One of the wonderful things about Laetitia Maklouf is that she writes so enthusiastically and so effusively about small gardens and growing spaces. She’s not a gardener who seems particularly bothered by sweeping vistas and huge lawns: in fact, she always seems at her best when she’s telling her readers about the magic of a small back garden in London.
Which is why her latest book, Sweet Peas for Summeris so fabulous. It’s all about her attempts to get her new back garden into full swing by mid-summer. Without wanting to spoil it for you, she does, and the results are marvellous.
This is a curious mix of a book as it combines intensely practical knowledge such as infographics on how to single-dig a new bed with sing-songy paragraphs about the wonder of owning a garden such as this one:
“This is what I worked hard for at the beginning of the year; my garden has become a place for my family to enjoy, just as I wished for back in cold, dark February. The Hunk bought a fancy barbecue and friends have appeared with their children, wobbling with Jemima on squidgy, deeply creased legs and giggling in the sunshine.”
Maklouf goes on to describe her garden as “ever-so-slightly shambolic, like a gorgeous sexy lady with bed-head”. It’s this personal touch that makes this a story and a manual: which is the best sort. You learn how to carry out quite technical tasks without even realising you’re being taught as you are so mesmerised by the lovely narrative of a garden coming together.
There are little breakaway sections in this month-by-month to-do-list, selling the virtues of peashoots, of the wonderful-sounding sweet cicely, and of a fabulous lilac jelly (pictured below). And then hidden away at the back, like a little present at the very bottom of a stocking, are a number of clever planting plans for “hopeless romantics”, “wild things” and “calm seekers”.
I read it almost straight through when I first received this book. And then I read it again. And then I made a list of all the ideas I wanted to steal from it. That’s what makes a great gardening book.