Armchair gardening: Some favourite books on growing your own food – or just thinking about it

Long time, no post…

The back injury that kept me out of gardening for so long did nothing to stop me torturing myself by reading about it all the time. Finding myself up and at ‘em at a time of year when – in West Cork at least – most gardeners are emerging from the hibernation of the seed catalogue and facing up to clearing the raised beds made the topic choice for a first post in three years easy – gardening books.

Everyone’s got their favourites. The ones you consult over and again, even though you know them back to front. Here are a few of mine – not all fall into the ‘how to’ category; some are simply musings on our relationship with nature, food, the environment. Feel free to share your own in the comments 🙂


Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom

Larkcom Grow Your Own Veg coverAs any allotmenteer will tell you, this is the GYO bible, by the Elizabeth David of the vegetable garden. Decades of experience, plenty of it gained touring around Europe long before it was popular – and bringing back unusual seeds and know-how that laid the path for where we are today. Everything you need to know from soil preparation to pest management and cultivation techniques for both mainstream and more exotic produce is in here. All delivered in Larkcom’s approachable, read-it-for-pleasure style. If you buy only one how-to book, this should be it.


The Complete Garden Expert by D G Hessayon

Hessayan Complete Garden ExpertDavid Hessayon has been giving straightforward advice to gardeners for more than 50 years. This all-in-one guide takes beginners through every aspect of gardening – from flowers, shrubs and fences to vegetable growing and garden design. Not always the most exciting read, all his guides are easy to follow and give essential advice anyone can understand.

Maybe not one for the bedside table but for gaining essential know-how, you won’t do better than the legendary Dr. Hessayon


RHS Gardening Week by Week by the RHS & Sarah Draycott

RHS gardening week by week cover

Not a lot to say other than I love this book. It’s my ultimate, quickie go-to guide for advice on what’s what and when. Covering vegetable, flowers, shrubs, landscaping and everything in between in easy steps, there is so much accessible information packed into a small space, my copy is well battered.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food cover“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” and “Cook and, if you can, grow some of your own food.” were two of the lessons from this book that got me back out into the garden over ten years ago. Nobody writes about people, places, food and they way we connect with them like Pollan. Nobody makes you think about the food you grow and eat the way Pollan does. Always easy to pick up and return to, as are all of Pollan’s books.


Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry

Bringing it to the Table coverThe Daddy of slow food, thinking about where your food comes from and how you grow it, Berry is the original farmer with a poet’s soul. “Eating is an agriculture act” is just one memorable quote from a man who was talking the talk long before the organic wholefood shop on your main street set up. Berry’s thinking was the inspiration behind many a farmer’s market revival and was one of the original voices reminding people to think differently about what we eat and what goes into producing it – environmentally as much as anything else.


Not on the Label: What really goes into the Food on your Plate

Felicity Lawrence not on the label coverThe appearance of Lawrence’s book in 2004 caused massive levels of shock and outrage, not least in her home country of the UK. As far as many were concerned, Eric Schlosser’s expose of the nastier aspects of the American food chain in Fast Food Nation was a problem for “the yanks.”

Lawrence’s undercover investigations of the British food chain showed how beef waste ended up in chicken, why one head of lettuce could be sprayed with chemicals six times before ending up in your trolley and how bread somehow ended up with 20-odd ingredients beyond salt, water, flour and raising agent. Her additional expose of the treatment of the migrant workers who pick our fruit and vegetables – and how this is all connected to the supermarkets we shop in will change the way you think about food forever. My copy’s the original but this was updated in 2013 following the horse meat in food scandal in Ireland and the UK.




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