My gardening book essentials for spring

A photo of a stack of gardening books

Out of my backdoor, I can see the first aconites, snowdrops and hellebores. The buds of the small early crocus are just emerging from beneath last autumn’s leaves. There are plenty of jobs outside for mild days, but when it is cold and wet, I settle for the pleasure of planning the growing season in the company of trusted garden writers. Here are some of my most thumbed books on gardening.

Firstly on growing food. As Pippa Greenwood says, Joy Larkcom is the undisputed queen of vegetable gardening. Joy’s Grow Your Own Vegetables (2002. Frances Lincoln Ltd) is my favourite reach-for reference on what tatties, spinach or salads really want. Packed with practical information and help with planning for specific conditions etc, this plump paperback is the distillation of a lifetime’s gardening from a keen organic grower.

Joy believes strongly that veggies can be beautiful, colourful and fun as well as tasty. Why not play around with colour, texture and shape when you decide what to grow? Her Creative Vegetable Gardening (1997, Mitchell Beazley) is full of photos and information about unusual varieties and imaginative garden structures and layouts.

Until recently, there was a Scotland-shaped gap on the gardening bookshelves, with no specialist books for Scottish vegetable growers. Kenneth Cox and Caroline Beaton travelled across Scotland to confer with experienced fruit and vegetable gardeners from Lewis to East Lothian. They drew together all this knowledge into Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland (2012. Birlinn), a particularly useful guide to choosing varieties which are tried and tested north of the Border. It includes historical anecdotes as well as plenty of care advice.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Growing Your Own Vegetables (2012) is an accessible, practical guide, giving clear instructions to get new gardeners started, with lovely photos. It draws on the experience of expert garden staff who train horticulture students and on the work of the Garden’s wonderful community engagement Edible Gardening Project with volunteers and schools. A book for anyone keen to grow their own food.

And finally a couple of books on ornamentals – as a plantaholic, I can’t leave out plants chosen to feast the eye rather than the stomach.

Filling that Scottish gardening book gap, is Garden Plants for Scotland by Kenneth Cox and Raoul Curtis-Machin (2008. Frances Lincoln Ltd). While not attempting the comprehensiveness of the larger RHS guides, this attractive book gives valuable advice on choosing plants for Scottish conditions, including particularly difficult ones!

And finally for the arty and adventurous, there is the delightful Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture by Linden Hawthorne (2009. Timber Press). A treat of a book on natural form in garden plants.

None are recent titles, and my own copies are grubby and dog-eared. Some may be out of print. However in true low-carbon spirit, why not buy good second-hand copies? I found all bar one today on Abe Books website. (A new edition of Cox and Beaton’s Vegetable Gardening for Scotland is due to be published in early March.) AbeBooks is a big network of smaller booksellers, many providing good secondhand copies of books on all subjects at a fraction of the original price (as long as the supplier is based in the UK otherwise postage can be very expensive). Or you can borrow most of them from the PLANT library at the Garden. Good for the planet as well as for your own small patch.

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