Chistmas Books Special - Part Two: Gardening

Ahh... Christmas. The time for receiving. Unfortunately you have to do a bit of giving, too. And while it may be dead easy to find gifts for your nearest and dearest, there remain a few Aunty Queenies for whom you need to source something other than yet another pack of Radox.

That's where gardening books come into their own. I used to give my Auntie Queenie a green-fingered tome for Christmas every year. So, to fill that gap in the border, every winter sees a new crop sprouting.

If, like me, you are a truly appalling gardener, your first glances might head towards the garden porn available for the coffee table. Sumptuous, lovingly shot colour snaps of the view out of the kitchen window in those houses we will never have. In Search of Paradise: Great Gardens of the World (Penelope Hobhouse; Chicago Botanic Garden £25) is typical of the genre. Beautiful pictures, attractive layout, supplemented by minimal text. This is perfect fodder for the loo, but if you find yourself straying into actually reading it on Boxing Day, I can only conclude that you must have bunged up your innards with too much bread sauce.

Many more words in Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean (Kathryn Bradley-Hole; Aurum Press £40) which is a really rather fascinating tour of some of the houses of the super-rich on the Med, using Country Life magazine's archive of Hello-style photos from the 1950s. The unctuous text and the exorbitant price both point to the book's target audience: the millionaire homeowners themselves. I can't see many Auntie Queenies unwrapping this one on Christmas Day. Forty quid is far too much for an Auntie.

Slightly - but not much - more affordable is the £30 offering Icons of Twentieth-Century Landscape Design (Katie Campbell; Frances Lincoln) Just as it says on the tin, this is a tour of some of the more spectacular gardens of the past 100 years. From Gaudi to Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright to Derek Jarman, it showcases just what an inventive mind, time, money and patience can deliver. Those of us bestowed with none of these assets can only grind our teeth in envy at the glorious outcomes.

But if you really want to get into Auntie Queenie's good books - perhaps hoping for an endless supply of that damson jam she made in October - your gift of choice must be RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials (Dorling Kindersley £25). This really is the definitive guide to that most useful of plant and flower varieties: the ones which come back year after year with minimal work. Replete with those impressive Latin names, clear descriptions and easy-to-follow photos, this book deserves a place on every serious gardener's shelf. Buy it for her.

Enough of the coffee table stuff. What of the more serious Christmas offerings? First off - and I must say the most disappointing of the crop - is How To Read an English Garden (Eburne and Taylor; Ebury £25) The disappointment comes not because the book is awful; it isn't. Rather, for those of us who enjoyed Richard Taylor's superb How To Read a Church, this one just isn't nearly so good as we might have expected. The authors make great play in the introduction of how they were at Oxford together. But reading the text, you might have thought they were alumni of the University of the Bleeding Obvious instead. Thus we learn that "Trees are almost invariably the first things we encounter in an historic garden, with hedges perhaps a close second." Or that "The Hop Garden is not strictly speaking a garden at all, but a crop field." Not all of the book is such unsurprising twaddle, but it does give the impression of a rush job to hit the festive season.

For purest tripe, we need look no further than The Curious Gardener's Almanac (Niall Edworthy; Eden Project Books £10), which jumps on the Ben Schott bandwagon without bothering to check if any of the unrelenting barrage of "little-known gems" are, in fact, even slightly interesting - or are just the first 10,000 hits from a Google search for "dreary garden facts". In an unintentionally revelatory introduction, the book begins with the words: "If this book were to lie down on a couch and open up to reveal everything that was going on deep inside, the psychiatrist would probably get up and walk out of the room, pulling at his hair and kicking over the wastepaper basket in exasperation as he left." Quite. If I had made the foolish error of giving this book to Auntie Queenie for Christmas, it would have been on the compost heap by New Year.

But all is not lost, present-seekers. The Anxious Gardener (Rozsika Parker; Frances Lincoln £12.99) is a rather fabulous (if a bit twee) collection of dialogues between the anxious gardener of the title and her gardening mentor, whose no-nonsense advice reminds us all of what we so easily forget: gardening is supposed to be a pleasure, not a chore - and that if our feeble flowerbeds don't match up to Monty Don's ginormous blooms, then at least they are ours.

I'm aware that so far, I've only reviewed books which you might want to give to the Auntie Queenies in your life. Just room for a mention of a rather good offering to go down, rather than up, the generations. Young Gardener (Stefan and Beverley Buczacki; Frances Lincoln £12.99) is squarely aimed at the enthusiastic youngster. With clear explanations and illustrations of how to plant, how to tend and how to make cheap presents on Mothers' Day, this is a book I wish I'd had, back when I was sprightly. Even at a rather steep £12.99, I expect that Santa will be putting it in my eight-year-old's stocking. Even if she doesn't read it, I will.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable