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 Amazon.com 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)?