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Beautiful illustrations but not enough guidance
on 7 May 2015
Interest in growing fruit, vegetables and flowers has never been greater so I approached this book enthusiastically. When this book was published in 2006, its author, Andi Clevely, had had over 35 years’ experience as a working gardener. He was also struggling to reclaim a grassed-down allotment in mid-Wales and enthusing members of his family about the joys of growing their own. Expertly qualified as a practical gardener, allotment holder and enthusiastic communicator.
The book which covers all aspects of vegetable and fruit production is divided into four sections – ‘The perfect allotment’ which covers planning, crop rotation, choosing the bed system, equipment - 19 pages; ‘Crops for your allotment’ which suggests how to select crops [root vegetables, legumes, brassicas, the onion and pumpkin families, leaves and salads, stem and perennial vegetables, summer-fruiting vegetables, herbs, fruit and edible flowers] – 55 pages; ‘Cultivating your allotment’ that addresses the hard graft including clearing the plot, improving the soil, how to water, weed, harvest and store – 40 pages; and ‘The allotment year’ describing what to expect throughout the year – 48 pages.
Within each section there are a total of six one-page ‘allotment stories’ [‘floating’ allotments in Amiens, ethnic crops, allotments and mental health, organic community gardening, the mutual benefits of allotments and beekeeping, and poultry rearing] and the book has a list of resources [seed and plant suppliers and relevant organisations from which to seek further information] and a comprehensive index.
The book is profusely illustrated in colour; some illustration is necessary but there are too many general pictures, some full page size, in a book that has such a wide coverage. In all, the large and small photographs take up about a third of the book. This inevitably means that topics are greatly compressed – thus under ‘keeping your plants healthy’ there are just four pages and no illustrations of pest or disease damage. Most of the single page devoted to Sweetcorn is covered by a photograph of a corn cob whilst half the page on Cauliflower shows close-ups of two cauliflower varieties. This is typical of the entire book. Lovely reproductions but what I wanted was more of the author’s knowledge on the practicalities of allotment holding. Interesting though the 15 page Introduction is, its information is not really relevant to the book’s topic.
The presentation is very good, clearly defined paragraph, headings and sub-headings, and boxes. Whilst the six allotment stories [one page text, one page illustration] are interesting they are really too short to be meaningful and their dozen pages might have been better devoted to additional guidance about allotments.
Of course, no single book will provide all the information one needs. The geographical location and the position of the individual allotment within the overall site cannot be addressed in a book this small. Attention is given to soil type and its improvement but there is such a lot of very sparse information. A few conversations with a long-time allotment holder at your site [helped along by some tobacco and/or tea] will really prove more useful – and a notebook to jot down what is being grown on neighbouring plots, and what thrives and what does not. A colourful book but, ultimately, a disappointment.