Friday 1 February 2013

February already and a book review

One twelfth of the year gone and it's taken me by surprise. I've been in dormouse mode, hibernating away the darkness and cold weather and ignoring time slipping away, being wasted in depression, doubts and bad dreams.

As the sun is shining today and the days are getting longer it seems just possible that it's time to wake up. At least it seemed feasible to make a start on my Christmas present books, all from my wish list and yet sadly neglected until this moment.

How to grow Perennial Vegetables by Martin Crawford was the only gardening book I received this year, all the others related to food and food preparation in one way or another (particular mention of Veggiestan, which I devoured immediately I opened the wrapping, it's that good!) so it seems the obvious choice for review here.

It makes a neat paperback, although it's available for Kindle I don't think it would be as easy to read in that format, as with most reference works you need to be able to flick through quickly and let items catch your eye for browsing and then narrow in for proper research with an index.

The book is arranged in two parts, the first exploring why perennial vegetables make sense in the garden, forms of perennial gardens; permacultures, polycultures, forest gardening etc and giving general advice on gardening methods and the management of vegetables in permanent positions.

The second part is an A-Z encyclopedia listing many species that can be included in perennial planting schemes along with specific cultivation and usage advice.

I am often impatient with 'How to' books of all kinds because they usually state the blindingly obvious whilst overlooking the really important points that would increase my own knowledge. The fairly light touch here in the first part therefore meets with my approval as I can skim it and ignore it without feeling I'm wasting time but less self satisfied gardeners might find it a bit short on detail, it's not for absolute beginners.

The second part is where the real interest lies for me and I've already noted  several possibilities for experimentation in our own garden. I'm particularly pleased to see perennial wheat and rye listed, keen to try Baker's garlic (the Japanese Rakkyo) and grateful for a large table listing Bamboo varieties good for shoots.

But, there are some caveats too. Firstly I'd be hesitant to call some of the listings vegetables. Certainly they are vegetable but trees like beech, elderflower and mulberry are not what most people would expect to grow in their veggie patch.  Beech has a very short season for harvesting the young leaves, elderflowers are delightful but not worth the space in a cultivated plot and mulberries so late in leafing up in the UK that you'd only really want to eat them in a starvation situation, so many alternatives being available at that time.

There are a few plants listed that I've long avoided because I believed them to be too poisonous to risk. I'm going to have to research more on this but I didn't think you could eat Aquilegias and Pokeroot requires a very specific cooking regime. The plant causes sickness in its raw state so I wouldn't want it in a garden where there were young children about. Hostas as vegetable makes me laugh, I can't even grow them as ornamentals because the slugs and snails enjoy them so much.

As to potatoes and other tubers listed, I'd not include those in this sort of perennial scheme but I can see that there could be a range of opinions on that.

Overall, an interesting little book, inspirational in its way but not without flaws.