Monday, April 30, 2007

Review: How Does Your Garden Grow

Today's book review is a bit different from usual. Normally I review books I have bought myself, or sometimes books I've had for years. But I was sent Chris Beardshaw's How Does Your Garden Grow by the publisher for review. I didn't promise to give it a favourable review though, so from that point of view you can trust what I say.

It's very different from any other gardening book I've seen, because it reads more like a science textbook than a typical gardening book. You'll become familiar with terms such as adventitious growth, auxins and meristems, you'll know your dicots from your monocots and be able to talk about phloem and xylem with authority. Beardshaw explains how plants work, so you'll understand how to help them grow better.

All this science gets translated into practical things you can do to improve your garden. For example, how best to take cuttings (that tip alone will save me a fortune in hormone rooting powder), how and what to feed plants, and how to prepare soil to give plants the best possible growing environment.

It won't be everybody's cup of tea. There's inevitably a trade-off between ease-of-reading and depth-of-information, and Beardshaw seems to think there are plenty of pretty coffee-table gardening books already, but a shortage of information-packed science-heavy gardening books. I agree. If you are the kind of person who wants to know why things work, if you are hungry to understand rather than just know, then I think you will find this book not only enjoyable but immensely useful. If science does your head in, maybe you should pass on this one, but you might still enjoy the online flash game that goes with the book.

8 comments:

red_swirl said...

Sounds like my sort of book, I enjoy science and knowing why. Do you think the information is general enough to be worth buying for readers living in very different climates?

I generally avoid UK / European gardening books, I've had too many disappointments. Not only are the seasons, planting times etc reversed, the weeds are all different, but there is a lot of detail on frost (I get none), constant emphasis on full sun (burns leaves) and little emphasis on water-wise gardening.

To give you an idea of climate differences, Japanese plums only just cope in my climate, European plums don't, we need special tropical apples etc. On the other hand, chillis are fine outside all year, although they won't put on much growth in the winter, citrus is ideal for this climate, mulberry takes over any space and blackberry is a declared noxious weed.

Also digging, my impression is that people don't thoroughly dig over the soil here ... I still don't understand why British gardening shows have rotavators, Australian gardening shows never, ever do? Of course the soil is different, and much poorer here.

However, there are lots of glossy, well produced UK gardening books to tempt me. I think gardening is a more popular hobby in the UK.

So, Mel, if you don't mind, do you think this book would have enough general information to be worth considering buying, or should I wait and see if the library ever gets it?

Sorry for the long comment!

HB said...

I'm with Red in as much as I like sciencey-type books so thanks for the review Mel - Ishall be asking the mistress to put it on my birthday list :)

Melanie Rimmer said...

Hi Red - don't worry about it, I love long comments! I think the book will be fine for you. It doesn't seem to be UK specific. It really is about the kind of thing you'd find in a university plant biology course, but presented in a friendlier way, and with an emphasis on translating the scince into gardening tips. It covers how plants survive in arid and hot regions, and the specific traits they evolve to those conditions, and it emphasises the importance of choosing plants and techniques which suit your specific local conditions, rather than a "one size fits all" approach.

I'm interested about your observations about digging. I think British gardeners are far too keen on digging, and it actually does more harm than good, eroding the soil and damaging its structure. We can perhaps get away with it because our soil is generally so good, but in parts of the world where the soil is thinner, drier, or otherwise poorer it's very wise to avoid digging. Do you emphasise adding tonnes of organic material? That's the magic key to building and binding soil.

In the Beardshaw book it describes a technique I've seen elsewhere called straw bale gardening. You build a box around straw bales stacked on their ends, cover with a couple of inches of nitrogenous material (like fresh manure), water well and cover with plastic sheeting. After a couple of weeks you can plant straight through the plastic, and raise several rotations of crops before you need to refresh the bales. In the meantime the old bales will have turned into fantastic compost to spread onto more conventional beds in the garden. It sounds like a miracle cure for really crappy plots. If you want to try it, don't follow these sketchy instructions but google for "straw bale vegetable gardening" and get some better instructions, or buy Chris Beardshaw's book!

red_swirl said...

Thank you, Mel. I totally agree about the organic matter, and the straw bales you describe are often called "no dig" gardening here. For your curiosity, if you have Australian plants, avoid giving them phosphorous ... they are adapted to our poor soils;)

Adekun said...

I picked up a copy on my trip over. Saving it for when we go back. Have calender and climate differences too.

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