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Books with a local focus

The arrival of four new and recently published books, and the success of another, highlights an interesting trend. Locally focused books seem to be coming to the fore.

9780711235274Victoria Summerley, my friend from my days as Gardening Correspondent at the London Evening Standard, reports on Facebook that her book Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, published last winter, is the third best-selling garden book out of all those published in Britain this year – which is impressive for a book on a small, though picturesque and very well gardened, part of the country. Of course, it helps that it’s good.

And in my latest parcels of review copies come more books with a local focus. Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania, Garden Plants for Scotland the sumptuous The Irish Garden, as well as the stately Oxford College Gardens.

Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel belongs on every Pennsylvania gardener’s shelf, especially in this revised and re-organized new edition. It will be all that many weekend gardeners need. There are companion volumes for most of the other states across the nation and, in a country where the climate varies so much from one state to the next, these locally focused books are invaluable. 9781591866305

Kenneth Cox has spent many years campaigning for the recognition of Scotland as different, horticulturally, from the rest of Britain. He instigated the creation of the Scottish Gardenplant Award to recognize plants specially suited to Scottish conditions. This revised edition of Garden Plants For Scotland describes the 500 winners of the Scottish Gardenplant Award and thousands of others suited to Scottish conditions.

These two books clearly have little use beyond their field of focus. Not so The Irish Garden. From the husband-and-wife team of Jane Powers, Gardening Correspondent for the Sunday Times in Ireland and previously at The Irish Times, and Jonathan Hession, who turned from photographing movies during shooting to landscapes.

Jane’s blend of historical and contemporary insight is ideal applied to gardens in country that has been through so much varied change over the centuries and her eye for the quirky is invaluable. More about The Irish Garden another time.

9780711232181Oxford College Gardens from Tim Richardson, with photography by Andrew Lawson, features a great deal of architecture along with the gardens which vary from the impressive (including Magdalen and Worcester) to the unremarkable (Keble, St Hilda’s); of course, they all must be included but space is allocated accordingly.

Tim’s impeccable historical research and judgment predominate. He’s always interesting and not afraid to be critical. But once you’re inspired to visit some of these gardens there’s provides no guidance as to when, or if, these college gardens can be visited or how to find out - apart from remarking on “the strictures and opening time eccentricities of the colleges”.

The Irish Garden is a great example of how a book with limited focus can have universal appeal, Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania is a fine example of local book for local readers. More about The Irish Garden soon.

North American gardeners
Order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order The Irish Garden by Jane Powers (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel (published by Cool Springs Press)


British and Irish gardeners
Order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order The Irish Garden by Jane Powers (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Garden Plants For Scotland by Kenneth N. E. Cox and Raoul Curtis Machin
(published by Frances Lincoln)


Comments

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Anne Wareham

Ah, thought you were going to discuss just how such local interest can capture a wide audience.

And does it? - or are garden books just selling less so you get a disproportionate result more easily? How many sales does it take to make best seller in garden books? (wish I knew!)

Xxxxx

Graham Rice

On the whole it's locally focused books on plants and gardening that have a limited wider appeal while locally focused books on gardens can spark a much broader broader interest. Techniques and plant choice are affected more by local factors than design and colour planning. This is why British books that focus on gardening techniques are unsuited to the US market while books about plants, with appropriate editing, travel far better.

Top of the list, by the way, Victoria says, was The Yellow Book (the annual guide to English gardens open for charity) while second is James Wong's Grow For Flavour, published by Mitchell Beazley and the Royal Horticultural Society. amazon.co.uk has a completely different list: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Books-Gardening/zgbs/books/271745/

Beth

Graham, I received both the Cotswolds and the Irish Gardens books for review and love them both. My review of Irish Gardens in on the US Amazon page, and I couldn't say enough good things about it --- one of the best books about gardens to come out this year. Just finishing the Cotswolds book and will review it well too -- British garden books rock! (Well, the ones about gardens do, not the ones about growing plants that won't grow here...) :-) -Beth

Victoria Summerley

No one was more surprised than me, Graham! I still can't quite believe I've got that statistic right...
Have you seen my London book yet? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Gardens-London-Victoria-Summerley-x/dp/0711236119
I think the attraction of the Cotswolds book is that this area is, as you say, very picturesque, and the attraction of the London book (I hope!) is that it offers a glimpse over the garden wall of such places as Downing Street and Winfield House, home of the US Ambassador to London.

Graham Rice

I agree, Beth, The Irish Garden is really excellent (review coming here next month).

In spite of asking, the publisher never sent me the Cotswolds book so I can't review it properly. Publishers seem to be cutting back on their PR, which accounts for the fact that so many US authors are hiring their own PR people - whose fees come out of much reduced royalty rates compared with a few years ago. Hmmm... Even publishers whose books I've enthused about fail to send review copies of their latest publications, or even information.

Glad to hear your enthusiasm for British garden books - I'll be sure to ask that you receive copies of my next books. Who knows, they might even send them?

Graham Rice

I'm told that the London book is on its way to me, Victoria, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Where next? The Gardens of Hampshire? Devon? Remember that series of books focused on small groups of English counties, from ?thirty years ago? No colour: that was the problem with them, as I recall.

Victoria Summerley

No, no more "local" books! I've exhausted the possibilities - call me old-fashioned, but I like writing about something I've had some experience of!

Graham Rice

Well, you clearly have experience of London gardens, Victoria, as I can see from your Great Gardens of London which arrived yesterday. (Though I'm not sure about relegating Kew to the also rans...) The new US PR person for Frances Lincoln certainly seems to have upped their game, thank goodness.

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