Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Book Review #1 The Edible Garden (or How I Adore Alys Fowler...)

I have recently been given a couple of allotment and vegetable growing books to add to my increasingly huge collection. The first is The River Cottage Handbook Number 4: Veg Patch  by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s head gardener Mark Dianco, bought back by my lovely parents after their long weekend away in Rye. The second was given to me by a work colleague and fellow give-it-a-go-grow-your-own-er, The RHS Allotment Handbook  What with this job thing I have which takes up so much of my precious time, and my current obsession with googling chickens I haven’t even had time to delve into these books so I will reserve my reviews until I have given them a proper going over.
In the mean time I wanted to tell you about some books I own which really started off my obsession with vegetables, growing my own and being a little bit more self sufficient. 
Starting with The Edible Garden by my horticultural icon, Alys Fowler. I fell in love with her, her lovely dog, gorgeous chickens and stunning garden on her BBC series This book has come under a bit of flack in some of the review forums that I’ve seen but I still think it is a lovely book. Alys encourages you to have your garden and eat it, making the most of the space you have to enjoy and to grow vegetables. She advocates a new form of gardening, polyculture, where everything grows together, and if the plants can help each other out- the more the better! It’s the opposite to Mr McGregor’s garden with it’s neat rows of radishes.

 I live at home with my parents (I’m between universities at the moment you see...) so I don’t really have a space of my own. The garden is very much my dad’s territory so my allotment has to double up as a space I can be in to socialise and relax as well as a space I can grow in. I’ve taken a lot from this book about relaxed planting methods, planting flowers and veg together and covering every possible bit of space with things that grow productive as well as beautiful flowering things that make me happy. As such my allotment has, or will have, lots of flowers. I have dedicated swathes of space to flowerbeds that will encourage bees, beasties and bugs into my plot, I’ve even built a woodlouse hotel. The boyf has been raised by an old school veg growing father and likes his lines, he does not enjoy the influence of Alys on our plot. He was allowed one raised bed (considering he built 10 this does seem a little tight I know) on which to grow millions of onions in rows. If it had been up to me there would be no onions. But he has his rows, which I will interplant with carrots when he’s not looking.
 I recently acquired her first book The Thrifty Gardener which seems to contain much of the same. I have taken inspiration from the chapter on growing in containers and have become a magpie for anything that could hold a carrot or a radish, though on Alys’s own advice, no toilets or old boots. I have acquired a couple of old umbrella stands for £2 at a car boot sale and a load of old drawers, which might not last beyond next winter but will hold enough salad leaves for a few sarnies! I compost everything possible, although this is tricky as my allotment is about half an hour to 45 minutes walk away- not as easy as walking to the end of the garden every time I crack an egg. I have made friends with a local cafe owner who endeavours to give me as many of his coffee grounds as he can remember to spare, he even chucks in the odd mouldy avocado. The boyf also contributes tonnes of grass cuttings from his weekly gardening round so I have a compost heap even Alys would be proud of! I like a bit of Thrifty Gardening!

I’m still very new to this and it can be a little bamboozling, crop rotation charts, spacings, rows, but with the principles of The Edible Garden, I feel as though I can relax my planting. I will learn from what doesn’t work and I won’t repeat it next year. If my plot looks pretty now and I can get some veg off it then that’s enough for me.  I’ve taken a keen interest in polyculture and plan to try some of the more bonkers ideas I’ve seen on the internet, including a “salad bed” where every seed from leaves to carrots to radishes is sprinkled onto one bed (strictly no rows) and allowed to grow at its own rate in its own space. No touching. The boyf is not best pleased. I’ve also learnt that organic gardening really isn’t that hard, it’s the only way. Yes the slugs are soul destroying sometimes but once I have my lovely chickens they will make a delicious snack for them and I will feel like I’ve beaten them, even if some survive to munch my cabbages! Carrot fly can destroy my whole crop, but not if I go beyond the row and interplant with onions. Planters don’t have to be terracotta with a hefty garden centre price tag, they can be made with bits of foraged pallets and even carrier bags...
Even if you can’t break away from rows, the book is worth a flick just for the beautiful photography and charming drawings and top tips on edible flowers- who knew!? So much I’ve learnt has come from Alys, I’m now a fully-fledged-organic-gardening-in-a-dress-barefoot-rummaging-in-a-skip Alys Fowler fan.

Verdict: Buy it buy it buy it. If only to read in the sunshine and dream of eating flowery salads and riding a bike with a dog in the basket....

1 comment:

  1. She's one of my favourite gardeners, I love her easy going down to earth manner (and that she garden in dresses, I tried that, but the pigs have a horrible tendency to wipe their noses on your legs so it's back to jeans!!).

    I Sky+'d her series and I sit and watch it when I want to relax and be inspired. Then I grab my little dog 'Rosy' and we head off to the polytunnel to put plans into action.

    Thanks for your comment on my Blog post and welcome to my happy little band of followers.

    Sue xx