Since starting an MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University I may not have had much time for gardening but I do seem to have acquired a lot of new books, fifty and counting to be precise.
The topics cover a broad spectrum including food culture, philosophy, history, agriculture, soil science, nutrition, rewilding, the effects of our agriculture systems on the environment, food communications, foraging and food production. I’ve not read them all yet, some are for reference and dipping in and out of and others have been complete page-turners.
Recently I’ve been asked for reading recommendations so here are some of my favourites from my newly acquired collection that relate to gardening, soil fertility, foraging and botany. In no particular order (although Feral by George Monbiot was an amazing read).
First published in 1965 this is not a new book, however, the artwork is a delight to peruse and makes it possible to identify plants at different stages of growth, along with accompanying descriptions of habitat, time of flowering etc. The drawings are categorised into plant families which can help when looking up a specimen. Both the botanical (Latin) names are noted along with their more common names. A beautiful book for those who live in the country or have a love of flora whether wanting to identify plants or simple browse the pages.
RHS Botany for Gardeners is more than just a useful reference book on the science of botany and the language of horticulture – it’s a practical, hands-on guide that will help gardeners understand how plants grow, what affects their performance, and how to get better results. Illustrated throughout with beautiful botanical prints and simple diagrams. For easy navigation, the book is divided into chapters covering everything from Plant Pests to Pruning with feature spreads profiling the remarkable individuals who collected, studied and illustrated the plants that we grow today.
The Hidden Half of Nature lays out the astonishing reality we’ve been missing in the soil beneath our feet and right inside our bodies- our world depends on a foundation of invisible life. This is a captivating story of the least-loved part of nature, taking readers through major milestones in agriculture and medicine to untangle our uneasy relationship with microbes. From the challenge of turning their barren Seattle lot into a flourishing garden through Bikle’s struggle with a surprise cancer diagnosis, the authors discover the power nature’s smallest creatures wield over our lives and stunning parallels in the relationships that microbes develop with plant roots and the human gut.
Journalist Judith Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity there are positive, alternative scenarios to the degradation and devastation we face. In each case, our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, it challenges much conventional thinking about global warming and other issues.
If there’s one distinctive feature of the British countryside, it has to be the hedgerow. It’s not only plant life that thrives in the hedgerow – native wild animals, birds and insects are protected and nourished by them. Hedgerows can also provide fresh, wild food for us, too, Nozedar reintroduces the wild and natural hedgerow ingredients that our grandmothers used on a regular basis from angelica to borage, from pineapple weed to wild garlic, each entry is beautifully illustrated to help you identify each plant or flower, along with its history and folklore, and culinary and medicinal uses.
How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us? Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way.