Friday, 19 April 2013

Book Review - 'My Cool Allotment'


Although buying new books is off limits until the shelves groan less, what happens if some unexpected gift vouchers come your way from your nearest and dearest? Such is life and such bounty was responsible for the purchase of one or two books recently, including a copy of 'My Cool Allotment' by Lia Leendertz, with photography by Mark Diacono.

There has been an absolute proliferation of allotment books over the last few years. They appear to fall into three distinct categories. The first are the earnest and sometimes invaluable 'how to' tomes especially useful when you are starting off and some become loved long term companions. The second often with a dose of humour thrown in for good measure, are the personal accounts of people who've been there, done that and have got the allotment badge. The third category are the miscalleneous titles which look at the subject from a completely different angle. Lia's book falls into this last category and is a celebration of allotments in all their weird and wonderful guises. The author has visited some 31 plots up and down the country and on the near continent talking to people who work these patches of land. Most are allotment plots but there are one or two private gardens thrown in, as well as small holdings and a number of community gardens.

Chapters focus on the following themes :

Historic - concentrating on traditional allotment plots.
A Feast Of Flowers - where flowers are the stars of the show rather than fruit and veg.
All For One - which features community growing projects.
Edible Jungle - where gardeners are exploring alternative methods of growing.
Food From Home - where immigrants are growing crops cherished by them far from home.
The Creative Process - highlighting growers or artisans who use their plot to grow or nurture their specialist product.

Finally there is a short sourcebook with extra details about some of the allotment holders in the book, details of allotment and growing organisations, tools and equipment and seeds and plant suppliers.

This is not a long book coming in at 160 pages and is quite photo heavy so I managed to read through it during an evening. The photos are of a high standard throughout and enhance the text.

What I liked - the way that Lia has conveyed the the sheer joy and enthusiasm of the plot holders she encountered. The book perfectly illustrates in Lia's words "just what different people do in response to a small piece of land. Each plot is an expression of the allotment holder's personality, memories, hope and fears".

What I was not so keen on - the size of the book. It is short and wide. I have since fitted it into the bookshelf, with all my other allotment/growing books and it is noticeable how much it juts out of line from the rest of them. This does not really matter but what irked was that I found the book most uncomfortable to hold. Maybe it's just me and the size of my hands though.

What I will do inspired by 'My Cool Allotment'
  • Visit one of the featured plots this summer, more specifically the relatively nearby Valducci Flower and Vegetable Gardens which opens under the National Gardens Scheme. Have been intending to go there for a while but have never made it. Now it's a must. 
  • Buy a mirror for the inside of the allotment shed door. This decision has been inspired by the mention of Nell who has "installed a little mirror on the side of her shed to check herself over before she walks out of the allotment gate : 'So many times I've found myself walking up the main road with bits of twig or leaves in my hair. It is east to forget that civilisation is still out there'. 
  • Read more about the concept of perennial planting which is appeals to me more and more, although I'm not sure how it would fit in with our allotment inspection criteria.
In conclusion this was one of those books that left me wanting more. I would have liked to have read more about all the plots included in the book and would have welcomed a much larger 'Food From Home' section - perhaps even a separate book on the subject! A most enjoyable read which would make a suitable gift for anybody already besotted by allotments or about to fall under their spell.

'My Cool Allotment' (ISBN 978 -1-86205-966-5) is published by Pavilion and is available from all good booksellers.

15 comments:

  1. It's a lovely book :)

    The oldest allotments which are featured are just a few miles from me and I know a couple of the plot holders (one of them, Jill is mentioned).

    I had the pleasure of being at the book launch on Tuesday :D

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    1. A most welcome addition to the bookshelf VP. I imagine that you had great fun at the launch. I will have to revisit the oldest allotments section in light of your comment :)

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  2. It sounds a really good book, I shall look out for it. It's a shame it's so short though, and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps there's scope for a follow up with lots more info. Had to chuckle about the mirror, I look such a state when I arrive home from the allotment, though I'm in the car so it doesn't matter so much.

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    1. It was a nice sense of wanting more though Jo rather than feeling short -changed :) I definitely need a mirror. I'm sure that I've had some funny looks when I've boarded the bus after an allotment session.

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  3. It sounds great, I shall keep an eye out for it. I don't think it's just allotments that need mirrors as I'd been in the garden last weekend, popped out to Waitrose to get something I'd forgotten earlier, looked down when I was in the checkout queue to see big muddy patches on my knees!

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    1. Aaaaaaaaaagh! I'm sure nobody else noticed Su or if they did they may have just thought it was a fashion statement :)

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  4. I remember reading about the making of this book probably on Dionoco's blog. Sounds fascinating.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Elaine- certainly a unique book which was a pleasure to read.

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  5. I saw the article and photographs in the Guardian, and really liked the sound of it. I too am intrigued by the idea of more perennial planting, something I hope to explore more in future years.

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    1. We will have to share our discoveries on this topic Janet.

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  6. Sounds a good book, but it's interesting what you say about the size an shape. I know where you are coming from with that, as to me a book is not just about the content but how tactile it is (I am not an early contender for a Kindle!)

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    1. Funnily enough Cathy I love my Kindle and would not be without it. Having said that books still play a large part in my reading and this one just did not sit comfortably in my hands :)

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  7. I think I'd probably pick up the book on seeing that enticing photo on the front, but it's great to know that you found it interesting and informative too. I love any book that explores an 'average' persons plot/garden rather than a designers view. Thanks for the review.

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  8. t's a really bright and colourful cover isn't it and actually illustrates where many allotments are located i.e. close to a railway line. The book did feature a couple of well known gardening personalities Paula, including a Chelsea gold medalist but their inclusion was not out of place.

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  9. Haha! I love the bit about the mirror! Adam's building a new shed this year. I must put mirror down on the list of mandatory requirements!!! :)

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All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at : thegreentapestry@gmail.com

Namasté

- Anna.