The Kitchen Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh

April 3, 2008

in Book Reviews, Reviews

The Kitchen Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh

Reviewed by Charles Dowding

“Useful information, helpful descriptions, intriguing definitions and celebrity photographs…”

The author’s cheerful, down to earth style, married to some huge photographic resources, have produced a book which should be useful to many aspiring kitchen gardeners.

The Kitchen Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh - Image 1The first part of ‘ground rules’ is aimed at helping beginners and is strewn with such nuggets as “grow half the amount, but grow it twice as well”. The author repeatedly emphasises that growing vegetables requires no little skill and plenty of effort, and his second section, a ‘directory’ of vegetables, fruit and herbs has a comprehensive breakdown of the work involved in growing each plant. There are also excellent descriptions and photographs of many different cultivars, really helpful in deciding which ones to grow.

The celebrity aspect of this book is another matter and detracts from its qualities. Full page photos of the author carrying pots, forking compost and gazing at tomatoes do not inform the reader, especially as none of them are captioned. For example, what is he spreading over the soil on page 31? Which pear cultivar is ripening so nicely on page 55? What kind of mint are we looking at on page 291?

Clarity is also lacking in descriptions of cultivation methods. The author advocates ‘organic growing’, to achieve best flavour and freedom from pesticides, yet for treating apple scab he recommends “spraying several times with a fungicide”. And a section on “organic matter and fertilisers” claims that “organic matter isn’t enough to improve soil on its own”. Many gardeners, myself included, have decades of experience which emphatically illustrate the opposite and I only hope that such statements from an eminent source might kindle more debate about exactly what are the best ways to look after soil.

On a more pedantic note, I noticed a surprising number of mistakes. A few examples that caught my eye are:

p83: photo of ‘baby beetroot’ is actually leaves of ruby chard,

p94: the photo of ‘Nantes’ carrot is most definitely not Nantes, which is a stump rooted variety

p104: chicory Witloof does not ‘grow up tall and flower in summer’ – it just grows leaves, unless sown too early – this is seriously misleading

p128: under lambs lettuce there is no mention of its most common problem, mildew

p144: description of pea varieties Sugar Ann and Sugar Snap is the wrong way round -Sugar Ann is dwarf.

Many typos, out of place in a quality book, such as spinach variety Mediana (should be Medania) and sweetcorn suffering from ‘poo pollination’.

The Kitchen Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh - Image 2On a more technical note, most professional fruit growers advocate planting trees in soil that is unimproved with organic matter, so that new growth is leaner and fitter, whereas this book advocates forking compost and manure into soil at the bottom of planting holes and also mixing some into the soil when back-filling.

It all goes to show, don’t believe everything you read – in my writing too!

Charles Dowding – author, historian

Biography: 25 years of organic vegetable growing, currently specialising in year-round bags of mixed salad for local outlets: author of books and articles on these subjects.

Charles Dowding’s website

Random House
Alan Titchmarsh
ISBN 9781846072017

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