by Leslie Geddes-Brown, illustrated by Angie Lewin

Publisher: Merrell (September 2009)
ISBN 978-1858944623

Hardback £17.95

There are many anthologies available on gardens and gardening. Their merits are highly variable. Many promising titles flatter to deceive and leave the reader underwhelmed. Gardening anthologies need something for the occasional gardener and something a bit more for the keener gardener looking for fresh perspectives and ideas. Garden Wisdom does not disappoint. It is beautifully presented with smart binding, charming illustrations by Angie Lewin and crisp layout. The content is equally pleasing with a range of fascinating extracts on a multitude of subjects that keep the pages turning. From John Gerard ‘On Lettuce’ (1599) via Gertrude Jekyll on ‘Clothing the Walls’ (1908), Margery Fish on ‘The Joy of Compost’ (1956) to Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury on ‘Prince Charles’s Kitchen Garden’ (2007).

The extracts are laid out chronologically and not in subject order. This leaves the reader hopping playfully from topic to topic. The effect is invigorating rather than chaotic and confusing. In large part this is due to the quality of the writing, which is drawn from books and articles by many of the finest garden writers. Contributors include Graham Stuart Thomas, Constance Spry, Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto, Anna Pavord and Monty Don and their subjects sparkle to life. Most of the writing is drawn from the last 50 years but the author also includes those from the more distant past ‘whose views still inspire us: those who changed our direction’, such as William Robinson whose more naturalistic planting broke new ground in Victorian gardening.

This book is not primarily a practical guide, although there are sections on seed sowing, record keeping, soil and compost and more. There are philosophical and historical contributions and several that are plant specific such as Vita Sackville-West on thyme and Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury on grasses. This is a treasure trove of writing by some of the finest gardening minds.

The smart presentation and quality of the writing make this a perfect gift (if you can part with it) or ideal for browsing on the remaining winter nights or breaks between the coming spring gardening schedule. At £17.95 it is also fantastic value.

Colin Skelly