IT’S hard to think of a gardening writer of the past half-century who’s had more influence on the food we grow, and even what we buy from supermarkets, than Joy Larkcom. The Salad Garden (Frances Lincoln, £16.99) was revolutionary when first published in 1984 and this revised edition is equally deserving of a place on every veg-grower’s shelf. It gives priority to lesser-known salad crops and, after reading it, you’re sure to sow at least one new vegetable in 2018.
Growing Vegetables by Sarah O’Neil (New Holland, £16-99) is a friendly but thorough guide for those new to raising their own food, while How To Grow Stuff by Alice Vincent (Ebury Press, £12.99) is a very simple and good-looking book aimed at nervous beginners and written by one who does her own gardening on a fourth-floor London balcony.
It features just a handful each of herbs, saladings, houseplants and flowers, with the aim of getting you started.
No-Dig Organic Home and Garden: Grow, Cook, Use and Store Your Harvest by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty (Permanent Publications, £19.95) is a big format 200-page paperback which, as its rather endless title suggests, is crammed with information on all aspects of producing fruit and vegetables.
A slightly jumbled, eccentric feel adds to the book’s charm and makes it perfect for browsing through. It’d certainly be a welcome Christmas present for gardeners of any level of experience.
As every allotment-holder knows, or soon discovers, nothing determines crop yields more than the health of the soil. Good Soil: Manure, Compost and Nourishment For Your Garden by Tina Raman, Ewa-Marie Rundquist and Justine Lagache (Frances Lincoln, £20), is at once the most comprehensive and the most readable volume I’ve ever seen on the subject. Not to be missed.
Self-sufficiency isn’t an all-or-nothing choice, Sally Nex insists in Growing Self-Sufficiency (Green Books, £17.99), an enthusiastic but realistic 240 pages covering fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and more, for everyone from flat dwellers to smallholders.
A pot on a windowsill, she says, can give you lifelong self-sufficiency in chillies and three tubs on a balcony can mean never having to buy a bagged salad all year.
That queen of garden DIY, Joyce Russell, offers 30 projects, ranging from a food dehydrating cabinet to a lean-to polyframe, in Build a Better Vegetable Garden (Frances Lincoln, £16.99).
Ben Russell’s photographs make the step-by-step instructions straightforward to follow for even the least handy among us.
Also benefiting from excellent photography, Tiny Tabletop Gardens by Emma Hardy (Cico Books, £14.99) presents 35 attractive DIY ideas for growing ornamentals and edibles indoors, outdoors and in-between, and in the smallest containers imaginable, including glass jars and tin cans.
And for anyone whose “gardening” is done entirely indoors, Living With Plants by Sophie Lee (Hardie Grant, £15) teaches novices everything they need to know to start filling their homes with greenery.
New gardeners often grow lots of herbs but then aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Herbs (Nourish, £20), by science journalist and ex-president of the Herb Society Judith Hann, will sort that out, with basic advice on cultivating the plants and 120 recipes for making use of them in all manner of cooking.
Herbs + Flowers by Pip McCormac (Quadrille, £7.99), with beautiful and accurate illustrations by Louise O’Reilly, is a handy pocket-sized hardback listing 32 edible herbs and flowers, briefly describing their taste, how to use them and how to grow them. Even experienced gardeners can find it difficult to fill the dark patches of their plots. Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden (Pimpernel Press, £30), an updated edition of a horticultural classic, will solve a lot of problems. It concentrates on ornamental plants but many of them are incidentally edible.
Much More Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £26) is a vegan cookery book. Written by an omnivore, and aimed at everyone who enjoys growing and eating vegetables, it contains 180 recipes in which, as the author says, plant-based food is the main event, instead of merely the “bit on the side.”
There are enough easy but enticing ideas here to liberate those who feel that a mainly animal-based diet is no longer sustainable but who struggle with what that actually means when it comes to making dinner.
You can never have too many books on how to preserve your garden produce and The Jam Maker’s Garden by Holly Farrell (Frances Lincoln, £17.99) is one of the best I’ve seen. It covers how to grow fruit and vegetables as well as how to turn them into jams, chutneys, ketchups and other preserves. So many of the recipes are new to me that my copy of the book is already full of bookmarks.
The Community Gardening Handbook by Ben Raskin (Leaping Hare Press, £9.99) is a timely and inspiring manual for an inherently subversive movement, in which people get together to improve their standard of living in various ways by collectively working a piece of land. Topics include legal structures, how to run public meetings and recruitment and retention of members.
The Value of Weeds by Ann Cliff (Crowood Press, £9.99) is a great title, a great concept and a really valuable work. Cliff, herself a farmer, shows how weeds can become a resource, rather than a nuisance, for gardeners, smallholders, cooks and wildlife conservationists.
Gardening for Wildlife by Adrian Thomas (Bloomsbury, £25) begins with some much-needed myth-debunking — for instance, that wildlife gardens need to be wild — and continues in a style that is engaging as well as informative. Add to that the high standards used in layout and production and this is another book that would make a good gift, as would The Almanac 2018 by Lia Leendertz (Unbound, £9.99).
It’s a joyful little hardback, which I do hope will be the first of a long-running series.
For each month it gives seasonal garden tasks and recipes, advice on dealing with gluts and the kind of nature notes, weather statistics and celestial charts you’d expect from a traditional almanac.
Detailed and clear instructions on numerous methods for growing edible fungi in your garden or allotment — or even in containers on balconies and patios — are provided in Home-Grown Mushrooms from Scratch by Magdalena and Herbert Wurth (Filbert Press, £20).
In the depths of winter nothing could cheer a gardener more than the exciting thought of trying something completely new in the vegetable plot next spring.
That’s why, in a year that’s produced an exceptionally strong field, this is my gardening book of the year.