of the Daily Mirror cartoon. If anyone wants to grow more unusual fruit, vegetables or flowers, then they will need to look for supplementary information elsewhere.

* = a fourth one I've given to Diary of a Novice Beekeeper to review as it's their Bee Manual. Whilst we await his full report, he's said it's pretty good for the interim.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books. The links to Amazon are for your information only and I don't earn a penny if you decide to buy from there.

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