I’ve done a little light gardening many times throughout my life (my parents had a vegetable plot in our backyard when I was growing up), but I got into it in earnest last spring and summer when I was abroad and did some volunteering with an organization that puts farmers and gardeners in touch with people looking to work in exchange for room and board (which could probably be a blog post of its own). I learned a LOT during my time with three different families, and became a deft hand with spade and fork (and discovered that, perversely, I love to weed). And so I promised myself that when I came home, I would set about growing some of my own herbs and maybe vegetables. But of course, living in the city has more than one drawback when it comes to planting a garden – there are issues of space, light, and – since I’m a renter – permanency.
I was drawn to this book because I’m currently living in an apartment with a lovely big back deck that unfortunately gets very little sunlight. And so I was curious to see whether there was anything Alys Fowler had to say that might help me try to figure out what I could grow in an urban space with less than ideal conditions. I especially like the ideas for containers, because the portability is a great way to get enough light without permanently taking up space in the yard.
Another very useful section of the book is a sort of guide to demystifying the garden centre experience. Buying plants can be overwhelming and confusing and Fowler has helpfully included lists of abbreviations, as well as unpacked some of the jargon and euphemisms that you will find on plant labels (for example, on the phrase prolific self-seeder: “If it weren’t pretty, it would be called a weed.”).
The emphasis of this book is squarely on being thrifty, reusing as much as you can (old wine boxes apparently make great containers for salad crops), making use of small or “ungardenable” spaces, and putting the needs of your plants before the needs of your colour-scheme. Fowler gives lots of thoughtful tips on how to get the most from what space you do have and gives plenty of example plants for all types of soils, light conditions, and needs. Her advice comes across as practical but still aesthetically aware, and knowledgeable without being intimidating. I will very likely be adding this book to my wishlist (and will update on the progress of my shady mini-garden!).