The Curious Gardener’s Almanac: Centuries of Practical Garden Wisdom
By Nial Edworthy
When I first sat down to review The Curious Gardener’s Almanac by Nial Edworthy I began in the most logical place, the introduction. I was immediately smitten. I found the author’s slightly dramatic, yet also dry and mildly self-effacing sense of humour to be immediately charming and easily relatable. Even more delightful was Mr. Edworthy suggestion to install the book in the bathroom where the reader can dip into it from time-to-time rather than reading in long sittings. By the time I got to his use of the phrase “sweet bugger-all” I was captivated.
Now, I realize these are all rather shallow ways to review a book — there is more to my assessment, I promise! Mr. Edworthy goes on to deliver a very hopeful and optimistic view of gardening as an act that has the potential to create positive change for the environment and in turn change the gardener. He writes about his early days as a gardener, discovering that there is no end to how much there is to learn about gardening and also discovering that the learning comes primarily from the doing, from getting down into the dirt and getting your hands dirty. By the end of the introduction I was more than ready to leap into the actual book itself, eagerly anticipating another 100 plus pages of charming, wittily told stories.
Unfortunately the rest of the book lacks the wit, sharp bite, and personal anecdotes found in the introduction. Which is not to say that the rest of the book is not good or interesting, rather it just isn’t what I had anticipated. For the purposes of description I would label the book a fairly traditional almanac in that it is comprised of quotes about gardening by all the famous gardeners, interesting historical facts, bits of wisdom, and chunks of gardening knowledge. The design is very much in keeping with the style of other well-known almanacs including vintage woodcuts and lithographs of plants, tools, and other gardening imagery. I particularly enjoyed the herbs section picking up a few new tips including using hops (Humulus lupulus) in herb pillows as a natural tranquilizer to help with insomnia. While I am highly allergic and do not have the space to indulge in an entire lawn of chamomile, the idea is not one I had thought or heard of. This book is loaded with great facts, tid bits, and inspiring ideas.
Unfortunately, what the book lacks is what sold me in the introduction, Nial Edworthy’s clever and very relatable voice. Instead the book takes on the slightly formal tone more closely associated with traditional almanacs. While I find these sorts of books interesting to read, I would prefer to read an entire book that takes off where the introduction ended. I want to hear more about Nial Edworthy the gardener and his exploits as a former city dweller who moved to the country and found himself drawn into the crazy world of gardening.
I realize this reduces my chances of getting one, but I must tell you about Mood Swing Studio’s Abloom collection of necklaces, earrings, and broaches. My favourites are the necklaces, each is one-of-a-kind and lovingly crafted by Kristen using vintage enamel flowers re-appropriated from old-school jewelery. With titles often referring to popular culture or songs, Kristen’s names for her pieces are almost as interesting as the pieces themselves. My current fave is called “Dance This Mess Around” which I am guessing (and hoping) is a reference to The B-52′s.
Photo by Mood Swing Studio.
Please note that items are listed in U.S prices.
1. Extreme Close-View Monocular – $16.95 A small, pocket-sized viewing scope that magnifies objects 7x from 10″ to infinity. Perfect for the geeky gardener or amateur naturalist in your life who enjoy getting a closer look at insects and flowers in the garden. It’s also really helpful for identifying bugs and disease. Of course, some may prefer to see those things from way back here, thank you very much.
2. Earthly Paradise Calendula Salve – $12.99 I make my own but if I were going to buy hand salve I would buy it from Earthly Paradise who just happen to make a killer salve. A healing hand salve is an absolute necessity for gardener’s like me who prefer not to wear gloves since the soil can really sap the moisture right out of your hands.
3. Oak Nail Brush – $12.36 It’s become a ritual: Returning from the garden the first thing I do is scrub my hands and nails with a bar of my favourite oatmeal soap and a good nailbrush. This beautiful oak brush is handmade using white tampico bristles — I have no idea what that is but it sounds terribly posh! And really, at that price it kind of is.
4. Richter’s Pot Maker – $12.95 Make your own seed-starting pots using newspaper — recycled and free you’ll never complain about running out of pots again.
5. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan – $11.20 This isn’t a how-to guide but a book ABOUT the act of gardening and a “…manifesto for rethinking our relationship with nature.” A great thinking book for any gardener and one that I have personally gone back to many times.
6. Kitchen Compost Pails – $16.95 Again a Lee Valley item. I have seen these pails available elsewhere however they tend to be priced at a few dollars more. These buckets act like a sort-of purgatory for kitchen scraps, a holding station between produce and the compost bin. Believe me, being frugal-ish people we were resistant to purchasing a special container just to hold kitchen scraps on our counter, juggling an assortment of yogurt containers before finally taking the plunge. It was so worth it. This baby holds a lot and the handle makes it easy to carry out to the composter, especially given that we often have to carry ours a few blocks to our community garden plot!
7. Modern Birdhouses – $195 Like their human-sized counterparts these birdhouses modeled after real Modernist houses designed in the Case Study Houses Series are not cheap. But say I had a lot of money, and say I had enough that I could splurge on a very fancy birdhouse, I’d get the Richard. Just saying.
I want this book! We took a week off last month, staying at the home of an avid tomato gardener whose name I have not sought permission to reveal (and therefore will not). While there she introduced me to the Kokopelli Seed Foundation, a non-profit organization based in France who are working to actively address issues of food security and preserve biodiversity by producing organic open-pollinated seeds as well as educating and promoting these issues globally.
One of their projects is the book, “The Seeds of Kokopelli” by Dominique Guillet is a massive 440 page, hardcover tome introducing Kokopelli’s work and farms, as well as proper pollination, seed production and saving techniques for an assortment of vegetables. The bulk of the book functions as a food plant directory introducing thousands of open-pollinated and heirloom herb and vegetable varieties. My host had the French version of the book at her home
(“Les Semences de Kokopelli“) which proved to be a bit of a tease given that I could only gaze at the photos, picking up a line or two of French here and there. Even still, on quick glance the book introduced me to a few interesting varieties that I’ve got on my list for next year including:
What I saw has absolutely convinced me to order a English edition for myself. $46 (includes shipping to Canada) is an excellent price for such a massive encyclopedia of plants. The price including shipping to the US is a deal at $34-38.
I have so much to tell you about last week’s trip to the Montreal Botanical Gardens but I can’t seem to wade through the millions of photos and thoughts without first showing you one of the silliest, most ridiculous crimes ever perpetrated on a plant for human amusement and seasonal decor.