Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Book Review: Out This Week

I've been lucky to receive 2 books from Frances Lincoln ahead of their release this week. They cover two completely different subjects; one is a practical volume and the other reviews an aspect of garden history which is often overlooked. Scroll down to the end for a couple of great reader offers.

Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal is a reworking of her previous book Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden. Inside is a month by month guide to growing cut flowers, with a few pages for the reader to jot down their own notes and observations.

Each chapter has flowers of the month and a monthly project as well as the space for notes. Particular jobs and techniques plus consideration of the equipment required are sprinkled into the months where they are most likely to be needed. On the whole this is successful, but I thought the planning, design and stocking of the cutting patch/garden, plus the guidance on flower arranging would have worked better as separate chapters instead of being divided across various months.

I particularly liked the monthly projects especially May's spring globe and December's simple wreath.

The details for the flowers and foliage featured include suitable named varieties, plus cultivation and conditioning notes where needed. A wide range of bulbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs suitable for flower arrangements are all considered.

There is an assumption that all the flowers and foliage are obtained from the fairly large dedicated patch (10ft by 15ft) shown in the design sections, without offering much guidance on how to adapt the suggested plan to suit the reader's own circumstances. This is probably because Sarah Raven wrote about her extensive experience of her patch at Perch Hill, so adaptation and other potential sources such as hedgerow foraging aren't needed.

There are plenty of inspirational photographs and the book is a handy size suitable to sit alongside any practical work being carried out by the reader.

Most allotment histories I've read are confined to the past couple of hundred years (the birth of our modern day allotments), or to a particular aspect such as the wartime Dig for Victory campaigns.

Caroline Foley's Of Cabbages and Kings differs because she has traced their history much further back to show how they're rooted in the feudal system developed after the Norman conquest in 1066.

It's a fascinating account, which shows how events such as the Black Death and the resultant enclosure of land which started in medieval times affected the majority of the population's ability to feed themselves.

I was surprised to learn that Elizabeth I passed a law which decreed a cottage must have a minimum amount of land attached to it so that its inhabitants could be self sufficient. This is the root of our current allotment laws and was designed to counteract poverty. Sadly it wasn't really acted upon until centuries later - perhaps developments such as the dreaded workhouse and the Riot Act wouldn't have happened if it had.

I gave up history at school when it became a list of parliamentary acts and wars to memorise rather than showing the way people lived. Caroline Foley brings those same acts and wars to life by providing the context of their social history.

I was amazed to learn that Lord Salisbury's government was brought down in 1886 over the allotment question. With so many allotment sites under threat today and at least 3 court battles being fought currently, it shows our passion for the need for land has some very deep roots indeed.

This is a very readable account which gives much food for thought. People have died so that I might enjoy my allotment today. That's quite humbling.
Reader Offers:

Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal is on offer to Veg Plotting readers at the discounted price of £11.99 (RRP: £14.99), and Of Cabbages and Kings at the discounted price of £16 (RRP: £20)

Both offers include p&p for the UK; please add £2.50 per book if ordering from overseas.

To order, telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG200 for Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal, and APG209 for Of Cabbages and Kings.

Both books are officially released on September 4th and are published by Frances Lincoln. Either or both would make great presents for the gardener or allotmenteer in your life.


  1. I was offered the first book for review but declined as I already have the original Cutting Garden book and thought this new one might just be a repackaging. I really like the sound of the allotment history book; history was a dry subject for me as well but I like it when I'm show how history shaped us in daily life. This one sounds good and I'll look out for it. Thanks for an excellent review.

    1. It would be interesting to compare our books Caro, to see how they differ and which one works better.

  2. The allotment history book sounds fantastic, I'd love to read about how it all began and how people relied on their plots of land. I shall look out for it too.

    1. I was delighted to be offered this book Cj as it's an aspect of history which fascinates me. I was also interested in how Caroline Foley would deal with a quite different book to her hugely popular and practical allotment volumes.

  3. Not many people have the acres of Sarah Raven. It will come as no surprise to you that I think The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley (also published by Frances Lincoln) is a better book for most people's plots. ;)

    1. Hi Pianolearner - I reviewed Louise's book earlier this year. It's a great book :)
      I also asked myself which book I would choose and I have to say there's room for both on my bookshelf. Louise's book helps those of us without the luxury of Perch Hill, but there's quite a lot of difference in the selection of flowers and foliage to use and their styling in the 2 volumes which are valuable to all readers.

  4. Thanks for your incisive reviews VP. I caught sight of Sarah Raven's new book in the RHS Christmas catalogue over the weekend and did wonder whether it would be new material. As I already have a copy of her 'The Cutting Garden' I think that I will now leave it at that. I may well be tempted by the Caroline Foley book though :)

    1. Hi Anna - I thought of you whilst I was writing the 2nd review. I thought it might tempt you ;)


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