Best gardening books for spring 2016

Tiffany Daneff / 17 March 2016

Tiffany Daneff shares her favourite gardening books to help you make a better garden.



Making decisions is one of the hardest things with gardening. When and what to plant where? When and how to divide and propagate? I want to plant a new climbing rose, but which? On and on it goes so that my head is swirling.

Looking outside and seeing the first of the new spring lambs outside in the fields – one of the finest is a strange mottled browny grey, quite unlike all its black faced peers – I realise that the time for prevarication is over. I had better get a move on otherwise I’ll have missed the moment to order, prune and plant.

Or, I could just put the decisions off a little longer and use these last days of cold weather to catch up on some reading. Here’s what’s heaped on the floor beside the sofa:

General gardening

Making a Garden: Successful Gardening by Nature’s Rules

Carol Klein
Photographs Jonathan Buckley
Mitchell Beazley £25, hardback

What’s the gist?

Years ago I distinctly remember Carol talking to me about the idea of looking to different wild habitats (meadows, wetlands, seaside etc) in order to better understand how plants will fare in your garden. Look at a woodland edge for inspiration for what and how to plant under trees. Consider the plants that grow happily on exposed moors if you’re trying to plant up a windy roof terrace.

Who will find it useful?

Every keen gardener. If you have hedges or want to plant up a wall read the section on hedgerows; for perennial borders see the chapter on meadows. Carol draws a lot on her own experiences gardening in Devon and there is so much that’s useful and inspiring.

I particularly like

The case histories. These include gardens like that belonging to garden writer Helen Yemm and the perennial meadows at Marchants Nurseries.

Any criticisms?

I felt the plant directories were a bit skimpy. But then you can’t have everything in one book.

Christopher Lloyd’s Gardening Year Journal

Frances Lincoln, £14.99

Whats the gist?

Fergus Garrett, Lloyd’s head gardener and right hand man has overseen the gardens at Great Dixter since Lloyd died in 2006. He introduces this new edition of Lloyd’s classic which, with new pictures from Jonathan Buckley, has been rather successfully revised to turn it into a month by month practical guide.

Who will find it useful?

Everyone (except veg-only gardeners)

I particularly like

Lloyd’s tone. How can you not enjoy a sentence like this: “What I like about Camellia japonica Lady Vansittart is the neatness of its leaves and the agreeable twist on them.” That, and the comfort that comes from reading a master.

Any criticisms?

I might have quibbled about the padding with empty lined pages for you to add your notes and the lists of jobs to do. But actually I think these are a jolly good thing. And it does make for easy jottings.

Plant books

Garden Plants for Scotland

Kenneth Cox and Raoul Curtis-Machin
Frances Lincoln £20, ppbk

What’s the gist?

It does what it says on the tin. A practical handbook with alphabetical listings of plants that do well in Scotland’s varied climate.

Who will find it useful?

Actually not just Scottish gardeners but anyone who gardens in northern and exposed areas.

I particularly like

The authoritative and detailed plant listings. The tables of hedging trees that tell you clearly which will tolerate what.

Any criticisms?

It’s not exactly gorgeous to look at. But then it is a handbook, so fair dos.

Grow your own

The Half-Hour Allotment

Timely tips for the most productive plot ever
Lia Leendeertz
RHS and Frances Lincoln £16.99

What’s the gist?

That it is possible to have a productive and well-managed allotment and yet to spend only half an hour a day looking after it. The secret to such success is in partly in choosing the right things to grow (reliable varieties, not growing everything but putting your effort into produce that tastes better home grown (asparagus, raspberries etc), growing what you need, not sowing billions of seeds). It’s also in being organised and planning which I am absolutely hopeless at.

Who will find it useful?

People with other things to do than spend every waking out on their veg plots. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s a very nice way to spend time.)

This book’s for everyone who wants to grow some food, whether they’ve an allotment or not. You can use the same technique in your back garden. Keeping the work time to half an hour max is especially useful if you’re worried about hurting your back or becoming stiff.

I particularly like

Lia’s easy going approach. If you want to buy plug plants, fine. Don’t beat yourself up about taking short cuts. All good, useful advice served up in a non nonsense friendly fashion.

Any criticisms?

I would have liked longer and more detailed plant listings that included more personal growing tips.

Books to give as gifts

Paradise and Plenty: A Rothschild Family Garden

Mary Keen
Photographs by Tom Hatton
Pimpernel Press, £50

What’s the gist?

This is about gardening at its best, and should be savoured like the first asparagus of the season. There is simply no point in being put out by the beauty, scale, perfection and joy of Lord Rothschild’s private gardens at Eythrope in Bucks. They are beyond most of our wildest dreams. The gardens were designed by the author Mary Keen who brought in the legendary head gardener Sue Dickinson to manage the glasshouses and flower borders, fruit and vegetable rows and who uses traditional techniques that might otherwise be forgotten. Instead, just enjoy the ride and the rare chance to see what’s behind the garden gate.

Who will find it useful?

Everyone. The whole point, says the author, is to be both useful and helpful.

I particularly like

The generosity that gives author, photographer and garden the space to breathe. As a result all the interesting details are here from the way that the borders alongside lawns are edged with bricks laid end on and flush with the grass which keeps things tidy whilst still allowing plants to spill over in a natural and generous way to the putting in of peasticks in May as supports. Plants, the author says need to be staked to within six inches of the final height so that the sticks won’t show.

Any criticisms?

Nope.

The Private Gardens of England

Edited by Tania Compton
Constable, £75 (though you should find it online for less)

What’s the gist?

A mouthwatering collation of private gardens whose history, background and genesis are described by their owners. There are loads of wonderful photographs. A favourite of mine was the swoony view through the dawn mist of the topiaried yews in the sunken garden at Ven House, Somerset. Lucky Jasper Conran gets to see this every day of the year and to wander the rooms of the impossibly elegant Ham stone home that dates back to William and Mary.

Here are many of the finest private gardens in England, and not for nothing are they so gorgeous. You don’t get gardens like these without time and gardeners, quite a lot of both. The rest of us can only wish.

Who will find it useful?

Reason not the need. A book like this is a marker in the sand. It shows that the English continue to do what they have always done beautifully and that is to make gardens and fashion landscapes.

I particularly like

The peek behind scenes of how the other half garden.

Any criticisms?

Not really, just that niggly urge to see an ordinary, small back garden dog leg transformed with no money or help, but by the efforts of one visionary owner into an urban paradise. Maybe the next book?

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.