This is a book that can evoke big sighs of relief, along the lines of ‘Thank God, I don’t have to do that any more!’ Even more satisfying is to get the seal of approval for something you already don’t do. For me it was garden hygiene. According to the author all that business of washing your seed trays, pots and modules each winter to prevent the carryover of disease has a purely historical origin: in the big country house gardens that used to employ a lot of under-gardeners, there wasn’t much to be done in the winter, so the head gardeners had them washing pots rather than sit around idle. There’s no biological reason for doing it.
Charles Dowding is one of the leading gardeners of our times. In particular he’s the champion of no-dig vegetable gardening. Not only has he spent his life growing vegetables but he also has a questioning, radical mind and is the first to contradict accepted practice if it conflicts with his own experience. He’s written many books about gardening but this one is different. It’s not a general guide, which tells you all you need to know and what you need to do. It tells you what you don’t need to do, and it will be as interesting for experts as for beginners.
It’s only short but it punches well above its weight because it leaves out all the stuff everyone’s agreed about and homes in on those points that are debatable. Is watering best done in the evening? Is it worthwhile to whitewash your greenhouse in the summer? How important is crop rotation in a small domestic garden? Does companion planting reduce plant diseases? He’s not dogmatic and to many of these beliefs he gives a ‘partly true’, or ‘true but misleading’. And for each myth that he explodes he gives a clear explanation of why it isn’t true.
Being the great no-dig man he is, a lot of his myths have to do with the supposed benefits of digging and if the book has a fault it’s perhaps an over-emphasis on this. But even if you’re already a committed no-digger you’ll still find plenty of gems here on every aspect of vegetable gardening. A small hardback, the book is beautifully produced and would make a good present for any gardener.
Patrick Whitefield is a permaculture teacher and author. See patrickwhitefield.co.uk
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