Christmas Book presents

When they are not playing, sports fans have fantasy football leagues and the like to entertain them. For gardeners the fantasy comes in this, the off-season, in the shape of gardening books. We love nothing better than curling up beside the fire with a gardening book, either full of pictures or advice, dreaming of the horticultural glories we will come up with next spring, full of inspiration gleaned from a good gardening book.

When they are not playing, sports fans have fantasy football leagues and the like to entertain them. For gardeners the fantasy comes in this, the off-season, in the shape of gardening books. We love nothing better than curling up beside the fire with a gardening book, either full of pictures or advice, dreaming of the horticultural glories we will come up with next spring, full of inspiration gleaned from a good gardening book.

There are any number of general ‘how to’ guides available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses and from year to year, the favourites change according to fashions. At the moment, the man who I think has provided us with the most useful how to garden guide is Monty Don in ‘The Complete Gardener’ (Pub. Doring Kindersley) E22.49. Don is an engaging and knowledgeable television gardener who is also an engaging and knowledgeable writer. His guide is particularly satisfying because most of the pictures are demonstrative, depicting him carrying out various garden jobs in his own garden. In this respect is it not as sterile and dry as the more authoritive RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening. When Don demonstrates a task, you can see that is being done by a real life – if rather famous- hands-on gardener, which is reassuring. The text is enjoyably written as well as being instructive and the pictures back up the text nicely. The format works particularly well for beginners as a picture paints a thousand words. It is easier to describe the chitting of potatoes by showing a good picture of chitted potatoes.

All the advice is completely organic. Don has long foregone the use of chemicals in his garden. He covers the plants that feature in each season and even how to grow rarely dealt with fruits like medlars and damsons. I will hope to see this book under the tree.

Closer to home Jane Powers brought out a lovely book earlier this year called ‘The Living Garden’ (Pub. Frances Lincoln) E.26.99. She too is a committed organic gardener and all her advice and observations are tempered by her gathered knowledge on how to work in tune with nature. There are chapters given over to wildlife in the garden as well as composting methods and low intervention care of your plants and crops. The pictures are good and many were taken by Power herself.

Another Irish book is ‘The Wild Flowers of Ireland’ by Declan Doogue and Carsten Krieger. (Pub Gill and Macmillan) E29.99. This is a nicely produced guide that includes useful chapters all the usual areas one might think of in the area of wild plants. But it also includes sections on field botany, weeds and wild flowers in borders and lawns as well as the use of Latin in plant names.

Anyone who knows about the Irish Organic Centre will know of Klaus Laitenberger.

He has produced a really good guide called ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’ in which he shares the knowledge he learned over decades of organic vegetable growing in Leitrim and elsewhere in Ireland. At E14.95, this is a bumper book of great information and should be essential reading for anyone who plans to grow food.

Helen Dillon is always such a refreshingly funny and frank gardening writer, I can never resist her. ‘Helen Dillon’s Gardening Book’ at only E15.99 is a good value paperback re-issue. With chapters called ‘Gardening in Old Age’, ‘Fancy Stuff’, ‘Dogs in the Garden’ and ‘Vanishing Tools’, it certainly promises a fun, clever read and it lives up to its promise.

At the real bargain end of the price range, Gay Search’s ‘Little Book of Quick Fixes for the Impatient Gardeners’ (Pub Quadrille) comes in at a handy E4.99. With advice on evergreen carpeting plants and sorting out mis-matching fences, this is a handy little book.

Keeping to the cash-strapped gardener, Dave Hamilton’s ‘Grow Your Food for Free- Well Almost’ might cost E18.70 but thereafter it if full of useful advice on eccentric projects such as how to construct your own clay pot irrigations system. There are well illustrated sets of instructions on making water butts and fitting down-pipes with lead-offs and taps for next to no money. This is definitely the first time I have come across advice on skip-diving for wood and the different jobs those bits of wood can be put to. It is also the first time I have seen advice in a gardening book about avoiding poisonous creosote-soaked sleepers and wood preserved in Methyl Bromide.

If the budget is small but you want a really substantial book, the bargain of the season is the great writer Anna Pavord’s ‘Naming of Names’ selling at the bargain price of E7.99. This is a serious book, telling the story of botanical history in 470 pages full of tales about how we came to name the plants that grow in the wild and our gardens.

All the books mentioned above were found in the Book Centre on High Street but there are great ranges of gardening books in Dubray, Stonehouse and Easons.