Book review: The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler

This is a very bold book, and I suspect it’s going to polarise its readers and/or become one of those cult classics. The premise is simple: the author turns her back garden over to cultivating enough fresh food to avoid buying from supermarkets, and tries to keep it all looking attractive/eco-friendly/thrifty at the same time.

Quite a tall order, but she makes rather a good job of it. What’s unusual about it is her planting style – seemingly higgledy-piggledy and all chucked in together, but it all seems to work. Herbs, flowers, fruit bushes and veggies all rub shoulders happily and prettily.

Alys Fowler is an experienced gardener, and the level of knowledge passed on in this book is really quite something. I’m no slouch, but have learned so much about garden microclimates, soil improvement, and getting the maximum amount of crops out of a small space by selecting the best varieties of plant and growing them in succession in small batches. There are lots of detailed descriptions of plants in here that I’ve never heard of, let alone grown before, and they look really interesting to try.

The book also covers cooking, freezing and preserving, all very handy if you have a glut and want to save produce to tide you over the winter and the hungry gap in early spring. There’s an excellent directory and further reading section at the back.

While there are many great pictures in The Edible Garden, I did find that there were a few too many of Alys looking cute among out-of-focus foliage. I would really have liked to have seen an illustration of every type of plant mentioned in the book instead, as that’s of more use to me. I also spotted a fair few typos in the book, such as ‘chicken coup’ instead of ‘chicken coop’ and so on. I do hope the chickens aren’t free range radicals plotting revolution round the back of the shed, and fingers crossed these mistakes get weeded out of the next edition.

To sum up: A very attractive book with a slightly unusual agenda, packed with excellent information. Probably best for someone who’s done a little gardening before and wants to get a serious project going this year.

The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler is published by BBC books and has a recommended retail price of £18.99. You can currently find it on Amazon priced at £9.50.

COMPETITION: You can win your very own copy of The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler, plus a mini selection of seeds so you can get growing your own. The whole selection is suitable for growing in a small garden or in pots, and most of the varieties have been recommended by Alys herself. You will get:

  • Peas x 20 (Greenshaft)
  • French beans x 2 (Dwarf Tendergreen)
  • Runner beans x 2 (Scarlet Emperor)
  • Tomato x 20 (Gardener’s Delight)
  • Radish x 80 (40 x Cherrybelle, 40 x French Breakfast)
  • Swiss Chard x 20 (Rainbow)
  • Rocket x 50 (non-wild)
  • Lettuce x 30 (mixed Salad Bowl, red & green)
  • Cucumber x 2 (Marketmore)
  • Carrot x 30 (Paris Market)
  • French marigold x 20
  • Basil x 30 (Sweet Genovese)

All the growing instructions are available here.


To be in with a chance of getting the whole lot of these goodies, all you have to do is find the answer to the following question, and write it in the comments box below: The first Edible Garden TV show aired on BBC2 two days ago. What was the subject of the first show? For a tiny hint try here.


Competition closes midnight Tuesday 13th April 2010. Correct entries go into a prize draw. This prize is for entrants in the UK only (sorry to those outside the UK, although it might cheer you up to hear that there will be a competition for international entrants coming in the next few days).

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  1. peas and beans (fingers crossed as my youngest would love me forever lol)

  2. Peas and Beans

    What a lovely prize – right up my street! This would give my veg patch a real kick start. Thanks for the opportunity x

  3. It was peas & beans! i hope to try a peatini or two this year! Loved the first episode & will be watching again.

  4. I’m going to comment but I won your cake book comp so I don’t want to enter this one 🙂 That book is actually amazing, btw. I will be blogging some makings from it once I get this pesky job interviews lark out of the way!

    I really like the look of this book. Your blog has really inspired me – I have spinach, peas, corainder, basil, chives and spring onions on the go now and I’d never done a single bit of gardening in my life before!!

  5. Peas and Beans.
    Thank you for the giveaway, this looks like a great prize!

  6. The competition’s closed now, many thanks to everyone who entered. Thanks also to Miss Believer who commented but didn’t enter 🙂

    Have just emailed the winner, check your inboxes.

  7. Bah! I wanted to win… waaaaaah! Congrats to whoever did though! 🙂

  8. It sounds as though the book is better than the woeful TV programme. I continue to watch only because I think it good to seethe occasionally. It is arty-farty rubbish, all style and no substance. Although I don’t know if fading to black & white, line drawings, film slippage and the shots of the back-side of a Jack Russel terrier is actually that ‘stylish’. Jaw-dropping moment this week was the building of a ‘greenhouse’ from reclaimed wood and windows that cost £160 and housed one tomato plant (just) that died of blight. Actually it probably died of shame at being housed in such an edifice.

    1. I do have to say that the book is much more practical and fact-packed than the show. And yes, that ‘greenhouse’ was indeed a bit rubbish.

  9. Answer to competition is peas and beans.

    Alys Fowler – what a woman. Mad as a hatter too!

  10. Hi everyone – as mentioned in the article, the comp closed at midnight on 13 April 2010. The prize has already been awarded, sorry.

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