Gardens Illustrated
The Modern Gardener by Frances Tophil

The Modern Gardener by Frances Tophill – book review

Published: April 12, 2022 at 9:24 am

The Modern Gardener by Frances Tophill is an honest, convincing account of how to be a modern gardener and engage with the environment in a positive and sustainable way. Reviewer Tom Attwood is a nursery owner

The Modern Gardener: A Practical Guide to Gardening Creatively, Productively and Sustainably
by Frances Tophill
Octopus Publishing Group, £22
ISBN 978-0857839435


This is a valiant attempt by gardener and presenter Frances Tophill to explore what a modern gardener should aspire to be. Passionate, environmental debate runs through the book, especially when stressing our collective need to discard an historic over-reliance on chemical-focused methodology. The argument is countered with positive, sustainable approaches applicable to all gardens, irrespective of size.

The author's practical advice on garden design is filled with grounded ideas and solutions. A refreshingly healthy dose of realism prevails when discussing the practicalities of developing a garden space; 'creating and implementing a design that will be manageable is critical for its long-term success'. The author draws on her own experience, suggesting that readers be pragmatic, look at themselves, and think about the skill sets they possess.

A refreshingly healthy dose of realism prevails when discussing the practicalities of developing a garden space

The main chapters cover sizeable, traditionally information-heavy topics, including propagation, growing edible crops, rudimentary garden design principles and developing a healthy soil. I would have expected stronger illustrative photos in areas such as propagation techniques, where the few paragraphs of text are not enough to fully convey a specific technique.

Plant lists accompany selected chapters with botanical stalwarts and those in need of cajoling through a typically wet British winter; examples including 'Perennial herbs for heavier soil' through to 'Annual flowers for cutting'. Where relevant, enlightening notes highlight whether a plant may have a medicinal, cosmetic or culinary use.


The concept of plant provenance is rarely a topic even mentioned in mainstream gardening books; to have it covered here was heartening. I found this a personal, energised book filled with creative and thought-provoking ideas.

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