Books

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Garden Bees

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This week is Bees’ Needs Week, an annual event coordinated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and involving charities, businesses, conservation groups and academic institutions to raise awareness of bees and other pollinators. So what better time to remind you about this book?

I had no idea there were so many different kinds of bees! The Secret Life of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon (published by White Owl) really opened my eyes to the vast variety of these endearing and invaluable creatures. Two hundred and seventy six species in Britain alone.

Honeybees: yes, of course, I know about them. These are the ones everybody gets so worked up about. But they’re probably the ones least in need of protection - after all, there are beekeepers all over the country whose aim is to look after them. There are also the bees that burrow into the mortar in the front wall of my old stone house: yes, I know about them.

But I had no idea about, for example, the ivy bee which doesn’t emerge from its below ground nests until September when the first ivy starts to flower. Or Britain's rarest bee, the shrill carder bumblebee, known only from a few places scattered across southern Britain.

This is an eye-opening book and one thing that Jean Vernon does very well, as she guides us through a world that really is secret to most of us, is to present information that could be seen as off-puttingly technical in easy accessible language. It's crucial for writers aiming to engage readers with new and detailed material to carry them along, to present no barriers. Some resort to being superficial - but what's the point of that?

Reading The Secret Lives of Garden Bees we can absorb the information in an enjoyable way without feeling overwhelmed.

  • Declaration of interest: the author is a friend, and the book was supplied free of charge by the publisher.
  • A shorter version of this review appeared on Facebook in July 2020.

Book Review: Peonies by Claire Austin

Peonies by Claire Austin
Peonies is the new book by Claire Austin

It’s peony season and we have a new book on peonies to savour. Written and photographed by renowned peony expert Claire Austin - her nursery lists more peony varieties than I could count – she doesn’t just describe her choice from the thousands of varieties she’s seen and grown over the years. No, she adds the fruits of her insight derived from decades of experience. (Well – enough decades to soak up the experience but not so many decades that… I’ll stop digging.)

The book is, basically, Claire’s choice of peonies, described and illustrated. We know we can trust her choice, and there’s no tricky botanical language in the text to trip us up. In fact I think that she sat on a stool in front of each variety and simply described what she saw. The best way.

But there’s more. So, apart from giving us the description of each plant we learn, for example:
‘Bunker Hill’ “Unlike many red lactiflora blooms, the petals don’t deteriorate quickly when the flower is cut.”
‘Emma Klehm’ “A useful plant for those who want a very late-flowering variety.”
‘Little Medicine Man” has flowers that are small “but produced in great numbers on stiff red stems”.
‘Marie Lemoine’ “Sadly, wet weather can spoil the flowers.”
‘Shirley Temple’ “blooms freely in a partly shaded spot”.’

She also notes, for each variety, whether or not it needs staking and the strength of its scent and lists more than two dozen varieties that she especially recommends for cutting.

Before we come to the descriptions and illustrations that make up most of the book, we have Claire’s advice on growing peonies, a summary of their development over the centuries, and a fascinating account of her own history with these everlastingly tempting perennials.

And I’m pleased to say that she slays the myth about moving peonies: “There is a long-held but totally unfounded gardening belief that peonies cannot be moved.” Got that? “unfounded”.

“Peonies have few ailments,” Claire continues. True enough. But a cut flower growing friend asked me just a couple of days ago why her white peonies were spoiling the purity of their colour with faint red flashes. I had no idea, so I hoped Claire’s book would help. But no luck.

So I’m very happy to have this book on my shelf, to enlighten me – and to steal from – whenever I need. Just one thing: the design is, well, a little bit dull. Modern plant books, including the excellent RHS Horticultural Monograph series and Discovering Dahlias that I reviewed here recently, inspire interest partly because of the elegance of their design. I see no designer is credited on this book. Claire should think about hiring a specialist designer next time.

  • An unimpeachable choice of the best varieties
  • Every variety illustrated
  • Descriptions based on personal experience
  • Thoughtful insight into each variety’s qualities
  • Readable and without reliance on botanical language
  • Design could be more stylish

“Dependable peony advice from our leading expert.”

Peonies by Claire Austin is published by White Hopton Publications at £25. Order a copy from Claire Austin’s Hardy Plants.

 

 


Discovering Dahlias

Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein
Having been despised as garish and – frankly - the flowers of the lower classes for decades, the rehabilitation of the dahlia began with the very definitely not-at-all working class Christopher Lloyd using them extensively in his garden at Great Dixter, in Sussex.

The dahlia has never looked back and the books have followed. There are three more recent and upcoming dahlia books that I’m going to discuss here over the coming weeks and the first is Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein.

I’m a big fan of Erin Benzakein. She runs Floret Farm in Washington State and has done more than most to popularise the idea of locally grown, non-industrial cut flowers. She’s gone from a one-woman enterprise to planting twenty acres in just a few years.

I really enjoyed her first book, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden, and reviewed it here in 2017, and now comes another.

This is an inspiring book, but not without its faults. The photography, by Erin’s husband Chris, is immediately striking not just for the awe inspiring views of the cutting fields but for the delightful detail revealed in the close-ups.

The catalogue of Erin’s recommended varieties is arranged by colour and there are, for example, five pages of dahlias in peachy shades – thirty varieties in all – and all shown in huge bunches held by Erin in front of her ubiquitous blue shirt and described in detail. It’s all so tempting that wants lists soon extend to a second page of back-of-the-envelope scribble. And this where things begin to become less convenient.

There’s no list of suppliers of dahlia tubers and/or cuttings in the book. Instead, we’re directed to the Floret Farm website where we must sign up to receive the “Discovering Dahlias Bonus Materials” by email. A great way to collect email addresses. This arrives promptly and includes descriptive details (not just a name and a link) of twenty three American dahlia specialists, seven in Canada, four in mainland Europe - but only two from the UK. Not good.

Three hundred and sixty varieties are included in the directory. I presume they’re all available from American suppliers – frankly, I just don’t have time to check. But I looked up all those peachy varieties in the latest edition of the RHS Plant Finder – which lists all the plants available from British and Irish nurseries, 81,000 of them. Eight of the peach varieties are listed with at least one supplier – twenty two are not listed at all. And if you want to check Erin’s thoughts on varieties you already have on your wants list – forget it: there’s no variety index.

The practicalities are very much based on experience in Washington State and British growers, and growers in other parts of North America, will need to adapt. She assumes you’ll root your cuttings under lights, for example.

So we end up being inspired and tempted and mad keen to add to our dahlia collection – or start one. American readers can, I assume, spark their enthusiasm into action. British and Irish enthusiasts will have quite a lot of work to do.

  • Beautiful and inspiring
  • A tempting choice of varieties revealed
  • Paper and print quality excellent
  • Extremely well priced
  • Few recommended varieties available in Britain
  • Skimpy pest and disease coverage
  • Sad absence of a variety index

“Beautiful to look at and genuinely inspiring, but it could do more to help turn inspiration into achievement.”

Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein is published by Chronicle Books.

Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in the UK

Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in North America

 

Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein - the first peachy pages


Grow, Cut, and Arrange

A spring arrangement from Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein (with Julie Chai)
Our gardens are full of flowers and we like to have them in the house too but so many of us fail to make the best of our cut blooms. Which are the best flowers to grow for cutting at home? How should we grow them? How should we treat them to ensure they last as long as possible? How should we arrange them for the house? An inspiring new book by the owner of Washington State’s Floret Flower Farm aims to answer all these questions for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein (with Julie Chai) is a lovely looking book. Organised by season, the challenge has been to adapt large scale commercial techniques to the needs of home gardeners. Few of us grow on the scale of Erin’s farm and none of us have the experience of growing so many different flowers. She wants us to do more than simply cut what we have plenty of and stick them in a jar.

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai is published by Chronicle Books at $29.95/£21.99.Which are the best? Erin does not say “grow this” or “grow that”, she simply covers a huge variety of flowers and leaves it up to you, from roses and sweet peas to flowering carrots and hellebores. However, I was very surprised to find that calendulas, annual asters and Shasta daisies are left out entirely. I’ve been enjoying one or the other – and sometimes all three – in a jug on my kitchen table for months.

How to grow them? The climate in Washington State is closer to the climate of the UK than it is to the climate in much of the rest of North America so although her cultural advice is excellent, growers in many parts of the US will have to adapt to their own conditions. I’d never heard the surprising advice to leave dahlia tubers in the ground for the winter but to divide them every year because otherwise they'll become too heavy to lift! Not in Britain!

How to make them last? There’s excellent advice on caring for cut flowers and for every flower covered there’s an invaluable Vase Life Tricks section which is perhaps the most universally valuable part of the book. This is the part I’ve used the most.

How to arrange them? Each seasonal section includes very useful step-by-step illustrated guides on how to create a series of arrangements in a variety of styles. Oddly, the individual pictures are quite small while a great deal of page-space remains empty. Seems a waste...

This is an elegant and very useful book, full of valuable advice presented attractively. But the fact remains that there’s no one book that provides all guidance we need. And no asters?!

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai is published by Chronicle Books at $29.95/£21.99. 

 

                                     


Ivy: Friend or Foe?

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Ivy is a plant that divides opinions. Attractive foliage, good for wildlife, cools buildings… Invasive, ruins walls, harbours pests…. Research and opinion on all these issues has been in the news increasingly in recent years and now the most comprehensive book on ivies ever produced has been published by The Royal Horticultural Society.

Hedera: The Complete Guide by Hugh McAllister and Rosalyn Marshall is exactly that – the complete guide. With more than four hundred pages, and impressively illustrated in colour throughout, this is the second in the RHS Horticultural Monograph series which began with last year’s excellent book on kniphofias.

This is an attractively designed book – far more appealing than most gardeners expect from a serious plant monograph even though the predominant colour of ivies is, well, green. All the species are described in detail, but not in torrents of baffling technical language; two hundred cultivars are illustrated and described, and the fat descriptive checklist covers all the other names that have ever been used, over two thousand of them.

One very useful feature of the book is its use of the Pierot system of classification. This was created by Suzanne Pierot, the first President of the American Ivy Society, in the 1970s and divides ivies into nine convenient groups based on easily-seen features of the foliage. Brits are largely unfamiliar with this approach so its use in this book should help it stick.

HederaBookCover9781907057731But what does the book have to say about those pros and cons?
Attractive foliage? Obviously.
Good for wildlife? Yes. “Ivy berries are eaten by at least 17 species of bird in Britain indicating the importance of this plant group for the support of vertebrate wildlife…. They have a high energy, though low protein, content and form a large part of the diet of several species at this time of year (winter).” “The autumn flowering of ivy provides nectar for a wide range of invertebrates at a lean time of year.” Not to mention ivy as a valuable nest site.
Cools buildings in summer, warms buildings in winter? Yes. “Measurements on ivy-covered stone walls across several historic sites in England… showed that an ivy covering resulted in cooler walls in summer and warmer walls in winter.” “Recent research on the climate of southeast UK… suggests that a 21-37% reduction in winter heating could be achieved.”

Invasive? Sometimes. While most ivies can develop vigorous growth in their native habitats, it is almost always H. hibernica that causes problems as a non-native plant. “All ivies need not be banned in climates where invasive ivies are a problem. There are enough dwarf, miniature and slow-growing cultivars of H. helix to provide a good range of safe and attractive plants for indoor and outdoor use.” In my Pennsylvania garden, as soon as an ivy shoot penetrates the deer fence the deer eat it.

Damages walls? Sometimes. “Any increase in relative humidity due to wall plant cover is offset by lack of rain reaching the building.” But: “ivy can root into weakened historic walls or buildings, and can lift blocks of stone off walls” and also damage walls built and pointed using soft mortar.

Harbours pests? Sometimes. Ivy is attacked by viburnum scale which also attacks Viburnum tinus. “In pots, by far the most serious pest of ivy is vine weevil” – which attacks a wider range of other plants. I’d be interested to know if outdoor ivy has a role as a reservoir of vine weevil infestation.

This is an impressive book by one of our most seasoned horticultural taxonomists and a relatively young recruit to the RHS botany team. The RHS has more in the series on the way, I look forward to the series building into an invaluable resource.

Hedera: The Complete Guide by Hugh McAllister and Rosalyn Marshall is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/$53.45.

You can read more about ivies in gardens and in the wild in these Transatlantic Gardener posts.
Ivy is not always a menace
Ivy reveals how nature is nuanced
Ivy goes green

 

 

                         

Happy 30th Anniversary to the RHS Plant Finder!

Plantfinder2017Cover
The 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder has just arrived. And let’s be clear: just because it carries the stamp of the Royal Horticultural Society does not mean that it’s of no interest outside Britain. On the contrary.

The Plant Finder does two things and, in fact, it’s the one that’s not hinted at in its title that has universal value. Because, in order to establish which plants are sold by which nurseries, the names of the plants have to be standardised otherwise the same plant could be listed under three or four different names. And it’s the up-to-date determination of the correct plant names that’s so valuable across the globe. (The Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder also tells you where to buy every one of the 72,000 plants listed.)

A team of Royal Horticultural Society botanists make decisions on names based on the latest research around the world and in consultation with experts everywhere. And the RHS has become more conservative, over the years, only this year determining that the hardy perennial sedums belong in their own genus, Hylotelephium, a change made in North America some time ago. But this up-to-date standardisation of the names is what makes the book valuable on all continents.

One of the features of this 30th anniversary edition of the Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder is a range of contributions on the subject of the unique legacy of the 30th anniversary edition of the book. And one of the contributors is – me! I was asked to pick five plants included in the Plant Finder that I couldn’t do without. I chose a snowdrop, a hellebore, a sweet pea, a heucherella and a physocarpus.

Expert plantsman Tony Lord, who supervised the clarification of the plant names from the Plant Finder’s early days until soon after the RHS took it over, has included a history of the book but there’s one thing that he hasn’t mentioned. Eight years before the very first edition of the Plant Finder in 1987, I myself set out to produce exactly the same book. I had the support of leaders at Kew and the RHS and from one of the top British garden book publishers. So, early in 1979, I asked all the mail order nurseries I knew about across Britain and Ireland to send me their catalogues and I began collating their listings into a database from which the book would be produced.

I was living in Dublin at the time but no sooner had I set about acquiring catalogues than there was a postal strike – which lasted for eighteen weeks, that’s almost five months! And, of course, back then there was no internet and everything was done by post. So the whole project, which of course depended on being up to date, fell apart. And then I got a job as writer on the late lamented Practical Gardening magazine, hired by the influential UK TV gardener Geoff Hamilton, who was the magazine’s editor, and there was no time to revitalise the project.

Fortunately, Chris Phillip, his partner Denys Gueroult, and Tony Lord, with whom I trained at Kew (and who, let’s not mess about, usually beat me in the weekly plant identification test by a point or two…), made the Plant Finder the invaluable reference that it is today. Frankly, they did a better job than I would have done and I salute them and their RHS successors.

Every gardener, every plantsperson across the world, every nursery owner and propagator, every garden writer, every plant breeder - everyone with a serious interest in plants - should have the latest edition of the Plant Finder on their shelf. It’s that simple.

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in the Britain and Ireland

Order the 2017 RHS Plant Finder in North America

Check out the Plant Finder's predecessor, the Plant Directory, produced by the Nottinghamshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society.


1001 Plants...

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I recently contributed a foreword, and discussed some of the plants, in a big fat new book called, in Britain, 1001 Plants You Must Grow Before You Die and called, in North America, 1001 Plants To Dream Of Growing. Perhaps the publishers thought that the sensibilities of American readers are a little more delicate that those of the Brits and that they’d be discouraged from buying the book by the reminder of the fact that, one day, they’ll be pushing up daisies. Anyway, both titles give you idea.

The book runs to 960 pages – yes, really!, weighs in at 4lb 9.4oz/2.08kg, and every one of the 1001 plant choices is, of course, handsomely illustrated in color. Editor Liz Dobbs did a great job. The book is split into sections – annuals, perennials, shrubs, climbers, edibles and so on – and each chosen plant is discussed by an expert who reveals interesting insights into the plant, its origins, its habits, its associations and why it deserves to be chosen. It really is a good read.

I’m delighted to say that the book has been well-received. To pick just two reviews, The New York Journal Of Books said: "This gorgeous book is meant for anyone who is an aspiring gardener or an expert horticulturist, regardless of green-thumb abilities or current state of a reader’s yard or window box.". And an enthusiastic reviewer on amazon.co.uk said: “Brilliant book and when it's laying out on the counter even the non gardeners in the family pick it up for a browse though and read aloud the plants that they find interesting or unusual.”

Now, here’s my advice. If you’d like to send a friend a plant book for the holidays, this is the book. But here’s the thing. It’s so heavy that it will cost you a fortune to send it. But if you order through amazon and have it sent direct to the friend then the shipping can be free if you’re not in a rush – and think about having them gift wrap it too. Don’t you just love a bargain?!

 

          


Impressive new Kniphofia book

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Not so long ago I talked to the commissioning editor at one of the top garden book publishers who said they weren’t commissioning any more books about plants because people could get all the information on plants they needed online. Well, not so fast. This gold standard of plant books proves them wrong.

Kniphofias are – as we say these days – trending, so the appearance of Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is very timely. In the last six years one American breeder alone has introduced thirteen new varieties (including 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle', above) and the trial at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley that ended in 2009 revealed some fine older cultivars.

This book does everything a monograph should: in its 456 pages it classifies and describes the seventy species thoroughly and with insight; over a thousand cultivars are covered, 160 that are grown today are described in detail and illustrated - grouped by the color of their flowers so we can more easily distinguish one from another. We gain a valuable understanding of how and where kniphofias grow in the wild, courtesy of a botanist who’s studied them in their native habitats. And if you want to know how to grow them… well, look no further.

Kniphofia-Book-1907057670That’s all well and good, but if this wealth of information is not provided in an attractive and accessible way then why bother? Fortunately, the design is elegant and stylish yet straightforward and accessible; the color reproduction is excellent and whatever I need to know about kniphofias, this is where I turn.

And, in some ways, that’s the most important feature of all. There’s no room in the gardening book market for more than one book on kniphofias, so the one that appears has to cover, well, everything. In recent years a number of plant books have appeared that have not been comprehensive but which have, by their very existence, prevented another book taking up the slack.

This is the first in a series of plant monographs from the Royal Horticultural Society, with books on some popular and important plants in the pipeline. It’s not cheap, but even so I’m sure it won't make the RHS or its author much money. But it’s part of the role of the world’s largest and most prestigious gardening society to make fundamental information about plants available for the gardening and botanical community across the world. Count this as a job very well done.

Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/c$50.00.

                 

 

* Disclosure: I was paid for a fee for a small contribution to this book.


Books for the holidays

6a00d834515e3169e201b8d15f7d6a970c-800wiIn case you’re on the look out for gifts, I just thought I’d quickly remind you of the books I’ve discussed here this last year.

The Irish Garden
"a book for the far away voyeur and a before-you-visit book. If you never visit Ireland you’ll enjoy this book anyway". Listen to my audio review of The Irish Garden specially recorded for The Guardian podcast Sow. Grow. Repeat. (But inexplicably not used!)

Himalayan blue poppies: A stupendous new book
"the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"

the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"

Books with a local focus
Featuring Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley, Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel, and Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson.
"a book with limited focus can have universal appeal"

a book with limited focus can have universal appeal - See more at: http://www.transatlanticplantsman.com/transatlantic_plantsman/2015/09/books-with-a-local-focus.html#sthash.QH8n145C.dpuf

Shades Of Blue
"a series of stories to inspire and hearten us".

 

 


Funny gardening books

RevoltingGardenCowering in bed under the influence of the Great British Headcold, a little light reading was required. I looked shivveringly at the bookshelves and my eyes fell on a little cluster of “comic” gardening titles. I grabbed them and staggered back to bed.

The undoubted star of these four titles was the most recent, The Revolting Garden by Rose Blight. Rose Blight is the 1970s pseudonym used by none other than Germaine Greer for a series in Private Eye, the pioneering British satirical magazine. This little book is a collection of her columns. Here’s a taste of her style, she’s discussing the garden built in London to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.

“The ghosts of deluded planting schemes of love-lies-bleeding, mignonette and snow-on-the-mountain gibber and grin hideously over turbulent brick paths. This arid expanse is made to seem as vast and uncrossable as the Gobi by absurdly out-of-scale architectural embellishments, a dwarfish obelisk (erected no doubt to the memory of the plants whose cadavers lean against the winds of January), and knee-high balustrades. Diagonally opposite the mini obelisk, a very tall (and ergo very costly), hopelessly miserable cypress strains against its guy-ropes, doubtless trying with all its might not to root in such an ill-omened spot… It is too much to hope that the Duke of Gloucester who opened the garden… will have the goodness to come and close it again.”

No one writes about gardens like that any more, I’m sorry to say.

Going back to 1936, we come to Garden Rubbish by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, trying to cash in on their very funny bestseller 1066 And All That. Trying in vain, unfortunately. Here’s a few of their thoughts on garden pests.

"i.    Onion-fly. A species of Fly which, being devoid of original ideas, attacks Onions. Withhold the Onion and the Fly dies. No need to be cruel: don’t keep letting the fly see the onion. Take it right away and hide it.
ii.    The Woolly Aphis. Send it to the Laundry. When it comes back send it to the wash again. After two or three goes it will shrink so tight on to itself that it will suffocate.
iii.    Wire-worm. Easily distinguishable by its long slender yellowish body. Easily caught by burying slices of turnip (ground bait) secured on a skewer.
iv.    Weevils. Ignore them - remember the old warning “Hear no weevil, see no weevil, speak no weevil” and cut them dead.””

Ungardeners1944 brings us Flower Gardening for Ungardeners by Ethelind Fearon (author, also, of Cakes for Occasions). I know she sounds like an anagram, but in fact she was H. G. Wells’s gardener. To be honest, the best part of this book is the cover by Alex Jardine. I think the book's intended to be “light” rather than comic and it begins like this.

“What is an ungardener anyway?

“Obviously one who instinctively dodges gardening. He, or more likely she, is averse from any sort of toil, moil or soil and intends, by reason of tough resistance and imperviousness to hints, bribes or threats, to remain so.

“Occasionally this happy situation, this care-free attitude, is upset by the acquisition of a piece of land which for very shame, you must tend - some dump left in hideous disarray by the builder when you move into a new house, or a despondent jungle of non-productive and funeral conifers knee-high in nettles if it’s an old one. However, in either case I can tell you how to make it bloom like mad while you remain almost totally inactive and acquire never a callus, except those on your shoulder blades, from lounging too low, too long, in a deck chair.”

Finally, from 1944, Tubers and Taradiddle (or The Gardener’s Entertainment) a year in the garden of Donald Cowie who's described in the blurb as “already known to the discriminating as a satirist to be taken seriously, he has a considerable reputation among writers of the younger school.” Here's a sample.

“FEBRUARY 12
“Already I feel approaching summer in the air, and cannot understand why people say it’s still too early to plant most vegetables. So I put in spring onions today, between broad bean rows. Packet said: “make a drill”. Not sure what that meant, I asked Carstairs (the neighbour), who informed me: “Well, you know, a kind of ditch you make, or a hole, not too deep, you know, but then you don’t want it too shallow.” I tried to follow neighbourly instructions, but making ditch was heavy work, as I came eventually to a bed of yellow clay, far below sub-soil….

“Onion seeds, ridiculously small and liable to run through hands, I inserted carefully, one by one, in bottom of ditch then shovelled clay back. Job took five hours….

“Waiting till frosts are finished, indeed! Why, we might not have another frost this year…

“FEBRUARY 20
“For the last eight days - nothing but snow, snow, snow.”

So they were the books I chose to enliven my sickbed.

Do you know? I’m feeling better. Not sure if the humour of these four little books cheered me up or the lack of it forced me out of bed to do something else and get away from them. The Rose Blight book I definitely recommend and of the others Tubers and Taradiddle is the pick – except for the stylish jacket of Flower Gardening for Ungardeners.

Any other suggestions for funny gardening books - from any era - that really are funny? Apart from Christopher Lloyd, of course.