A Plant Lover's Guide to Snowdrops, Colesbourne Park, galanthophiles, Gardening books for Christmas presents, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, Michelle Chapman, Naomi Slade, painswick rococo gardens, snowdrops, Veg Plotting
Time for reading this year has been hard to come by but when I have managed to grab a moment the two books by bedside have proved to be fascinating reading. A Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops by Naomi Slade is perfectly pitched as a present for gardeners this Christmas. It’s the fourth in a series of books by the publisher Timber Press which focus on a particular genus – the others include dahlias, sedums and salvias. Naomi’s book is an enchanting mix of her love affair with these plants, a botanical study, potted history and guide to growing. Most of all I loved the approachable style of the writing. Sometimes books which are focused on one plant don’t hold my attention and can feel quite dry. Naomi has struck a great balance between being both informative and accessible.
The gallery of snowdrops – a selection of hybrids, species and cultivars – is a fabulous showcase for this plant and it includes a guide to how easy or difficult the various snowdrops are to grow. A particularly good idea, as some snowdrops can be quite expensive. I visited a snowdrop day several years ago and was gobsmacked to see the price tags – £10, £15, even £30 – on tiny pots with no more than a small cluster of leaves and a tiny flower stalk appearing. I would want to know my investment stood a good chance of establishing in my garden for those sorts of prices.
The diversity of the genus and the sometimes tiny, almost imperceptible, differences have made snowdrops a perfect plant for collectors. Galanthophiles as their known are incredibly passionate about these little flowers. I have always loved them. They’re the plant which brightens the January and February garden and they give hope that the winter will come to an end. Seeing them planted en masse at Painswick or Colesbourne is my first garden visit of the year and gives me the chance to escape outdoors. But I would say that I’ve never considered myself a galanthophile. I have slowly built up pockets of snowdrops in my garden but they are all simple Galanthus nivalis, or the common snowdrop. Having read this book though I am considering expanding my collection to at least more than one type of snowdrop. I was very taken by ‘Blewbury Tart’ and ‘Boyd’s Double’ but as both don’t include ‘easy’ in the cultivation section I think I might start with ‘Wendy’s Gold’ with it’s striking yellow markings.
The book is peppered with interviews from snowdrop experts, nursery owners and collectors and fascinating snippets on topics from snowdrop theft to how the bulbs increase using a kind of natural mathematics. It was interesting to see that galanthophilia isn’t just a British phenomenon with the power of this little plant to capture our hearts reaching across Europe, America and Australia. The information on how to grow is comprehensive, as is the guide on where to see snowdrops in the UK and further afield, with lists of snowdrop related events. And, if you’ve been inspired to branch out and add a few other snowdrops to your garden, Naomi has included a guide of where to buy.
The second book Groundbreaking Food Gardens is a really interesting concept. It consists of a collection of 73 garden designs created by passionate growers, from community gardeners and professional horticulturalists to garden bloggers and TV presenters, all based around the theme of edibles. The book is published by American publishers Storey so there is a bias towards North American contributors but it does include gardens designed by British bloggers Michelle Chapman of Veg Plotting and Emma Cooper. There are gardens to inspire whether you have a tiny balcony or the space for a biodynamic farm and everything in between. There’s an edible hedge, a terraced hillside, a design based on Asian vegetables and a cocktail garden.
Our very own Michelle Chapman has taken her 52 Week Salad Challenge, which proved to be so popular on her blog, and designed planting plans based on the idea. Successional growing and making the most out of a small space are challenges most gardeners face, both of which Michelle neatly combines in her suggestions. Certainly if you’re fed up of soggy bags of salad leaves from the supermarket this is the design for you. Emma Cooper’s idea is based around creating a self-sustaining garden with an emphasis on space for recycling nutrients including composting, comfrey and chickens.
Initially I thought that because the book was mainly aimed at the American market it wouldn’t feel relevant to my own growing conditions. However, as I read on, I found it is the inspiration it offers and the insight into how growers in another part of the world view gardening and growing edibles that are the attractions to this book. It would have been nice to have had some photographs – the book is illustrated instead – but I understand the logistics of this, with so many gardens included and over such a large geographical area, that this would have been difficult and expensive to do.
So, if you’re starting to think of gifts for gardening friends this Christmas or compiling your list for Santa then perhaps one, or both of these books is just what you’re looking for.
Both books are available online or from your local bookshop.
Many thanks to Rebecca O’Malley at Storey Publishing for these review copies.