Gardening Books for Christmas

By Buchan, Ursula | The Spectator, November 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Gardening Books for Christmas


Buchan, Ursula, The Spectator


I spent the summer of 1976 working as a trainee gardener at the Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium. My employer was charming and kind, but I could not suppress a prickle of shame-faced irritation every time she mentioned a former student called Susan Dickinson. Whenever I leant on my hoe for a moment in the pelting heat, I was reminded how accomplished and hardworking this horticultural superheroine had been. For the past 25 years, Sue Dickinson has been head gardener at Eythrope in Buckinghamshire, owned by Lord Rothschild, and she is widely acknowledged to be the finest gardener in the country. I need never have wasted finite energy on envy.

The four-acre walled garden at Eythrope is the subject of Paradise and Plenty , published by Pimpernel Press (£50). It is written by Mary Keen, most appropriately, since she designed the garden, and it is a handsome volume, both coffee-table book and practical manual. Eythrope is laid out on a heroic scale, and cultivated by eight gardeners in the old country-house manner, providing fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house all the year round. It is open very rarely but, on the two occasions I have visited, my heart beat fast with admiration at the quality of the gardening done there, in particular the astonishingly skilful cultivation of glasshouse fruits. There is simply nowhere to touch it.

The photographs by Tom Hatton are monochrome when showing some intricate horticultural operation, but colour when portraying the garden itself. Flaps show the garden under snow, then open to reveal the same view in summer. You can absorb a great deal of well-tried practical gardening advice from this attractively written book, but the dedication of a Susan Dickinson is not so easily acquired.

Nor that of Joan Morgan. She is an expert pomologist, whose The Book of Apples (1993) is still the Bible for all connoiseurs of apples and -- at last -- she has produced a companion volume, The Book of Pears (Ebury Press, £45). All the features of the first are to be found in the second: the pear's history, cultivation and commercial uses, together with brilliantly clear, precise and useful descriptions of every cultivar known to orchardists, and equally precise and alluring botanical paintings by Elizabeth Dowle. The pear is less known than the apple, and its naming and culture more complicated and arcane, so the publication of this most readable book is a cause for celebration.

The May display at the auricula theatre, Eythrope

Grow for Flavour by James Wong (Mitchell Beazley, £20) also has something unusual and original to offer in the edible produce line. Most of this highly illustrated book consists of tips on how to get the most flavourful crops, using the best varieties and cultivation methods. …

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