Choosing a gardening book is a very personal thing, I think. My mother quite often gives me books she thinks I will like, and I now have several very attractive books that lurk, unconsulted, in dark corners. She got it right last birthday, tracking down a copy of Roger Phillips' Roses, which delighted me. The odd thing is, I can't find it, and am now beginning to think I imagined the whole thing! My current favourites, though, focus on vegetables, so it's not surprising that they are both within easy reach at this time of year, as I plan how to amuse the pigeons and deer for another season.
Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening is a visual delight. A large format paperback that will almost lie flat while you browse through it, and written in a chatty tone of voice, it take its inspiration from gardens all over the world to create pretty vegetable gardens and potagers. There is a brief (I want to say, potted) history of growing for the kitchen, before moving on the Elements of Design, with guidance on how to plan your potager, and Dramatic Effects - how to make it even more beautiful. There is a whole chapter on fruit, which is followed by a useful one on Management, with good advice on improving soil fertility and watering. Even this chapter makes me itch to get outside, with its picture of the feathery green manure, phacelia tanacetifolia, glorious in its own right, or a potager bed with brick paths, covered in rich manure for the winter. There are an excellent sections on container gardening and small potagers, making this a book for those with limited space, full of ideas about how to cram in the most you possibly can, while creating interest with texture and colour, contrasting plants with dramatic supports and edgings, or choosing between hedges and fences. Photographs are sumptuous and inspiring. The final section is where I spend most time, especially at this time of year - the A-Z of vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers. This is just as wonderfully illustrated as the rest, with an eye always to looks as well as taste - vegetables as objects of desire.