Much of gardening is about cultivation. We work the soil, sow seeds and tend our plants as they grow. But there’s not a lot of growth in January, and it is not an ideal time to do much in the garden.
So why not spend January cultivating your passion for gardening? It can be time to let go of this year’s failures and make new plans.
This could be a good time to get caught up on all of the gardening books, podcasts and social media streams that you’ve been neglecting. Here are my top recommendations for books and podcasts to get you started.
Gardeners’ Question Time: the podcast version of the long-running Radio 4 show is essential listening for anyone with an interest in gardening. It features interviews with people working in horticulture, and an expert panel answering questions and giving advice. It comes out every week and is always up-to-date with the most appropriate advice for the time of year.
On the Ledge is a podcast about houseplants from Jane Perrone. I have dozens of houseplants myself, and I know that they have no value for wildlife (unless you live in a butterfly farm?), and I love that I can keep gardening year-round. Plus there are so many mental and physical health benefits to having plants in the home, and this podcast will help keep you right.
In Defense of Plants (using the US spelling of ‘defence’) is a great podcast all about plants, and it very often features interviews with researchers looking at how plants and animals (including butterflies and moths) interact - for example, there was a recent episode on the pollination of Yucca flowers by moths. It definitely leans toward the scientific appreciation and study of plants, but that’s no bad thing!
One of the books I always recommend to new volunteers is The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham. I started working with Butterfly Conservation in December 2015, and during the break for Christmas, I read the whole book and spent the entire holidays telling my friends and family about the amazing world of butterflies. By the time I was finished, I couldn’t wait to get back to work (really!) and dive in. In the book, Patrick travels around the UK trying to find every species of butterfly. Books where people ‘collect’ sightings can be a bit boring, but I couldn’t put this one down, and I learned so much from it.
My favourite garden writer is Monty Don. I admire the work of other gardeners too, but Monty’s approach is almost purely organic and he is leading the way in educating the public on how to garden for wildlife, particularly insects. I enjoyed his The Road to Le Tholonet, all about French gardens and their evolution, but his books on the practice of gardening including The Complete Gardener and Down to Earth are ones I refer to again and again. He’s a natural writer, and these are nice big books to sit down at the table with, enjoying a pot of tea and Christmas cake.
Carol Klein is another author whose books I enjoy, and you can sense her enthusiasm for all things gardening from the page. Her Making a Garden book was useful for me when I was plotting out new parts of a garden, but she’s got many other books on using wildflowers in the garden, growing fruit and veg, and so much more.
Have you ever made a New Years’ resolution to learn a new language? How about learning a new (old) language this year by delving into botanical Latin. Top of my list here would be RHS Botanic Latin which explains and explores over 3000 botanical names. Knowing the origin of a plant name can help you remember (and spell!) it and the best thing about botanical names is that the more you use them, the easier they become. The RHS also has an excellent range of books on Botany for Gardeners, plant genealogy and much more.
In addition to all these, there are a few books which were on my own Christmas list. This includes The Brother Gardeners and The Invention of Nature, both by Andrea Wulf.
Finally, remember that you don’t necessarily have to buy these books, and every book I’ve mentioned here is available in public libraries throughout the country so that everyone can enjoy reading about plants and gardening.