The Deckchair Gardener reviewed by Catharine Howard

April 27, 2017

in Book Reviews, Reviews

When Catharine asked me if she could review The Deckchair Gardener for thinkingardens I just felt pleased – as you do when someone wants to review your book. I had no idea originally whether she would slam it, knowing my declared commitment to honesty, and I was anxious. It was only later, after I read her review, that I began to think it was a bit – what – self promoting?

Well, hell, I would have published it if it had been totally damning from beginning to end. So I still will, even though it isn’t.

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham Portrait copyright Charles Hawes


Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham


In “The Deckchair Gardener” Anne and her mischievous and irreverent Gnome make it plain that all of us gardeners out there have been had, utterly had, by the gardening nonsense that we have been reading over the years. What was gospel truth is taken by the collar and shaken to show up some of the crazy ideas being peddled by the experts as advice.

The book’s formula breaks the year down into the seasons and also describes various potential specialist gardens. Each season is furnished with tasks not to do, based on the gardening press. Quoted verbatim, I recognise a lot of the garden press suggestions (or are they hectoring commands?). Taken out of glossy magazine context or away from the mesmeric lure of television garden porn, they stand naked as demands for only the credulous to obey.

Over the years I have intended to carry out some of them – just not quite got round to it. Take these for the winter months – lift planted patio pots up on feet to improve drainage; let the frost and worms break the clods of soil up. Anne has tried both and found the activities are pointless – pots are fine without and the clods of earth simply do not weather.


Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham


Lurking under the cheerful gnome facade, the serious message is to take a different approach to gardening activities. Be a bit sceptical and be willing to experiment. Do not swallow the usual medicinal “do this now in your garden” that gets recycled every month by a rather dozy gardening press.

Many of these instructions will make you laugh aloud. Take:” Cover heavy clay soil with polythene to keep it drier and allow winter digging”. Well for a start, Anne is no digger. And then the very idea of battling with a slimy acreage of wind whipped plastic defies logic. As for No Dig – digging destroys intricate soil structure and causes weed seeds to germinate.  A convert on paper, I cannot stop myself reaching out for a fork.

Debunking is one thing, the Deckchair Gardener has a stronger second strand: enjoyment. Cut down on pointless tasks like digging up your leeks and putting them in a holding trench so that you can dig them up again. Do only what gives you enormous pleasure. It might be primping the lawn, raising prize chrysanths, even digging. All that is up to the individual. Sitting still in your garden, drinking in the space will be part of the enjoyment.


Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham


The sub-title is “101 Cunning Stratagems for Gardening Avoidance and Sensible advice on your realistic chances of getting away with it.”  I didn’t go for tedious counting of Anne’s particular stratagems but I did make myself a list of dead good useful tips. Anne and Charles Hawes have made a garden at Veddw that is hard to quarrel with from the design and planting side (I know that Anne would prefer a quarrel). The experience of making a garden of some size, without throwing money and labour at it, gives a good deal to share.

The top tip is mulching. Want to make a new border? Start by laying down 8 inches of wood chip. Weeds will be choked off, soil conditioned for planting later in the year. This is seriously useful: I am telling all my more patient customers this from now on. Cut down the perennials in the borders in the autumn and leave in situ. This will give a light winter diet to the plants. It is all they need. Otherwise, do not feed. It is a bit like the zoo, plants should be mean and lean, and the rich diet will make them tall and sappy and likely to need staking.


Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham


The specialist garden sections give good instructions. For the meadow garden, this includes dealing with the viewer’s expectation of bright annual meadow colours. That sort is a one-off on poor ground. A muted sward of native plants is what is achievable. Other specialist gardens include one of gravel (thanks to Derry Watkins) or maybe majoring on hedges. Veddw is clearly the model – and it’s true, geometry and pattern are bestowed once the hedging plants begin to get to a sensible size


Deckchair Gardener by Anne Wareham

Bit ambiguous, this page!


Two other matters:  sow thinly and cut any new large perennial in half with a bread knife. My take on the latter is make sure it really is big enough. (Both knife and plant)

Anyone who longs to get away from the self-conscious pappyness of our glossy gardening magazines will chortle over this book. I’d like to see it in hardback, with photographs and pages wrenched around by a hipster art director but then I guess you’d never take it into the garden, and that is the place to read this.

Catharine Howard  website

  Catharine Howard portrait

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Paul Steer April 28, 2017 at 10:33 pm

I’ve read it – was meant to be my holiday read but just couldn’t help myself. It is a funny and intelligent read and challenges so many conventions. It really does set you free from pointless tasks !

Katherine Crouch April 27, 2017 at 11:54 pm

This is such a great book. And not because I was mentioned (blush) in dispatches. Giggling 5 minutes in, then several ‘umm….why have I been doing that for all these years…’ moments.

My healthy bullshit detector has been given a rigorous workout and is now bursting with new muscle. You must tell all impecunious recipients to read it without breaking the spine, then they can pass it on pristine as a perfect stocking filler for Christmas….oh scrub that, tell them to get their own copy.

Now selling a stack of copies to eager recipients at garden clubs talks, I need to order another box or two – Anne, get signing!

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