As I write, the rain is lashing against the window and the dark is only a few precious hours away. Having missed the briefest of winter sun filled windows, my best laid plans of bulb planting have, as Robert Burn’s noted in his poem “To a Mouse”, “gang aft agley”. The one advantage is to hear our little owl hooting earlier much earlier at this time of year. The other is that I can tuck up with my Christmas reading list ensconced next to the fire.
In the blink of an eye Christmas is upon us. Loved by many but also an emotional time for us all. Memories flood in while we rush for the perfect present. More than ever, I feel the need for space and sanctuary, reflection and rest. In December, it is tricky to be in the garden so I like to do what I consider to be the next best thing. Reading about what to plant and do in the garden next year.
But what to read I hear you cry! Here are the books on my Christmas reading list that I am carrying around the house with me:
The Thoughtful Gardener
The truth of the matter was that I had been already plotting and planning the creation of more flower beds in the paddock given that the others were all but filled with perennials. More space was needed for the annuals that were busy growing in my newly acquired greenhouse.
With hindsight, it was perhaps not the best year to do a major expansion of my cutting garden. The hottest summer for a generation saw us watering, and watering, and watering some more. Of course, nothing grew in that heat but at least noting died either. And as if in a perfect storm of coincidence, our canal that had breached earlier in the year providing the most perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. What many others regarded as the most perfect idyll of summer’s was in my canalside cutting garden a rather different picture. At least the bats were happy was my overriding thought.
Then, in one of those serendipitous moment of luck, two tickets to meet the most marvellous and inspiring of garden designers fell our way in the Autumn.
Of course, I had read Jinny Bloms' book already. Cover to cover of unique, original, romantic amazing garden designs. Meeting and talking with the numerous times Chelsea gold medal winner over the most delicious of lunches at Wollerton Old Hall was both precious and inspiring. And I read her book again with her instructions ringing in my head.
In December, it is tricky to be in the garden so I like to do what I consider to be the next best thing - reading about what to plant and do in the garden next year!
Hearing tales of her exploits with the quite frankly huge gardening projects that she has undertaken had the effect of galvanising me into action in our own cutting garden. Designing our canal side cutting garden has been my driving force ever since that meeting. Read it as an instruction manual was her advice. Do it yourself was the other. I have heeded both.
Gardening gives me an opportunity to grow, and with a bit of help from nature, create a canal side cutting garden that not only inspires me but I hope encourages others to grow too. It takes time to plant a garden. It takes time for trees to grow. I will never see the oaks from my acorn saplings but my greatest desire is that they grow into huge huge trees. I don’t have the 450 maasai warriors that Jinny marshalled for one of her amazing projects. What I do have is a renewed sense of purpose in creating a cutting garden that I hope can leave the smallest of legacy’s to inspire others to garden. I will be forever grateful to Jinny for that.
Michael Morpurgo - Grandpa Christmas
This next book is one for gardeners of all ages. Michael Morpurgo's “Grandpa Christmas” is perhaps not the usual flower growers book recommendation but bear with me for we have all been or are grandchildren. I haven’t managed to make it to the end of this book yet without tears streaming down my face We are all Mia, the grandchild who features in this most precious of tales. Undoubtably, it touched a nerve. That I garden at all is from seeing and being with my own darling grandfather. I miss him still.
I had been lucky enough to listen to Michael when he gave the Roscoe Lecture in Liverpool in 2015. In my view, his writing goes far beyond the realms of his purported audience of children. As with War Horse, and Private Peaceful, two of my favourites of his books, the tale connects with a far deeper and more fundamental part in us all. Of course, he is a master story teller. He both sweeps you along while serendipitously stripping away any defences. He is quite honestly a genius. Grandpa Christmas is on my Christmas reading list because it is about the best book I have read about why to garden and why it is important that we all be as environmentally conscious as we can. It’s about life and living and caring for our world seen through the eyes of one who is leaving while looking on at the legacy of his grandchild. This most magical of gardening books is about why to pass on your passion, any passion but particularly of gardening and nature, that I have read in a very very long time. Perfect Christmas reading for everyone.
Michael Chinery - The Living Garden
“The Living Garden” is a very thoughtful early Christmas reading book from my Mum and Dad. It is a practical guide to attracting and conserving garden wildlife. It gives advice on creating habitats as well as why you’d really want thousand of insects in your garden, really! His simple but effective suggestions have me turning into a hedgehog homes developer. As we have the canal right next to us, I have always worried that they will drown but now we have rabbit fencing I have more confidence. Reading Michael's’ book has made me more convinced of one thing. We need a pond. Aand nother thing I am convinced of now that this one has made it onto my Christmas reading list. We can all make a difference to wildlife conservation even in the smallest of own gardens.
Beth Chatto - Beth Chatto's Shade Garden
Last but by no means least on my Christmas reading list is Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden.
Our canalside garden has many beautiful trees that have been here long before I was and I hope will be here long after I am gone. I consider it part of the stewardship of our beautiful canal side wharf to look after them too. Obviously, they cast a lot of shadow. Obviously, they suck up a lot of water, especially the old and rather large horse chestnut. In gardening terms, I could pretend that I have full sun everywhere but I don’t. Acceptance of your gardening conditions and a willingness to augment what is already there is where I have got to. My conclusion, and Beth’s, is that it is pretty pointless to fight with this state of natural affairs. Beth Chatto’s shade garden is proving to be a surprising lesson on patience, an invaluable source of knowledge and an insightful take on thinking longer term for how I would like our cutting garden to be in 5, 10 even 20 years. It has a fantastic plant reference section as well as good humour and honesty. I am sorry I will never meet the lady but I am glad that finally it has made it onto my Christmas reading list (even though it was first publish in 2002).
Better late than never is my current thinking on a number of things including my Christmas reading list. I would love to hear what’s on your flowery Christmas reading list. Please contact me and let me know.
The fierceblooms blog has been going for about 3 years now. In this section of my site, I write about my exploits and passion to grow British flowers in my canalside cutting garden with other articles and videos on how I use them in my floral designs. I am thrilled that the blog has reached the voting round of the 2019 UK Blog Awards in the primary category of Green and Eco.
May I please ask for a little bit of your time to vote for me. It would mean such a lot to me if you did - all you have to do is click a little heart next to my name. The link to the voting site is below.
We're an environmentally conscious local floral business rooted in our wild Cheshire canal side cut flower garden, inspiring our weddings, workshops and creative digital online classes. If sustainability matters to you, if you care that floral creations are as kind to the environment as they are beautiful, then I am a kindred spirit.