Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Back to the Roots by Richard Mabey and Francesca Greenoak

This little book has been rather overtaken in this age of the worldwide web. Written to accompany a Channel Four series in 1983, it is divided into chapters on herbs, flowers, vegetables, fruit and trees. Each chapter is followed by a directory with bibliography, list of suppliers and other information such as places to see plants, courses etc. Much of the directory information is, of course, hopelessly out of date (even telephone numbers have changed in the interim) but, with the advent of search engines, anyone with a little application will be able to discover what listings are still valid and will quickly find contact details for nurseries, gardens and suppliers.

The rest of the book is selective but interesting. My personal favourite is a section entitled The sloth's vegetable garden, which offers suggestions for creating a perennial vegetable patch! The emphasis throughout is on traditional and forgotten varieties, and it would provide an excellent starting place for establishing a historically-themed garden. Brief cultivation details are given for each type of plant, and even pruning instructions for fruit are included. The back-and-white illustrations are clear and come from an entertaining variety of sources.

Long out of print, it is nonetheless readily, and cheaply, available from the various second-hand book sites. Primarily intended to encourage a growing interest in cultivated plants which are threatened by new regulations, this is a book which still meets its purpose and would make a good introduction for any new gardener who would rather spend their money on seeds than on glossy coffee-table books.

In future posts I shall consider some more books on country living, natural history, gardening and related subjects (including fiction) which still have virtue and interest despite their age.


mountainear said...

Richard Mabey's 'Food for Free' is still well worth dipping into - and I'm steadily re-buying copies of Jane Grigson's excellent books on foods, my old ones having disintergrated with use over the years.

Ann Darnton said...

I could do with the herb section of this as I don't know what to do to cut mine back without harming them, but if I don't do something they are going to take the garden over. Mind you, we've had our first really hard frost this morning (white roofs as well as cars) so it's probably too late for this year. At least the gardening weather forecast is no longer for snow on Monday. I don't do snow!

GeraniumCat said...

M'ear, I must replace my copy of Food for Free (long ago lent to someone who defected with it, the rat!). It was one of my most-used books, we used to concoct wonderful salads with its suggestions. My regular everyday cookery books were two that came out just as rationing ended - when I emerged from school bunged up with Latin rather than domestic science I needed something that would tell me how to do the basic stiff on a shoestring!

Ann, I think it is probably a bit late to cut the herbs back now - I'd do it in spring as they come back into growth. I don't really do snow either, unless I can stay inside at just look at it, but the dogs greet it with such delight that they always manage to persuade me to go out to play.

elizabethm said...

Thank you for blogging about this. I really like Riachrd mabey and this is just my sort of book but it had somehow passed me by. I have put it on my wishlist now.

Ann Darnton said...

Playing with dogs in snow I could handle, but for most of my working life I've had to get from one side of Birmingham to the other in it during the rush hour. We really don't do snow well in Birmingham!

GeraniumCat said...

I think any city in the snow is pretty grim - Edinburgh looks very pretty, but the hilly streets turn into terrifying skating rinks - I used to have to take a completely different route to work to avoid falling over.