Book Review: A summer crop for your reading pleasure

The summer holidays are beckoning and thoughts turn to reading matter. Here are five review books and other discoveries I've enjoyed over the past couple of months...

The Little Book of Bonsai

This RHS book tackles a less well-known aspect of gardening. It's a jargon-free introduction, written by two of the UK's bonsai experts. Packed with lots of information and top tips, it's illustrated with plenty of photographs and clear drawings.

There are step-by-step instructions for you to look after an established tree or to grow your own. A guide to the most commonly used ones towards the end of the book, will allow you to select the tree of your choice.

I didn't know each shape has its own name, nor that wiring is an important step in the process of growing a bonsai tree.

There's a comprehensive list of other resources at the back of the book to help take you beyond this introductory text.

This is a thoughtful gift for a keen gardener, or for someone who'd like to make their life a little greener, especially if they are short of gardening space.

Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers

You may find this concept surprising, but I know two people who've successfully grown the flowers for their own wedding, or for a family member in the past year.

This review is too late for this summer's weddings, but is just right if you're contemplating this task (for a wedding, or another big occasion) for next year. It'll help you decide whether this is a challenge to relish or relinquish.

Georgie's relaxed style and practical approach at Common Farm Flowers shines through in this book. Her
inspirational ideas could be scaled down for home arrangements, and there's plenty to work from for those nervous about creating their own for the big occasion.

The useful spreadsheets ensure vital details and the number of stems needed aren't overlooked. Seasonal chapters provide plenty of inspiration and there's lots of advice on what and how much to grow, harvesting and flower conditioning. Don't ignore the details in the plentiful pictures as these have informative gems crammed into the captions.

Separate pictures of each flower featured in the arrangements would be helpful for less experienced gardeners, though maybe it was assumed they weren't needed as some expertise is needed to tackle growing for such a big occasion.

The Miniature Garden Grower

Don't judge this book by the cover image, it's about more than just terrariums. Whether you'd like one of those, or to make a miniature landscape, or to grow something vertically, play with water or attract wildlife, or grow your own food, there is a chapter to help you do so.

There are lots of great ideas suitable for indoor and outdoor growing. I'm particularly pleased to see there are instructions for moss graffiti, as I've researched this topic as part of my Great Green Wall Hunt.

If you as a child entered a garden on a tray at your local garden show, then you'll recognise the thinking behind some of the miniature garden ideas. The 'grown up' version is themed. such as a meadow in a pot.

If you make your own terrarium or kokedama, then you'll also save quite a bit of cash, if the ones I saw on sale in London recently are anything to go by. They're more fun to create from scratch too.

There are plenty of clear diagrams and drawings, though in some instances photos are lacking. There's a lot of enthusiasm, easy to follow instructions, and kit lists to give you the confidence to tackle a project for yourself.

This is a great book for anyone - young or old - seeking ideas for a gardening project that doesn't take up much space.

Wonderful Weeds

This is a welcome change from the usual gardeners approach to weeds as it celebrates them as plants in their own right, rather than something which must be destroyed. It includes lots of ecological notes and stories about each of the 200 plants featured.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and devoured it from cover to cover in a single sitting. It works very well, when read as a straight text, but I found a distinct flaw when I returned later to identify an unknown weed which popped up in my garden.

Not knowing its name (common or Latin) or plant family, meant I had to work my way through the book, until I found a picture of the right entry - Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum). An introductory key would have be useful in this instance, though I acknowledge this would be quite difficult to achieve across the breadth of plant material and lifecycles covered.

Then I checked the index with a couple of names I did know - chickweed and speedwell - and unfortunately they weren't listed, even though I knew I'd seen their entries. They are there, but I'd omitted the common from chickweed, and the various expanded common names given for the different speedwell species (e.g. wall speedwell for Veronica arvenis). 

It's a pity, as this is the first book I've seen which shows the featured plants from seedlings through to fruit, with plentiful photographs. That level of detail makes it a commendable work, and I hope it can be expanded for a subsequent edition to help readers like me who have some knowledge, but not enough to make the index or general structure work for them.

Lessons from Great Gardeners

This is a great dippable book, which I devoured at bedtime, one gardener at a time. 40 gardeners are featured in chronological order, starting with Somai in Japan in the 15th century, and finishing with Dan Hinkley in the 20th.

Some like Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto are familiar names; others like Carl Ferris Miller are not so well-known, though in the case of Carl many of us will have examples of his work with hollies and magnolias in our gardens.

Each chapter starts with a profile of the gardener featured, which explains their importance in gardening history. Then follows a lessons section, packed with hints and tips intended for the reader to use in their own gardening.

Where applicable (and with some woeful omissions, such as no view of iconic Bodnant for either McLaren entry), the chapter finishes with a view and explanation of a garden associated with the person profiled. There are delightful botanical illustrations throughout, of plants each gardener was interested in, wrote about, or introduced. Fascinating quotes are also scatterd liberally, where applicable.

The profiles and garden views work well, but I sensed some of the lessons sections were padded out with general hints and tips, perhaps in the absence of concrete examples to draw on from the gardener's own work, or writing. I would have preferred the focus to remain with telling the story of each gardener and the plants and gardens they worked with, rather than the resultant hybrid between this and a general book on gardening.

I now want to find out more about each gardener profiled, so my next step is to plunder the author's extensive bibliography via my local library.

Taking a break away from gardening books?

If the summer holidays turn your thoughts away from gardening books, then I can thoroughly recommend the following reads from my recent stay in Yorkshire...

  • I Bought a Mountain - Canadian and complete beginner farmer Thomas Firbank's compelling story about buying a remote sheep farm in Snowdonia in the 1930s.
  • Cause Celeb - readers will find echoes of Bridget Jones in Helen Fielding's debut novel. I found this witty story based on the author's own experiences more thought provoking, as it looks at third world poverty and the role of celebrity fund raising. 
  • The Return - Victoria Hislop's tale of a family torn apart by the Spanish Civil War is a little clunky in its structure, but I found the well researched details of this less well-known war and the art of flamenco dance fascinating. There are worrying echoes to be found in the current migrant crisis. 
... and for a random selection not chosen by me, I'm just about to start The Paying Guests ready for my first book club experience next month.


  1. An interesting post. Wonderful Weeds is the one that caught my eye, and been put on my garden books to read list. Flighty xx

    1. Thanks Flighty - it is quite a different treatment on the subject of weeds, bound to have lots of information you didn't know :)

  2. That Weeds book does sound good, a shame about the indexing not being so helpful.

    My Summer reads have been rereading my favourite historical fiction series by Sharon Penman, starting with 'When Christ & His Saints Slept' and ending with 'The Reckoning'. The 8 books cover the civil war between Matilda & Stephen*, Eleanor of Acquitaine & Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Simon de Montfort, Edward I and the two Llywelyn's, Llywelyn Fawr and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Though fiction, they are well-researched and a fantastic read, and reread!

    *a lot of this covers events in your part of the country Michelle :)

    1. Ooh they look really good. I've just joined a bookclub and it's my turn to choose the next book. Looks like you've just made the choosing a little easier :)


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