Book Reviews: For good soil, great veg and first-class shows

It's a while since I've reviewed some books and I have quite a stash to get through, so here's a round up of those I've enjoyed recently with more of a grow your own theme.

An in-depth look ('scuse pun) at one of the most important aspects of gardening is long overdue, and Good Soil doesn't disappoint.

There's been a number of articles recently on the threat of soil erosion to the UK's food supply, so it's good to have a comprehensive guide so we can conserve our own productive patch at least.

All aspects of nurturing the soil are covered, from chemistry and biology to history and philosophy. Methods both old and new; artificial and natural are discussed so we can make informed choices for our own approach.

The human dimension isn't shied away from either as both the use of pee and composting toilets are included; potentially sensitive subjects handled in an informative and humorous manner.

After covering the why and the what to use, practical sections on identifying/treating nutrient deficiencies and the best ways to nurture the soil to successfully grow trees, annuals, perennials, shrubs, fruit and vegetables are explained.

A chatty, humorous magazine-style approach makes what could have been a dry, academic kind of book much more digestible and a keeper for future reference.

SowHow book cover
Just when I thought there was nothing more be said on grow your own, SowHow comes along to change my mind.

Aimed at beginner gardeners, this bright, easy to read guide is packed with information on how to get growing with vegetables and herbs.

The book fits into the palm of my hand, and the colour themed sections and infographic-style approach is easy on the eye. I like the can-do, garden-anywhere approach with lots of ideas for gardening on a budget using recycled and upcycled materials.

Things to Know and Problem Solving sections book-end the Growing chapters, and alongside the usual suspects, edible flowers and weeds are included to add variety to the plate.

Even though much of the content isn't new to me, I've decided this book is a keeper for whenever I need a shot of enthusiasm to get growing!

The Salad Garden book cover
My battered, well-thumbed copy of The Organic Salad Garden inspired my 52 Week Salad Challenge project, so it's a joy ('scuse pun again) to have a copy of Joy Larkcom's The Salad Garden, which is an update of the book of the same name (and also formed the basis for The Organic Salad Garden in 2003).

It's hard to believe how revolutionary this book was on its first appearance in the 1980's, as bagged salad leaves are so commonplace on supermarket shelves nowadays. That is down to Joy's travels across Europe and her discovery of lots of fresh new flavours for us to try.

What's available commercially is just a fraction of the dozens of different salad leaves covered in this comprehensive guide.
Once you've read this book, you will never want to buy salad leaves again.

If you're new to growing salads or Joy's informative, practical work, you need this book.

If you have the original classic version, you still need this book as the practicalities and varieties have been expanded considerably.

If - like me - you have a copy of  The Organic Salad Garden, this version is still worth your consideration as the layout is much clearer. There's additional photography by Jason Ingram and Joy's recommendations are quite different, taking account of progress in the introduction of new varieties. My only quibble is the opportunity to update the recipe section wasn't taken to form a more attractive, mouth watering prospect.

Great British Village Show book cover
RHS Great British Village Show takes the worthy information in The Horticultural Show Handbook I've reviewed previously, and adds a generous dash of the fun we saw in BBC2's The Big Allotment Challenge. The result  is a colourful, easy to read guide to putting on a village show which meets the exacting requirements of the judges.

This book gives you the encouragement and guidance you need to become a show winner. Believe me, it's much more exacting than growing something that looks good on your dinner plate.

If you don't have a local village show, then there is all the information you need to get going. Lots of colourful photos and plenty of helpful tips ensure success for both exhibitor and show organiser alike. Individual sections cover what's required for showing vegetables, fruit, flowers, bakes and preserves.

Many shows use standard recipes for cakes, jams and other produce. These aren't forgotten either, and of course they can be used even if you only want to eat the results.

May this great British tradition continue!

I was given review copies of each book, opinions are my own. There are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

  • Good Soil by Tina RĂ¥man, Ewa-Marie Rundquist and Justine Lagache is published by Frances Lincoln,  priced £20.
  • SowHow by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott is published by Pavilion, priced £12.99
  • The Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £16.99
  • RHS Great British Village Show by Thane Prince and Matthew Biggs is published by Dorling Kindersley, priced £20
Note: I've linked to Amazon, so you can use the Look Inside facility for any books you like the look of. If you wish to purchase but not support Amazon, then Wordery usually offers a good deal, is a British company, and pays its taxes; or alternatively The Hive actively supports independent bookshops.


  1. Thank you for these reviews. I picked up a copy of SowHow for my young adult daughter, whose thumb is slowly but surely turning green. I appreciate the recommendation!

  2. Puntastic reviews Michelle! I might have to get the last of the books as I am thinking of entering my sweet peas in a show this year... that's if they ever grow. I hope the show organisers haven't purchased additional bikini vases in anticipation of my exhibits!

    1. Thanks Sarah! I'm growing sweet peas for mum this year, and she'll be an exacting judge ;)

  3. Thanks for the thorough reviews VP. I've severely pruned my book buying of late but I think that Joy Larkcom's book will be an exception.

    1. I think she'll be right up your street Anna :)


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