Let’s face it: not every gardener likes shovelling manure in the rain and spending all Saturday fussing over their sweetcorn plants. If you’re brand-new to gardening, this whole dirt-under-the-fingernails thing can be off-putting enough without the vast swathes of knowledge you are expected to acquire.
So what if there was a book aimed at girly gardeners who were starting out on their balcony or patch? Written by a girl who gardened for many years while working long hours? Would you buy it?
Initially, I was a little nervous. Girly books always fill me with dread – they can be terribly patronising and look like an advert for Claire’s Accessories. Thankfully, although Alex Mitchell’s book is girly, it doesn’t make you feel sick, or leave you suffering from pink-blindness. In fact, there is no pink on the cover at all. Thank goodness for that. The illustrations are fun and feminine, but there’s no glitter. It is far trendier than that, and the photographs are beautiful.
This book is aimed at the absolute beginner. Crops are graded from ‘You couldn’t kill it if you tried’ to ‘Fussy but fabulous’, and the advice is divided between growing in garden soil and growing in pots. If you’ve been gardening for 25 years on an enormous open site with beautiful soil structure and oodles of time, this book will leave you cold. The advice is very basic, and for the beginner, that’s a good thing. But once you’ve gained momentum as a gardener, you may need to buy another book, as the technical advice is limited.
The thing I love the most about this book is the way it is written. This book is entertaining. Mitchell is wonderfully self-deprecating, and it is her lack of self-importance or triumphalism that makes flicking through the pages such a joy. Here’s an extract:
‘Typical conversation around a fig tre on a terrace somewhere in northern Europe:
‘Have you actually ever eaten any figs off your fig tree?’
‘Of course I have.’
‘Loads. At least ten.’
‘And you’ve had it for, what, three years?’
My only quibble with this book is that its free-and-easy narrative style could work against it. If its target audience are so busy with their jobs and social lives, they might not want to leaf through the pages searching for the veg they are trying to grow, and then for possible pests in another part of the book. But if they’re happy to curl up on the sofa and have a girly night in with a bar of chocolate and this lovely book, then they’ll be very happy girly gardeners indeed.