Book review · Gardening · Non-fiction

Book review: ‘How to be a gardener’ by Alan Titchmarsh

I found this book for 99p in a second-hand shop and thought it might make a useful reference volume. When I got it home and looked at it more closely I decided I should read it right through from cover to cover.

How to be a gardener
‘How to be a gardener (book one)’ by Alan Titchmarsh (2002)

The book was brought out to accompany a television series of the same name sixteen years ago. I don’t remember seeing any of the programme, but in those days I wasn’t particularly interested in gardening.

This is the first in what I think is a two volume set, and it deals with the basics of gardening. In the first couple of chapters Alan explains what plants are and how they grow. This bit of the book took me back to school biology lessons and I was pleasantly surprised when things I’d forgotten I knew began coming back to me.

In the following chapters the book describes how to plan borders, design flower beds and deal with weeds. Going through each of the four seasons, it explains what needs to be done in a garden at certain times of year, and suggests ways to keep the garden interesting all year round.

Routine, and more specific, garden maintenance is gone into in some detail, including a whole chapter on how to look after lawns, and there’s quite a bit of information about how to garden organically.

I read this book over a number of days during my breakfast and each morning I learned something new and helpful. I hadn’t expected it to be such an easy and enjoyable read, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for the second book in the series when rummaging through second-hand bookshops.

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Photography · Postage stamp · Royal Mail

Postage stamps: Capability Brown

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was a landscape gardener and architect, born in the north of England in 1716. His nickname, Capability, is said to have come from his frequent observations that areas of land had ‘great capabilities’.

He became an expert at creating works of art out of large areas of parkland, moving great mounds of soil and diverting rivers to achieve the look he was after. His aim was always to make something that looked natural, but was also beautiful and practical.

In August 2016 Royal Mail brought out a series of eight stamps to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown’s birth, and I have the two second class designs. The first of these features Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, birthplace and ancestral home of wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

When he redesigned the parkland at Blenheim Palace in the 1760s, Capability Brown engineered a great lake by damming the small River Glyme. The river flowed under an enormous bridge (said to contain over 30 rooms), built some years earlier by architect, Sir John Vanbrugh. The bridge was an impressive piece of engineering, but it looked out of place with a small river trickling under it. Brown fixed the incongruity by designing the lake to make it look as if the bridge had been built specifically to cross a wide expanse of water. The bridge and lake feature in the foreground of the Blenheim stamp, with the Palace in the background.

Capabitlity Brown Blenheim Palace
2nd class stamp featuring Capability Brown’s landscape creations at Blenheim Palace.

The second stamp features Longleat, home of the Marquesses of Bath. Located in the English county of Wiltshire, Longleat is a stately home set in 1000 acres of parkland. It was the first stately home to open to the public, and is perhaps best known for its safari park. The safari park was opened in 1966 and was the first such park outside Africa to house a variety of African animals.

It was the 1st Marquess of Bath, Thomas Thynne, who asked Capability Brown to redesign the formal gardens into something more natural-looking, with tree-peppered grassland and grand driveways. As he did with dozens of other gardens, Capability Brown produced a landscape that perfectly flattered the architecture it surrounded.

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2nd class stamp featuring the grounds of Longleat, landscaped by Capability Brown.

Both Blenheim Palace and Longleat are open to the public, as are around 30 other gardens designed by Capability Brown throughout England.