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The Complete Gardener by Monty Don – Book Review

Down-to-earth wisdom from Monty Don, earned over a lifetime; you’ll struggle to find such pertinent advice in many other practical gardening books. Reviewer Jodie Jones is a freelance garden writer.

THE COMPLETE GARDENER by Monty Don
DK, £27
ISBN 978-0241424308

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Viewers of Gardeners’ World will be familiar with Monty Don’s brand of calm, confident advice, and the relaxed but expansive scale of his garden. These two elements come together in a new edition of the book he first wrote some 20 years ago as his last word on the subject of practical gardening, and although the nuts and bolts of plant selection and cultivation remain the same, an awful lot else has changed over the intervening decades.

Box blight has decimated most of the hedges and topiary pieces he was once so proud of, and some of the hundreds of trees he planted have grown problematically large in places. So it goes. The best-laid plans can be derailed, he says, and even the most experienced gardeners will sometimes get things wrong. But Don’s opinions have also changed. He has always been a passionate organic gardener, but where once he fetishised the cultivation of soil as a ‘measure of manhood’, he now embraces no-dig methods and more gentle interventions. Perhaps the most striking quote from this book is his observation that you need ‘the humility to accept that your garden is not necessarily more important than anything else’.

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My only quibble is that this book may not have the correct title. It does contain all the information necessary to make you a complete gardener, but what these 438 pages really capture is the essence of Mr Don himself. I would have called it The Full Monty. I am sure that when he cooks, it is with a pinch of this and a large dollop of that, and his approach to gardening is similarly sensual and instinctive – feel the soil, sense the seasons, savour your harvest. For an absolute novice gardener who is seeking to read instructions in words of one syllable, that may be disconcerting, but for everyone else with a passion for gardening, this is the perfect guide to cultivating an appropriate mindset.