Book Review: Of Rhubarb and Roses (The Telegraph Book of the Garden)

Ed by Richardson Telegraph RhubarbThese days I watch very little television unless a programme comes from a Scottish garden or has a Dan in it. I like Dans – Dan Snow, Dan Jones, Dan Cruikshank present some pretty decent history programmes. I also like ologies, in this case anthologies. These comprise a series of only remotely-connected articles and can be picked up and put down without having to worry about having to remember the contents of a few hundred pages of War and Peace.

I’ve got a fair number of gardening anthologies: Vita Sackville-West produced several volumes of her regular newspaper columns; Christopher Lloyd wrote for a number of publications and there are several anthologies of those articles. Then there are the collections of columns from a particular newspaper with many authors. Usually these anthologies are organised into some sort of chronological sequence, annual or seasonal. Apart from their entertainment value, they can be useful, if sometimes confusing, reminders of what needs to be done when and what grows when.

The gardening pages of The Telegraph are, arguably, the best of any of today’s newspapers here in the UK and it’s probably fair to say they’ve been pretty near top of the class for years. This collection, edited by Tim Richardson, a current Telegraph writer and author of a number of gardening books, is, I think, purely for entertainment. Obviously you will pick up the odd bit of information but, largely, the articles are more opinion than technique.

This book isn’t organised chronologically in any way; rather the articles are grouped into a number of broad subject areas

You’ll find humour – the story of the lady who, on being challenged about removing plant material from an RHS garden responded that it was quite alright as she was a member. There are Dukes fighting over who has the best grapes. You’ll find social commentary: a series of letters challenging the sexism of the RHS Council which, at the time, was totally male, culminating in the news of the appointment of the first female. Should you dig with your back facing into the wind? And Roy Strong thinks the best way to grow sweet peas is to let someone else do it in their own garden.

And recent rows about imported flowers at Chelsea aren’t that new. Fireworks were being set off back in 1994.

This is a cuppa and biccies in front of the fire sort of book. After a hard day’s work wandering round the garden, put your feet up and have a delve.

If the volume has a fault, it is the design of the dust cover which seems to place it in an age before much of the content was written. I’m also surprised that Amazon are still listing it (as I write) at around £25. Check out the remainder stores like Postscript Books where you could find it for well under a tenner.

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