20 Jun 2012

Book review: New urban farmer

If you can’t be out doing the garden at this time of the year, the next best thing is reading about it. New urban farmer: From plot to plate. Great title, hey? This is an English book by Celia Brooks-Brown that I borrowed from the library, her account of allotment farming. It starts well:

‘I won’t pretend cultivating the now abundant allotment has been a breeze. It is unquestionably time-consuming and occasionally frustrating, guilt-provoking and back-breaking’

Truth! Any gardening book that warns of the woes as well as trumpeting the pleasures is on the right track, I reckon. Because while you no doubt have this bucolic, nostalgia-tinged image of being like a British wartime land-girl, donning your squishy straw hat and rolling up your spriggy-Cath Kidson floral sleeves and taking to it easily, it’s not always so rosy.

Another quote, another good reminder:

‘Growing your own is not about instant gratification – it’s a journey, not a destination’

After some basic gardening info, Celia’s book slots into that ‘a year in the life of’ genre, and it works well when describing the seasonal changes in a garden. She starts with the most abundant season, spring (which, as it is an English book, is March).

This book is full of character: the people sharing the allotment, the passerbys and neighbours who get surplus produce. In my backyard suburban vegie garden, I don’t have that same sense of community – the only person I really talk to about my vegies is my dad, for instruction and guidance, to learn what to do when; and my friend D, when we compare the state of our silverbeet and chilli plants during our lunchtime walks.

I also love reading Celia’s tales of the work of gardening: cleaning out and fighting weeds and pests, sowing seeds, re-using food containers for seed trays, being overwhelmed by the multiplying asparagus (reminder: must buy some crowns to plant) and rhubarb (I’m jealous!). And finally, someone else who refers old-fashioned curly leaf parsley to the trendy flat-leaf stuff!).

There are also recipes – what she’s making with her produce. It’s a tried and true formula, but this is such an inviting, charming read that it seems fresh and wonderful.

My only quibble with this delightful book is an editor’s one: there were spelling mistakes, doubled up words, text queries that should have been removed, and more than once, incomplete sentences. I hope these were corrected in subsequent editions.

This is really is an inspirational account of what gardening is really like.

Are you reading any good books at the moment? Gardening or otherwise?


  1. I can't relate to the gardening failures so much (yet) but after more than a month of incubation, I pulled my first wheel of home-made cheddar out to try some tonight.

    It was awful. Just horrid. I had to throw the whole thing in the bin. Such a waste of resources and time and energy and I'm not sure where I went wrong or how to improve it for next time.

    So that, I guess, is a little like when something fails in the garden...

    1. oh no! i too hate the waste when something goes wrong, and the frustration when you follow instructions to a T and yet it still fails. i always blame the recipe/instructions - not me.


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