Growing food is officially sexy at the moment. You can tell this from the growing list of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater who are crowbarring themselves into the grow-your-own market, once the preserve of actual gardeners. This has done a lot to dispel the anoraks-at-dawn image of the amateur veg gardener, so perhaps it's no bad thing - but what a pleasure it has been to read a gardening book that doesn't send the reader scurrying off to the garden centre every five minutes.
Grow Your Own Food for Free (Well, Almost) by Dave Hamilton is all about gardening without spending money. Rather than dealing too much with actual gardening advice, which after all you can get from pretty much any book, the watchwords here are reusing and recycling. Whether it's planting a wildlife corner or making a tunnel cloche out of - well, nothing much, really - this book points you firmly away from the shops. It directs you instead to take a good look at what you've already got, or what other people are giving away for free.
Ellie Mains' artwork, following the primitive style much used by the Transition network, makes clear that this is a twenty-first century book. This echoes the book's anti-consumerist philosophy, which is made apparent right from the start, including in the opening paragraphs. Hamilton is, without doubt, a writer who wears his heart on his homespun sleeve.
Aimed squarely at urban gardeners, the book concentrates on advice for the small scale. The scope, on the other hand, is wide. The growing of food is a large and varied subject, and a single volume can do no more than provide an overview of each. This is what Grow Your Food for Free does very effectively, punctuated with detailed practical advice picked out in coloured boxes to separate it from the text.
There are some real gems here; for example, Hamilton telling you how to make an apple picker out of a two-litre fizzy drinks bottle and a broom handle. In fact there are so many of them that some pages look a little cluttered, but to leave any of them out would be unforgiveable - and I can only wonder about the material that there wasn't room to include. Grow Your Food for Free is inspirational rather than instructive in tone. It’s just the book for anyone itching to get started on backyard self-sufficiency but is put off by the outlay. It would also be a perfect present for those friends – and we all have them – who gaze at the hanging garland of apple rings drying in the conservatory, and pronounce us barking mad.
Grow Your Own Food for Free (Well, Almost) by Dave Hamilton costs £14.95 and is published by Green Books
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