These are the books I’m currently using – a lot! They have been indispensable to me over the last few days while I’ve been constructing my new heirloom garden. If you’re a beginner gardener and at all interested in growing your own vegetables – the following books are REQUIRED reading:
Grow to Live by the legendary Pat Featherstone is by far the most practical gardening book I’ve ever owned. Advice is straight-forward and mostly accompanied by diagrams and illustrations. Pat says it like it is – in layman’s terms. Calling ‘a spade a spade’ is an understatement. She takes you through the process of setting up a garden from understanding the soil, to mapping out the garden, composting, vermiculture (that’s worm-farming by the way), mulching, pest control and much more.
Like me, Jane Griffiths is an urban farmer. She understands gardening in small spaces – though I’m sure her garden is MUCH bigger than mine. Jane’s Delicious Garden is one of my favourite gardening books – and one that I keep referring to again and again. In fact, it’s covered in mud splatters (*shame-faced*) which says a lot. She goes into composting in great depth (yes, composting is an art! And I’ve yet to learn it), and she treads the earth lightly – I love that. My best chapters are the ones on her ‘Jungle Style’ of gardening, which takes permaculture to a whole new level.
The New Kitchen Garden by Anna Pavord was given to me by one of my mentors, Mary Armour, when I first started working at Condé Nast House & Garden eight years ago. It’s the only gardening book of this lot that is not South African – a massive negative as the seasons are the wrong way round – and what grows in the UK does NOT always grow here! The thing I love about it is the beautiful illustrations on garden designs, which I’ve turned to for inspiration MANY times.
A Slice of Organic Life is not really a gardening book as such, but a guide on how to live a healthy, well, ‘organic’ life. Interesting and helpful gardening tips include the likes of how to grow salad in a window box, keeping herbs indoors, growing strawberries in hanging baskets, keeping chickens (story of my life!), keeping urban honey bees, starting a wormery, the ‘square foot’ garden, how to garden without pesticides, collecting rainwater efficiently, making compost in a small space, planting a fruit orchard, nourishing the soil … shall I go on?
‘Companion planting is the age-old practice of planting different plants in close proximity so that they can help one another in some beneficial way. These plants complement each other by giving off scent or chemicals that repel insects, or they may attract beneficial insects that are predators to harmful insects,’ says Margaret Roberts. Companion Planting includes practical advice on over 100 herbs and food plants and their companions interspersed with recipes for natural fertilisers and insect sprays. This one, I must admit, I don’t have yet – but it’s on my birthday wishlist!
The A-Z of Vegetable Gardening in South Africa by Jack Hadfield is a gardening tome! First published in 1967, it is not filled with advice on organic gardening (not really of great importance in those days). But what it does have is a concise directory of just about every vegetable ever grown in South African soil with advice on recommended cultivars, soil preparation, propagation, sowing, treatment, harvesting and diseases – on every single one from Artichokes to Zucchini!
So there you have it. My list of must have food-garden books.