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A MERETRICIOUS AND SUPERFICIAL WASTE OF MONEY
on 11 October 2011
Although I have a very large garden, these days I do most of my "hands-on" gardening fairly close to the house, mostly in 50 or so containers which I have always enjoyed for their year round colour and scent. The possible combinations for container plantings are as infinite as combinations of potentially winning lottery numbers, and being of a lazy turn of mind I find it easier to poach other people's ideas than dreaming up my own; I therefore have a large collection of books on container gardening and am always on the lookout for more.
You would expect a 2011 book bearing the imprint of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society to be amongst the best of its kind; if only... It wants to be all things to all men, and, as so often happens, fails to offer anything to anybody.
The phrase "container gardening" is conventionally used to describe growing outdoor plants in pots. This book does deal with that in modest part, but also contains many pages on house plants, a totally separate and unrelated subject, yet inexplicably mixed indiscriminately (and potentially misleadingly to the uninitiated) with the outdoor plants - 8 pages on orchids, no less, which will help nobody to grow them successfully (you need an orchid book). Some 87 of the 255 pages are devoted to fruit and vegetables in which I have absolutely no interest, so I cannot comment on this aspect of the book. But if it is anything like the rest, it is unlikely to be helpful.
Container growing is full of pitfalls, one of the worst being the exponential emergence of the vine weevil over recent years - it does not even appear in the index ! There is a brief, supremely unhelpful, reference to it in the text which offers no practical help in overcoming it, and will leave many mystified and disappointed gardeners. The symptoms, easily recognisable if you know how, but puzzling if you don't, are not even mentioned. Instead the adult beetle's appearance is described - useless, because you will never see one ! And the oft repeated advice throughout the book to overwinter plants in their pots will only assist in its proliferation and the destruction of your stock.
I had thought that a book published in 2011 would refer to all the latest developments in plant breeding, to which I was looking forward. No such luck. For example, the two pages on lilies mention only six old species and three uninspiring hybrids, and none of the now plentiful, very dwarf, powerfully scented, large-flowered, pot-perfect Oriental hybrids, which will bring summer Heaven to any dreamy patio.
The outdoor plantings described are uninspired, and I was astonished to find that the the very easy, numerous and widely available modern hardy geranium species do not even rate a mention; and equally astonished to learn that the scores of compact half hardy ornamental Pelargonium hybrids I grow with complete success on my 100% exposed, windswept patio at 700 ft are unsuitable for windy places ! And whilst the most useful aspect of any book on this subject is tabulated advice on seasonal plantings, there is none... Yet frequently, flowering plants are suggested which will give no more than two weeks of bloom in the year.
Container care is also dealt with superficially, the invaluable self watering reservoir pot not being mentioned at all, nor is it explained how to construct one, nor is help is given in choosing between other methods of automatic irrigation. The annoying and unhelpful index gives five separate page references to "irrigation systems" but four lead only to terse, unhelpful remarks such as "consider installing an automatic irrigation system". The fifth, supposedly the main reference, but not identified as such, and therefore giving rise to much irritating and pointless searching of the other useless pages, does little other than tell you what you can read on the box in any garden centre.
A truly awful, disappointing gardening book, with the emphasis wholly on eye-candy rather than quality advice, and with which the RHS should be ashamed of being associated.