To answer my own question it’s been a while. When I got my first garden and ‘discovered’ gardening I bought a handful of tomes, some ‘how to’s’ a couple extolling design principles and others with an historical/classical garden bent. I’ve since added a few how to grow vegetable books and more recently a couple of garden poetry books, a smattering of gardening diaries coupled with a handful of books given as presents the number of gardening books is relatively scant when I compare it to the cookbooks I own.
The inspiration for this post is an article on the Guardian’s gardening blog “Why are garden books so boring?” by Lucy Masters which highlighted the woes of the gardening book and publishing industries and the general malaise of bookshelves in shops.
It’s a great question isn’t it? Dr Hessayon (of Garden Expert Book fame) said the internet has changed the publishing world; well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that one out! But as the author of the piece commented cookbooks are all the rage and yet look at the plethora of recipes on the web. So what is the difference?
CELEBRITIES GRINNING AT GERANIUMS
The author discusses the popularity of cookery programmes and cookbooks and compares them with the formulaic and dull gardening books and programmes on offer. And she is right, I don’t buy gardening books by “presenters” as all I see when I flick through them are standard layouts, photos that belong in the last century and way too many photos of the presenters themselves looking wistfully at the wisteria, poignantly at the pansies, or grinning at the geraniums. You get the picture! Too many photos of the “stars” used as page fillers and not enough thought about the contents and how the subject relates to me, a home gardener who is no longer a beginner nor is she an expert.
WE ALL HAVE TO EAT SOMETHING SOME OF THE TIME
I believe there are a number of reasons why cookery is so popular – essentially we all have to eat, it is accessible – most of us have a kitchen no matter how small, baking and making gives us a ‘feel good’ moment, we can share results, it covers health issues, cultural histories and in today’s tough economic climate home baking is seen as cheap entertainment, even a treat. But most of all I see cookery as being an instant hit. If you prepare something from scratch it takes how long – from 15 minutes to a few hours? For most busy people that’s doable.
TIME POOR AND NO GUARANTEES
If you apply these same reasons to gardening what do we have? Not everyone has a garden, look at new-build housing the majority don’t even have balconies for a piece of personal outside space and waiting lists for allotments are still at a high. Now think about how long it takes to grow flowers and vegetables – we’re talking weeks as a minimum, more likely months and when it comes to creating a garden we’re talking years for it to mature. In today’s world that is a huge investment in time, not to mention expense.
Combine the ‘time issue’ with the notion that the results aren’t guaranteed and we’re onto a loser. I know a soufflé may not rise or a joint of meat may end up overcooked but essentially the results are edible or at least can be remedied and if all else fails you can get a pizza delivered. If on the other hand you sow a packet of seeds the results aren’t guaranteed and what is worse is you have to wait to find out if your efforts have been a success. In the 21st century that’s a lifetime of waiting for a potential no-show. For the time-short instantaneous Twitter generation this strikes me as a “why put all that effort” kind of question, I can go and visit a public park and post the photos while I’m there.
There is no equivalent to instant whip puddings when it comes to gardens. We all remember the garden makeover programmes of the 80s and 90s, a quick fix approach to gardening that had its moment of glory and attention.
Buying your plants from garden centres doesn’t give any more guarantees. The plants sold may not be suitable for your garden, your area, let alone your lifestyle. Plants need care and attention – they need the right amount of daylight, warmth, nutrients and water plus protecting from pests. A late frost and your precious plants can be wiped out. Relate that to cooking? The only thing I can think of is a sourdough starter for bread making – it needs your help and care to stay alive.
Maybe gardening needs a “facelift” a look outside the realms of classic gardens and gardeners of yore, a look away from the Anglo-centric cottage walled garden to the gardens of Iran, Cuba or Korea. Maybe garden books could step outside of the RHS and NT mowed lawn and clipped yew hedge world view. Perhaps the garden publishing industry could challenge us with new contents and new layouts. Could they interest and excite a new generation?
21st CENTURY SOLUTIONS AND THE PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
The gardening “industry” needs to take a proverbial leaf out of its own book and look at where people are now. What are the Smart Phone/Tablet generation wanting? What are they doing and where do their aspirations lie? We’re on the web so how about looking at what the internet is achieving and what forums, blogs, Pinterest, YouTube, photo sharing sites and the like are giving that books aren’t?
There are countless films on YouTube explaining how to plant a cabbage, split a dahlia or prune your apple tree. It looks like the reference book market hasn’t woken up to the possibilities of Social Media. Social Media is giving us an accessible global outlook, a personal view, an approachable view, a view that is all about connecting and community, sharing ideas and experiences, what works or what proves tricky. The personal perspective. Social media can give us a low-level human view of gardening, no stardom or qualifications needed. Just a willingness to look and engage.
But my worry still remains that as a garden takes time to create and we are simply becoming more and more time poor, fewer and fewer people have access to their own personal outside space that we will cease to be participants and become a world of viewers of gardens.
And not gardeners.
So when was the last time you bought a cookbook and would that be more recent than a gardening one? And do jump in with your thoughts and ideas whether its the publishing industry, how we get the YouTube generation interested in gardening – is it food, style, design, environmental issues or does gardening need to find the horticultural equivalent of Mary Barry and Paul Holywood?