The Virgin Gardener by Laetitia Maklouf - Book Review

by - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

These days we are awed by the sheer number of books available to us, and it's difficult to choose something relevant to our needs. As parents, we are limited in the time we can spend reading, and as frugal families we cannot afford to spend on books we may later find irrelevant. So each Wednesday, I aim to review a book on a range of subjects from parenting guides to home-making, fashion/beauty and cookbooks which are most relevant for fabulous, frugal mums!

At this time of year, many of us are considering revamping their weed-infested gardens or taking a shot at becoming more self sufficient by growing their own fruit and vegetables. What better time than this to review one of the books which has literally changed my life?

The Virgin Gardener by Laetitia Maklouf is a fabulous guide for anyone who - like me - has little or no experience in horticulture. When I say "fabulous", this is indeed what I mean about this book: it is in no way a boring representation of frumpy gardeners! A glance at the back cover says it all: glamourous pink heels sitting next to a pair of green wellingtons: yes ladies, you can have a beautiful garden and still maintain those immacuately manicured nails!

A "cookbook" for gardeners

As Laetitia explains in the introductory section, you don't need a lot of space or even much spare time to develop the garden of your dreams. Essentially, The Virgin Gardener is a cookbook of easy to follow "recipes" for gardening success, where one can literally dip in at any page to discover an easy-to-follow and complete project guide.

For instance, as I just opened this book at a random page, I was presented with the "recipe": Pickled Onions for Proper Cocktails. Does this sound like your average gardening guide? Indeed not! Beginning with Laetitia's reflections of her parent's cocktail parties, the page proceeds to explain the "when what and how" of growing your own miniature onions, concluding with an explanation of how to pickle for use in delicious grown-up cocktails.

Easy to follow, green-fingers not required!

All of the "recipes" for plant growth and/or harvesting in The Virgin Gardener are offered in the following format:
  • The Lowdown - A brief explanation of what this particular project is about
  • The Timing - The best time of year to undertake this project
  • You Will Need - The appropriate equipment required for the recipe
  • The Method - In plain English (no complicated jargon for newbie gardeners to wade through!)
Last of all, you will find a section offering ideas for what to do with your completed project - in the above example, this explains how to pickle your miniature onions for use in cocktails though others explain how to prepare your plants for consumption, decoration or even as an aphrodisiac...

Irresistibly inspiring

Laetitia's prose is elegant, passionate and utterly inspiring. I defy you to read this book and not immediately visit the garden centre for supplies!

The presentation of this guide is beautiful: on every other page (or so) there is stunning photography which depicts gardening as something quite sensual. Even text-based pages are adorned with watermarks of leaves or flowers, while the overall appearance is more a coffee-table book than a boring reference guide.

I have learned things from The Virgin Gardener which I hadn't thought possible: growing banana plants from seed and pineapple trees from the top of a supermarket fruit; cherry tomatoes on my windowsill and carniverous plants for the boys.

I doubt that Laetitia has much experience gardening with children (though her reference to wigwam runner-beans is pure genius) so while many "recipes" are guided towards sensuality very few are described in a way the family can enjoy. Saying that, as parents we can always adapt our projects for toddlers through to teenagers - no child I know doesn't love to see seeds sprout and grow into full bloom or eat the vegetables they had a hand in growing!

Not especially frugal, but not far off!

The Virgin Gardener is not a book for frugal experienced gardeners. It will not teach you much about saving money when building the garden of your dreams. Instead, this book is intended to inspire a passion for growth, for creating green spaces no matter how little space you have available, and to learn that growing plants can lead to more creative options for use than simple outdoor beauty.

I can't agree much with the cover price. At £20 this seems an expensive purchase for any gardening guide (even in hardback version). You can purchase from Amazon at the current price of £12 though - far better for those watching the pennies, and a reasonable price for such a beautiful and inspiring gift (or even as a hard-earned treat for yourself).

There are sections where saving money is discussed in slight detail: the expense of buying ready-grown babana plants for example, compared to the utter thrift (not to mention self-satisfaction) of growing from seed. Yoghurt pots and old tin cans, it explains, can be used to grow plants just as well as terracotta versions from HomeBase, while wedding and baby-shower gifts are wonderful when home-grown.

In summary, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking a start in the world of gardening, and also those who already have a hand in the growth of plants but who seek inspiration for new things. Personally, I am very happy to own this book. From feeling concerned that all the house plants I've ever owned died tragically, to growing a family vegetable patch and seeing flowers everywhere (that I planted) in full bloom. This book has inspired me to try, and taught me that "plants want to grow". It's not a case of whether we are green-fingered or not. Instead, all we need to do try.

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