Reasons to be cheerful, part 2 – good books…


It’s a gloomy wet Sunday in a Welsh village, the reality behind the usual metaphor for boredom and the spine-chillingly tedious. I spent the morning working and I’d vaguely hoped to do some gardening in the afternoon, but the Weather Gods decided otherwise. Cups of tea were called for. And a lit wood stove. And something to cheer me up – so I got out all my old gardening books.

I’d forgotten how good some of them were (and how battered – my Well-Tempered Garden has fallen apart). Then I got out all my gardening books – almost needed a forklift – and cheered myself up by revisiting some favourites.

Here’s The Compleat Squash, by Amy Goldman. I adore this book, but then I do adore squashes, even if they have been crap in this garden lately.

I saw this briefly reviewed in The Garden, I think, in 2004 and was onto faster than a rat running into my soakaway. Here was someone as bonkers about squashes as me – in reality, as I realised when I got my copy, far, far, far more bonkers.

But there are worse things to be potty about, and this book’s true joy is its photographs.

They are magnificent, with the squashes positioned elegantly, like fine china (or even supermodels). Why can’t I grow squashes like this? Probably because I’m in wet west Wales and not the US. Ah well.

I have been known to use The Compleat Squash as a guide for what to grow – Amy Goldman’s quick description of each one can be very revealing. There’s a ‘fiber’ category, and often the most beautiful to look at are described as ‘unacceptable’. There’s also a ‘best use’: ‘livestock feed’ or ‘exhibition’ are useful indicators, and then there are her comments. ‘Great white whale’ is how she sums up the German Sweet Potato Squash, and she says of the Valencia (described as ‘top notch’) ‘Need a butcher’s chopper and a mallet to open.’

Well, I can dream.

Another really inspirational book for me is – surprise, surprise – Meadows, by Christopher Lloyd (also 2004). Of course, for me he is god anyway – I even met him once, at Great Dixter years ago before I had my own garden and was rendered almost speechless (he recommended a clematis for me, when I did get my garden – Bill Williamson).

I got this book at about the same time as I decided to let my grass grow and see what happened, and it has been essential in creating and maintaining the ‘carpet of jewels’ effect I have, particularly in the early spring.

My decision, I am sure, has led to the massive increase in primroses, violets, cowslips, anemones and all the other inhabitants of my early spring meadow, and it has really helped the health of the hundreds of daffodils. Yes, I could have done it without this book, but it has kept me focused on getting the best from the meadow and not just ‘letting the grass grow’.

I refer to the sections on particular plants – bulbs and corms, mainstay grasses and perennials – a lot of the time, and the practical parts on meadow management have helped me work out when to cut it and how to maintain it at its best. That’s best for me, best for the meadow and best for all the invertebrates who populate it in the summer.

Looking at the photographs makes my heart sing. There’s a spread across two pages of the fritillary meadow at Magdalen Oxford which is sensational, for instance, but it’s often the quieter ones which have the most impact on me, like the grasses in the spread above. Beautiful against the dark hedge of the topiary lawn at Great Dixter.

Ah, summer, summer!

So what books do you reach for on an winter afternoon like this, when it’s beginning to get really dark and it’s still raining (or snowing, as it soon might be if the weather forecast is anything to go by)?


23 Comments Add yours

  1. Christina says:

    You cheered me up too. We have temperatures of minus 9.8°C forecast for the end of the week and SNOW! It might be colder here in Viterbo than in Wales, Christina

    1. kate says:

      Snow??? I can’t believe it…. maybe your threatened snow will go the way of our threatened snow (was supposed to be here overnight). We’ve just got wind. Oh, how unusual…

  2. Nice 🙂
    Sadly on this grey day I didn’t reach for a book – but did do a fantastic job of clearing up the hard drive of my computer.

    If I had … it would have been something comforting like “A gentle plea for Chaos” Mirabel Osler.


    1. kate says:

      Ok, I’m impressed – how depressingly useful of you… I’m sorting mine out when I finish my current job. Honest.
      (Yes, I know I could have done it instead of reading / blogging, but hey…)

      Must get the Osler. Sounds like a natural for me!

      1. Yours doesn’t need sorting out …. its practically new!

        I had my last hard drive contents on it as well as this current hard drive, but still had to go through the folder marked “Old hard drive Stuff” even though I probably didn’t need anything that was buried in there, but had to check.

        You can borrow my Mirabel Osler

        1. kate says:

          Ah, but what about my old one?
          Would love to borrow Mirabel – library denied she existed (but then I was a bit vague)…

  3. islandthreads says:

    I was thinking of all you southerns especially in the west when the recent news said you had snow in some areas and more was coming, I expect it will have reach us by tomorrow,
    I can never garden on a Sunday as the island respects the sabath and it would be frowned upon, I don’t mind as these quiet Sundays remind me of times before Sunday shopping,
    I’m reading the Feb copy of gardens illustrated which arrived last week, becareful how you dig the main letter is from someone who found a WW2 mortar in his garden!
    I’ve looked at Meadows by Mr Lloyd but only online not having a book shop on the island, I have wondered if it would apply/be helpful for a garden of wet peat this far north, any comment 🙂
    happy reading, Frances

    1. kate says:

      No snow here yet, but you can have some of our wind if you want it, though I expect you can do your own…Your island sounds like the Highlands of my childhood – no shops open (that’s OK), no washing out, Mrs MacD the behaviour monitor… our totally secular family used to (oooo) go on drives and have defiant picnics. After my brother and I had poked each other’s eyes out in sheer boredom, of course.

      Am amazed by the mortar – but then I did find most of an Anderson shelter in my London garden. And a hell of a lot of socks, for some reason. All I’ve come up with here is a little bone spoon and plenty of broken glass.

      Meadows and wet peat – hm, I’ve just checked it out. There’s some consideration of plants for damp, boggy sites but it basically concentrates on prairie-like conditions, I think, though he does cover how to deal with over-fertile soils. Can you get your local library to order it in for you?

      1. good morning Kate, glad you didn’t get the snow, I’ll let you keep your wind (if you pardon that) and am even willing to share some the wind we have here 😉
        I think the garden with the mortar was in Essex, to be honest I would never recognise such a thing, the most interesting thing I found was a black iron pot in my Scalpay garden old but not old enough to be one of the beautiful round ones with 3 legs 😦 your spoon sounds interesting, I found an unusual box/tray thing on the beach last week will include in my next post,
        thanks for the info on the book, what you say is what I expected, my peat soil is deficent in fetility so no problem there, I am finding the way for me to go is keep the wild flowers I like and add prennials that like a damp meadow, it’s starting to work abit,
        sun’s out and there only a slight breeze so might get out there today 🙂

        1. kate says:

          Thanks for the wind offer, but alas I must decline in my turn! Your meadow sounds lovely – I’m thinking of some of the beautiful but boggy patches in Sutherland and remembering bog asphodel, cotton grass, etc, etc. And clegs, but there you go…

          I’m intrigued by your box – not the bog-standard fish box, then…

  4. Its trying to snow here this morning, though making a rubbish job of it. Instead of books I actually reached for my laptop to catch up with garden blogs, in the hopes that they would boost my spirits. It worked too! Otherwise “Designing with Plants” by Piet wotsit always makes me happy, lots of beautiful pictures to drool over but loads of practical advice too. At the moment all the “how to grow veg” books just make me feel guilty because I didn’t manage to mulch the allotment in the Autumn and am too knackered to even do my seed audit and work out what to order for this year…

    1. kate says:

      Oh, I know what you mean about the practical veg books: nag, nag, nag – at least there is no way I could achieve the perfection of The Compleat Squash. And The Garden is just the same with its lists of jobs to do. Grr. You do them then, Mr Editor Schmeditor. Blogs are a great alternative.

      Anyway, it’s so cold outside that my fingers have fallen off (OK, I’m exaggerating). And we’ve just broken the second axe splitting logs – though in all fairness, the haft was damaged anyway. TEA!

  5. I reach for Pure Style Outside by Tessa Eveleigh – it is full of pictures of shady corners for eating outside, deckchairs on lawns and lots of summer colour – then I can pretend we may have a worthy summer on the horizon to look forward too.

    1. kate says:

      Shady corners! Eating outside! I think I’d probably find that a bit depressing at the moment (but then again – could be inspiring). I don’t think I ate outside much last year – there are times when I wish I could move my house, garden and immediate environment down to about the latitude of – oh, the Canaries…

  6. wellywoman says:

    I love the sound of both those books. Meadows are one of my favourite things and would definitely feature in my dream garden. The books I turn to are Sarah Raven’s Bold and Brilliant Garden it is full of sumptuous colours and my Good Gardens Guide so I can plan a few visits for the spring and summer. I also love Bill Bryson for a non gardening book. He never fails to make me laugh, even though I’ve read his books over and over again.

    1. kate says:

      Now, the Garden Guide – oh, yes, I must go and get mine out. Planning summer trips – what a great activity when you’re so cold you can’t remember you own name and your hands have fallen off. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not much. The Sarah Raven is a great choice too, but I’ve given up on gardening books just now – tooooo cooooolldddd – and have taken up bad detective stories. Bill Bryson would be a better bet, I think!

  7. Anna says:

    Those Weather Gods are certainly conspiring against us at the moment big time. Gardening book wise I am reading Cleve West’s ‘Our Plot’ which was a Christmas present from a friend. I imagine that he has the knack of growing perfect pumpkins. It is still eluding me but like a lot of crops the first time I grew them I had a brilliant harvest 🙂 ‘The Compleat Squash’ looks most tempting Kate – would like to know the names of the little grey and orange squashes – a glorious colour contrast. Fiction wise I’m between books but will no doubt end up with something in my paws very soon.

    1. kate says:

      Well, it’s fine here today. However, it has also been such a hard frost that a jackhammer would bounce. Grr….
      Agree with you about Cleve West – some people are just so depressing. I had one squash last year and it was the size of a gnat; the rest rotted.

      The baby squashes are Futtsu (Cucurbita moschata Japonica group, Goldman adds), and she gives other names: Black Futtsu, Futtsu Back Rinded, Futtsu Early Black. Apparaently a futtsu’…becomes a sunken head over time’ which sounds a bit alarming! Mind you, she also says they’re a table vegetable; presumably before they’ve reached the shrunken-head stage! That’s why I love this book… glorious shots, plus all that extra info.

      1. Anna says:

        Thanks for the baby squash id Kate 🙂

        1. kate says:

          No problem – squash addicts unite!

  8. Lyn says:

    Kate, I enjoy your blog so much that I want to give you a Versatile Blogger Award. I’ve announced the award and linked to you on this post, which also has instructions on passing the award on if you wish to:

    1. kate says:

      How lovely – thank you very much! I was thinking that it wasn’t really a very versatile blog, and then I realised what the contents of the next post were going to be… hmm…

    2. kate says:

      I’ve been trying to leave a comment on your blog to say thank you very much, and I’ll work it into a post of its own, and how much chocolate is ‘too much’ exactly, and Blogger won’t let me. It keeps telling me I’ve mistyped the security word when I haven’t. I’ll try later, and in the meanwhile hope you pick up my thanks here, and apologies if you get the same message 85 times!

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