I couldn’t let International Women’s Day pass without a shout-out for my favourite garden writers. So here are the five books written by women gardeners that have most influenced me.
1. Sarah Raven ‘The Bold and Brilliant Garden’
This was the first gardening book I bought, 8 years ago. I had no house or garden at the time, but made a garden in my head, largely inspired by the pictures in this book. Six months later I bought a little house with a littler garden, and I filled it with the plants from this book. My colour palette was the deeply saturated burgundy, ruby, vermillion, tangerine, gold, acid green, Moroccan blue and deepest indigo, which live on in my Bright border. My love of tulips, peonies, old roses and dahlias comes from Sarah Raven. She plants in bold swathes, and plans for continuous colour from spring to autumn. The spine of this book has collapsed, and the text is highlighted with children’s felt-tips and crayons. I no longer leaf through it obsessively because I think it has become imprinted in my brain. I will love this book forever.
2. Carol Klein ‘Life in a Cottage Garden’
If I had to choose one garden writer above all others, it would be Carol Klein. I loved this tv series, and the book is, if anything, even more beautiful, because she writes such wonderful poetic prose. Carol Klein distils the essence of each month as she takes us through her gardening year. I love the shots of her garden through the four seasons, so you can see the change. Carol Klein’s plant knowledge and propagating knowledge is second to none. She inspired me to divide and divide again, collect seed, and enlist my mum’s help in taking cuttings. I also feel an affinity with Carol Klein as a fellow Northerner who has flown South. That takes a certain type of bravery.
3. Claire Austin’s ‘Book of Perennials’
Regular readers will know I have a thing for David Austin English roses (see my post Mouth-wateringly Fruity Roses). Claire Austin is David Austin’s daughter, and is an equally talented and knowledgeable plantswoman. As the title suggests, she has an incredible knowledge of hardy perennials, which she grows and sells in her own nursery. This is a fabulous directory of her favourite varieties. Claire Austin specialises in peonies (and irises) and this book has been responsible for me planting about twenty different peonies in my garden in the last four years. Not to mention hardy geraniums, salvia, penstemon, hemerocallis, euphorbia and phlox, all of which feature in my Bright border. Claire Austin made me realise that it is perfectly possible to have dramatic colour and flower form with perennials alone, and not an annual in sight.
4. Jinny Blom ‘The Thoughtful Gardener’
This book made me question everything. It made an uncomfortable read. I am not great at the big picture. I have always focused in on flowers, prioritising detail over design. Jinny Blom is all about landscape, and being true to the lie of the land, and the character of a place. She plants great swathes of semi-wild roses as hedging. She sows proper wildflower meadows (unlike my Wildflower meadow folly). She imports a dozen mature apple trees, uses miles of estate-fencing and excavates terraces and pools. This is aspirational gardening, well beyond the scope of the average back garden. But it does make you think about how your little plot fits into the wider landscape. I now have a thing about bourbon roses, and pleached limes, and repetitions of planting groups, thanks to this book. The atmospheric photography is enchanting.
5. Charlotte Mendelson ‘Rhapsody in Green’
Never before has a gardening book made me laugh out loud. This is the horticultural equivalent of Adrian Mole’s diary. Charlotte Mendelson has a tiny London garden, with awful soil, low light, and big ambition. She sets out to grow unusual edibles, the more impractical the better. I love her cack-handed constructions (being challenged in DIY skills myself), applaud her wilful neglect of gardening advice, and stand in solidarity with her midnight forays into the garden in pyjamas and wellies. Long live garden eccentrics. I also rather enjoy her side-swipes at smug country estate gardeners with acres to spare. I would love to be in her edgy urbanite club, but I grow too many non-edibles and would be shunned. There is no photography in this book, something I always thought essential for my garden reading. But here, the writing is engaging enough. Just look at the beautifully illustrated cover, too.