From the Ground Up is just, well, a beautiful book. I never thought I'd say that as a non-gardener about a gardening book, but this is much more than just a gardening book- it is about a way of life. From its market garden cover in vivid fresh colours and a healthy strong looking plough horse on the back, to the fabulous photography throughout by Richard Johnston the author's husband - snuffling pig's snouts, bulging pumpkins and packed seed heads, this book is just choc full of wholesomeness. And that is before you even start reading.
Based on the success of her weekly grow-your-own gardening column 'Urban Farmer' in The Irish Times Fionnuala Fallon has gathered together sixteen grow-your-own (or GYO in gardening parlance) gardeners' stories from throughout Ireland. There are garden bloggers, school gardens, journalists and allotment gardeners. There is a community garden, a politician's garden, an organic seed business and a Michelin-starred chef. Yes, they're all here passing on their experiences of the successes and failures, joys and heartaches of grow-you- own gardening.
The interest in grow-your-own has grown extraordinarily in Ireland as elsewhere and is increasing day by day. Our concern with pesticides and GM crops, demand for organic produce and more specifically locally produced food to avoid air miles is not going away and food producers have had to move with consumer demands. Complete self-sufficiency is still pretty extreme and rare, but certainly not viewed as comically as Barbara and Tom's 'Good Life' was in the 70s.
Even though this is a practical book in that the interviews reveal the gardeners' successes and failures, the tools they prefer, their top gardening tips and other information that they've found useful, it is also a good read. It is a book gardeners will keep on their bedside table with a notebook and pen, scribbling down tips as they read and telling their friends "Did you know that...?". Every personal story is usefully summarised in question and answer format, where we find out amongst other information, their favourite websites, gardening books and seed suppliers.
Klaus Laitenberger of Co. Leitrim tells us how he coaxed "a harvest out of a rush-infested bog" and Peggy Murray in Co. Cork proudly talks of "remembering how real food tastes." Green politician Trevor Sargent calls gardening "a healthy pursuit for mind, body and spirit." The lack of connection with nature of his pupils and some of his teachers led Jerry Grogan of Holy Trinity Senior National School in north Dublin to develop a school garden calling it "a legacy for the future." A page on resources for schools makes this book useful for any principal looking to venture into the school garden idea.
Joy Larkcom, horticulturalist, has her own publishing history in vegetable gardening. Moving to West Cork she has had seed research trips from France to China and has what she calls "a crazy abundance of plants." Adam Bermingham who has just eight square metres on a windy Dublin city apartment balcony has flowers to attract pollinators and recorded on his blog that the most significant benefit of trying to grow broccoli was gaining the ability to spell it! Michael Kelly, journalist and founder of GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland cites hisown epiphany as buying a garlic bulb in Waterford costing 42cent and imported from China. With ducks, pigs and hens plus a hen house looking architect designed, his message is of wanting "people to try growing some of their own food" and to "bring some common sense back into the food chain." The Glor na Mara community garden in Co. Donegal overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is said by its gardeners to restore people's connection to nature both mentally and spiritually.
Madeleine McKeever, founder of Brown Envelope Seeds in West Cork cites her 'eureka' moment as a visit to Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine, USA, where she saw the importance of crop diversity and the role commercial seed companies were playing in limiting it. The photos of the process of preparing the seeds are mind boggling, carried out by hand in seed box sieves - patience and dedication indeed. Former Sunday Times journalist Mark Keenan has a garden plot and an allotment in south Dublin. "Growing stuff" since a boy he has found successes and failures all to be worthwhile whilst pointing out that demand for allotments far exceeds supply with most waiting lists closed to further applicants. Ashtowne Demesne in the Phoenix Park, Dublin has an 150 year old walled kitchen garden that lay derelict for years. Restoration commenced in 2003 and with a year spent just clearing weeds it was opened to the public in 2008.
Michael and Oisin Byrne, teenage twins grow comically huge pumpkins in Co. Louth, which are lifted by JCB to be entered in the Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Co. Cavan. French gardeners Tanguy and Isabelle de Toulgoet in Co. Laois have a fruit and vegetable potager, restoring land that has been over cultivated. At their Dunmore Country School (seen on the beautiful cover photograph) they give gardening and cookery classes. Martin Kajuiter, chef at The Cliff House Hotel in Waterford came to Ireland in 2007; by 2009 he had written a cookbook and got a Michelin star.To get the best ingredients he wanted to grow and harvest the vegetables himself, but he also tells of how he gets peace as well out of his busy world from visiting the garden. Jim Cronin of Co. Clare works the land with horses and an Amish-made iron harrow as well as keeping livestock; there are healthy looking photographs of young pigs lying in straw and a rather idyllic-looking Dutch-designed farmhouse. The final story comes from Michael Vigney in Co.Mayo who has reported in his weekly columns in The Irish Times for 34 years ofhis family's journey from Dublin to a new self-sufficient life in Co. Mayo. His column 'Another Life influenced many to try their hand at a more nature-led gardening approach.
This is a book of inspiration, many stories about gardening against all odds, about individual battles - in fact it's an uplifting collection of stories of what people can do when they put their minds to it. Every different scenario is addressed here, from the tiniest balcony to a Victorian demesne and anyone interested in gardening in any way will find great ideas, information and uplifting tales of how gardeners have got not just vegetables and flowers from their gardens, but also a valuable addition to their lives.
Fionnuala Fallon is speaking at in the Dublin Book Festival in Smock Alley Theatre on Saturday 17th November at 12 noon with Michael Kelly and Trevor Sargent. www.dublinbookfestival.ie
Published by The Collins Press www.collinspress.ie