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Book review: Garden by Jennifer Stackhouse

The title of Jennifer Stackhouse’s latest book Garden is simple, yet bold. It doesn’t bother fussing with possessive pronouns like ‘my’ or ‘your’. There are no fripperies like ‘in the’ or ‘caring for your’. It’s just plain Garden, noun or verb, you choose.

And that attitude is reflected in the 250 or so pages that follow. The book is part description of what makes up a garden and part the ‘how to’ of achieving it. Garden aims to have all the information and inspiration a beginner needs in one volume.

It covers the basics from how to weed and water, to how to tease a stubborn plant out of its pot. Then it progresses to trickier projects, which I’ll get to later.

Garden is a lovely old-fashioned idea in an online world. Here’s a book that tries to be comprehensive, covering everything from landscaping to pest control in one place. Not dotted around the internet, not in tatty copies of old magazines, but in a handy sized, soft-cover book that you can take along to the garden centre, or thumb through with a cuppa.

When I read the tagline, I thought that Stackhouse had a hard job ahead of her. Could a book this small really live up to its promise?

Everything you need to know to keep your garden thriving and beautiful throughout the year

Everything? Really? How do you cover practical advice for people looking after small courtyards to bush blocks? People interested in ornamentals and edibles? People shivering in frost prone zones to those sweating it out in the tropics?

Yet it is a credit to Stackhouse that she manages to do this in a practical and accessible way that makes you want to get out there and get your hands dirty (again).

I particularly like the handy hints and tips that few other gardening books tackle, like how to fix a leaky hose or the etiquette of trimming your hedge.

Photos by Adam Woodhams help both to inspire and to instruct. So thanks both of you for a great team effort.

Now, here is the impossibly difficult part. I used to work with Stackhouse on Gardening Australia magazine, where she was editor and I was science correspondent. She’s been to my house for dinner, met my mum and daughter. Now, I’m reviewing her book, trying to be as fair yet honest as I can.

Deep breath. The book is billed as suitable for beginners, although there are some techniques that might trick even seasoned gardeners. For instance, the same book that shows how to re-pot a plant also explains the basics of bonsai and how to install and maintain an irrigation system.

Organic gardening
Then, there’s the separate chapter on gardening organically, which contains useful information and techniques for all types of gardeners, not just those gardening without synthetic chemicals. Composting and water conservation come to mind.

So, why hive off this type of advice to the organic section where there’s a chance that people might miss it?

These quibbles, though, don’t detract from the quality of the information provided by Stackhouse, a horticulturist and one of Australia’s best known garden writers, and the skill with which she distils her knowledge into bite-sized chunks.

I guess the proof in any good, practical gardening book is whether it makes you get off your backside and out into the garden.

So, what happened to The Geeky Gardener? After reading Garden, I went out and hard-pruned my roses (way too late in winter, I know, but better late than never), am planning to extend my vegie patch and going to plant citrus along my sunny back fence.

How will I know what to do? I read it in Garden of course.

Garden is available from ABC Books from 1 September 2013. RRP A$35.00

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