I don’t read book reviews, preferring to use that age-old method of judging a book by its cover.
I do understand though, that not everyone is as shallow as moi, so….
Here’s a list of what’s on my bedside table right NOW
1. A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono
This is a seriously inspiring read. It tells you how to grow what I call ‘luxe crops’…stuff that you’d have to pay good money for in special shops, or that you might instinctively think is ‘hard to grow’ because, well because it’s not a potato really. Baby-bottomed apricots the colour of a cockateal’s cheek, quinces to scent your life and sex up your manchego, alpine strawberries (Mr Pug’s favourite food)…the list of fruit goes on, and brings to mind scenes people like this. But I’ve met Mark, and he’s really quite a regular kind of guy – he has a farm in Devon where he grows all this marvellous stuff, and where he and his family feast on fuschia berries on, like, a weeknight while they’re watching the telly… which proves the point that all these riches are perfectly growable by us mortals…yes, even szechuan pepper.
There are recipes too, dreamt up by the divinely clever Debora Robertson, and beautiful photography from Mark himself and the obviously very talented Laura Hynde. Mark’s writing is both witty and informative, and that, my friends, means that you can use this book to grow your own egyptian walking onions, or just read it in bed and dream (I do both).
2. Food for Friends and Family by Sarah Raven
Okay, so it’s not strictly a gardening book (but I’m not strictly a gardening girl)…all the greatest pleasures in life – beautiful gardens, yummy food, laughing babies, emeralds – are inextricably linked in one way or another. Sarah Raven manages to get the perfect balance of ‘look at my perfect life’ and ‘hey, you can do this too’, and a cynic might say that this is because she’s a wily, clever business-woman (which I’m sure she is) but when you read her writing, and look at the sheer volume of her output, you know all that can’t come from a person unless she’s in possession of some serious, genuwine passion. This book is full of food I want to cook. It’s set out by season, which is a winning trick for me, as I get anxious when presented with too much choice; being separated into seasons means that I can confine myself to a comfortable quarter of it when I’m looking for something to cook.
The photos need a paragraph to themselves. It’s obvious that the Jonathan Buckley/Sarah Raven combo is a match made in heaven. She seems to specialise in those juicy, jewel-like colours that he loves to shoot. This book has quite a few beauteous pictures of Sarah and her family chilling and eating and generally having a fabulous time in various delectable locations. If it’s staged, then they’ve got me fooled…The photos, the recipes and Sarah’s writing make me want to be friends with her (but only if she cooks me the party plum tart on page 204) x
3. Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox
I’m reading this right now and am only 90 pages in, but I am devouring it with the same zeal I usually reserve for Heat Magazine. I have loved Robin Lane Fox‘s column in the FT for ages…he’s one of those writers who dispenses pearls of wisdom amidst witty prose that have you reaching for your notebook and pen or tearing out bits of pink broadsheet and vowing to stick them somewhere. (I have piles of torn bits of paper everywhere…recipes, gardening advice, illegible notes from the Hunk…all waiting for one massive cutting and sticking session that I absolutely KNOW will never happen). Anyway, I am besotted with RLF because he is an experienced gardener with lots of know-how who can write really well.
The book is a collection of essays really, set out seasonally but not limited by that; A brilliantly informative note on mahoniais followed by his musings on the great Nancy Lancaster and her last garden at Haseley Court, where he lived and gardened for a while. I have to give you a quote – because then you’ll understand how addictive this book is:
“By the time I knew her, Nancy had lived the grand life and spent money as freely as water from her garden hose. Nonetheless, she worked outdoors whenever she could, alarming my wife and myself by tugging the hose through the ground floor of the cottage which we rented from her and calling at six in the morning, ‘When are you going to have babies or shall I come upstairs and show you how to do it?'”
How utterly FABULOUS.