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The London Garden Book A-Z

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The London Garden Book A-Z by Abigail Willis

With over 100 entries, The London Garden Book A-Z is a wonderful insight into city gardening in many unexpected places. There are over 3 million gardens in the capital and this book "celebrates London's thriving horticulture landscape in all its diversity".

It's not intended to be an exhaustive list of public gardens but the A-Z format introduces the reader to some fascinating gardens and the people behind them, along with glorious glossy pages of photography.

  • Publication Date: September 2012
  • Pages: 352 pages
  • Dimensions: w170mm x h210mm

Why London?
The first museum in the world devoted to garden history is in London, in Lambeth, the home of pioneering, plant-hunting Tradescants, a father and son gardening duo who were responsible for several new introductions of plants from the Americas.

Is It For Gardening Experts?
There's enough detail for the knowledgeable gardener (Willis uses the plant's Latin names) while still enthralling the amateur or those who simply like to admire gardens and not indulge themselves.

Willis has met the gardeners, such as David Lewis at Kensington Roof Gardens who gave this excellent advice: "Just try it. If it doesn't work it's only a plant and it won't have cost you a fortune." Brilliant! Comments like that are really encouraging and this book is full of inspiration. There are fascinating tales of the people behind the gardens: the home owners, enthusiasts, volunteers, and professional life-long gardeners.

Easy To Read
The London Garden Book A-Z is really easy to read and shows how much gardens and gardening mean to city dwellers. Willis has also authored Museums and Galleries of London since 1998 for Metro Guides and this new title combines her passion for London with her love of horticulture.

Each entry is handy bite-size reading so it's easy to dip into. And as you turn each page you'll start saying, "Oh, yeah" and "Ooh, good choice" as you are reminded of old favorites and plenty of new places too.

The book has a handy flap bookmark, a useful Index and even a bibliography to encourage more horticultural exploration. It ends more like a catalog or magazine with a 'Garden Directory' – garden centers and community garden listings, annual garden events and lots of useful contacts for London Horticultural Societies.

The writing includes some beautifully descriptive text such as this about Hampton Court Palace gardens: "The one remaining fountain punctuates the central avenue, its plume of water drifting on breezy days to sprinkle unwary visitors." Simply perfect.

While I was aware of food miles (how far your food travels to reach your plate) I hadn't thought about 'plant miles' and discovered the benefits of choosing native plants. I also discovered more about London beekeeping and honey which, although rarely seen, is happening all over the city!

Not All the Obvious Places
While Kew Gardens features more there once, not all the places listed are open to the public although most are open for special occasions such as London Open Garden Squares Weekend.

Some of the places featured I know well such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the Geffrye Museum gardens and Postman's Park which has the City of London's only publicly accessible horse chestnut tree. Horniman Museum Gardens is wonderfully described as somewhere to "bring the family while also getting a crafty horticultural fix."

Somewhere I've still not visited but now really want to is the Chelsea Physic Garden. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the great physician, scientist and collector, ensured the survival of the CPG when he granted the Apothecaries a lease on the site for an annual peppercorn rent of £5 – on the proviso that the garden was kept in perpetuity as a 'physic garden'. Sloane's collections went on to form the basis of the British Museum and later the Natural History Museum as well as being remembered for bringing the first recipe for milk chocolate to England. CPG has Icelandic lava and stone from the Tower of London in its rock garden.

There are also plenty of residential gardens including some amazing topiary hedges outside terraced houses. And some incredibly worthy community gardening projects including 'skip/dumpster gardens' using "materials indigenous to building sites" and inspirational stories where volunteers meet weekly including a four year old who has been coming since he was born.

The London Garden Book A-Z has not only inspired me to try something new in my garden but it has made me want to brighten all the patches of waste ground I find on my travels around the city. Excellent research and wonderful writing make this the perfect book for anyone who's ever enjoyed a London garden.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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