Book review: Joe’s Urban Garden Handbook

Joe Swift’s book, ‘Joe’s Urban Garden Handbook’, is deceptive on the first flick through: lots and lots of large pictures of small yet striking gardens, and trendy page layouts. It has a a glossy-magazine-like quality to it, and my first impression was that it was more of a coffee table book than anything else.

Then I read the whole thing from cover to cover, and decided that it’s much more practical in the tone of the writing and in its scope than a first glance would suggest. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it would be an excellent choice for anyone with a small amount of outside space who’d really like to ‘do up’ their garden, but who has no idea where to start. The author’s wealth of experience is clear to see.

The emphasis is fairly firmly on hiring a garden designer and/or a landscaper to create your garden for you, but the book does get you to think very thoroughly about everything you want and need from it once it’s finished, whether that’s somewhere to throw big parties or just a place to sit quietly with a book or simply hang out the washing.

The garden at Golightly Towers was put together very badly by the previous owners and is now starting to come apart at the seams. This book has given me the confidence I need to draw up a sensible budget so that we can start saving up to get things fixed in the next year or two, and I also have a much better understanding of how we need the space to ‘work’ for us in both a functional and aesthetic sense.

Swift points out several times that you can’t cram too much into a small plot if you want it to look good, and runs you through several ideas to help you sort out your priorities. There are many design solutions and professional tips, plus notes about physical structuring and planting. The planting section will probably not be enough for experienced gardeners but is more than adequate for someone who’s just starting out.

Then there’s more of a ‘lifestyle’ section, with ideas about eating outdoors, sunbathing and shade, growing your own food, and simple ways to make seasonal changes. There are even some quick wins that can be tried to speedily improve the appearance of the garden if time and resources are limited. This is followed by a section on the seasonal maintenance that’s needed to keep different types of garden looking good.

I really liked the handy list of suppliers at the back of the book. The only thing I thought was missing was half a page or so of references for further book or internet research about design and planting, as it’s the sort of publication that makes you feel inspired to learn and do more.

My only real gripe about the book is that the first few pages have been designed with almost completely unbroken text and very little white space – these are very hard on the eye indeed and create a sensation of being unable to breathe between paragraphs, which is a shame as the introduction is well worth reading. Fortunately the page design greatly improves after this, getting all the useful points across much better.

Produced by Quadrille Publishing Limited, RRP £12.99

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