In his introduction to Down to Earth, Monty Don tells us that he is not an expert but merely an amateur. As such, the book is “not intended as a textbook or a definitive guide” and, unlike many gardening books, he writes as much about why we should garden as how to go about it.
Monty admits that as a child he saw gardening as another chore and what he calls his infatuation began at the age of 17 while preparing ground for sowing carrots.
“I was filled with an ecstatic sense of being exactly where I wanted to be.”
This sense of sheer joy permeates his writing from his description of cottage gardens with their “charm, innocence and a sense of harmonious abandonment” to his love of May when “every day feels like a celebration”.
Yet the face of BBC’s Gardeners’ World cannot resist giving advice and Down to Earth is woven through with practical tips gleaned from a lifetime of gardening.
There is a run through of common garden pests ranging from pigeons to slugs and snails with suggestions of how to combat them: growing large blocks of lettuce, for example, “literally saturates the slug larder”, while preventative netting is the best way to protect brassicas against caterpillars.
He gives suggestions for plants be they flowering shrubs or climbers with advice on how to plant and grow them. Container planting, wildlife gardening and growing vegetables are among other topics covered with useful ‘at a glance’ summaries at the end of each section. And the book ends with a ‘what to do’ look at each month, echoing the popular Jobs for the Week on Gardeners’ World.
The more general advice includes taking regular photographs – “You will be astonished how memory plays false both for good and ill” – accommodating the natural inclination to take the most direct route in a garden with paths that do not fight “lines of desire”, making your plot attractive to wildlife by not being too tidy, and being flexible, as gardens will inevitably change. Above all, you should please yourself and be prepared to make mistakes.
Although there are photographs, including many from Monty’s own garden Longmeadow, this is a text-heavy book and yet that does not matter as the style makes it easy to read with a conversational tone and vivid description: “White flowers should ride the waves of green like the surf rather than swamp it like snowfall.”
Perhaps the most important advice is to simply garden.
“You need to luck to be happy,” Monty tells us. “But make a garden and you increase your chances.”
• Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom by Monty Don is published by DK, priced at £17.99 RRP. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small fee. The price you pay is not affected.)
• Review copy supplied by DK.
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