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Eat What You Grow by Alys Fowler – Book Review

A thoroughly rich and engaging practical guide to creating a wildlife-friendly edible garden that is as beautiful as it is utterly delicious. Reviewer Hannah Gardner is a horticulturist and garden writer.

EAT WHAT YOU GROW by Alys Fowler
Kyle Books, £22
ISBN 978-0857838988

The notion of an undemanding edible garden has always seemed like an impossibility to me, but on reading Eat What You Grow, I realise that I am quite wrong. In this impressive book, gardener and writer Alys Fowler talks us through how to create a garden that is beautiful, bountiful and lower maintenance than your average vegetable patch. Her approach, which she describes as a polyculture, hinges upon ‘a good backbone of perennial edibles’ that can be relied on year after year to produce a healthy harvest, alongside a complement of annual plants that you can sow and grow to suit your tastes as well as your capacity.

Split into three main sections, the book takes a holistic approach by building from the basics, which are edible perennials in a variety of sizes and growth habits, up to fillers that self-seed, through to toppings, which are annual plants that will thrive in this mixed system. Among the many possibilities, there are familiar faces such as fig trees, rocket and beetroot, as well as less commonplace plants and varieties such as Korean celery (Dystaenia takesimana) and mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), a flowering plant from the Andes with edible tubers. There was also mention of a few plants that are grown ornamentally but are also in fact edible. So now I’m hoping to try the young shoots of my hostas (if I can get to them before the slugs do). I was especially intrigued by the Edible Water Garden section, as this is entirely unknown territory for me and I’d love to try my hand at growing edible aquatic plants.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that it is a galvanising treatise on the possibility of a truly nature- centric edible garden, a celebration of biodiversity as well as deliciousness. And as I now embark on my second year in a new garden, Eat What You Grow has provided a source of inspiration to consider more ambitious plans for each of the seasons.