Don’t judge a book . . .
Despite being a paid-up member of the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ brigade, I must confess to a slight sinking feeling when given The Sceptical Gardener to review. With its understated style, close type and no photos, it’s a far cry from the usual gardening book. How wrong I was and how true the old adage; this book is a delight.
For regular readers of the Daily Telegraph, Ken Thompson and his quirky look at the world of horticulture will be familiar. For those who have not encountered him, he is a former lecturer at the University of Sheffield and a man determined to put science under the microscope.
As the title suggests, he approaches each new scientific claim with a degree of suspicion and sets about determining firstly whether it is true and, secondly, what that means for gardeners. Thus we learn that the colour of bird boxes is less important than their orientation and how ‘hot beds’ could bring earlier vegetable crops.
This wide-ranging book, made up of articles published over the past five years, is divided into themes, such as ‘Growing Food’, ‘Garden Wildlife’ and the wonderfully named, ‘Not Worth Doing’, which encompasses buying bees, planting by the moon and compost tea.
Some articles are strictly scientific: ‘Neonicotinoids and Bees’, ‘Breeding for Flavour’ and ‘Soil Type’. Others verge on the more whimsical: there’s an exploration of the popularity of floral names for girls, is there anyone, he wonders, “called Ramonda or Azara, and if not, why not?” Elsewhere, we learn how to sex an earwig, discover the macabre eating habits of the New Zealand flatworm and are warned about the dangers of flowerpots.
What could have been a dry subject is enlivened by the lively writing style and occasional personal observations: “That’s what I love about the internet – its ability to prove that all your worst fears were justified” while his exasperation at hyphens and commas in plant names is as entertaining as it is sound.
This is definitely a book for dipping into, ideal for that mid-digging coffee break and perfect as a stocking-filler for your green-fingered loved ones.
• The Sceptical Gardener, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Good Gardening by Ken Thompson is published by Icon Books, priced £12.99.
• Review copy supplied by The Suffolk Anthology
• More book reviews here