Mary Keen

The future isn’t rosy

The latest gardening books abandon beds and formal planting for redemptive experiences and escapist adventures

Emotional geography is now a recognised academic subject. Is emotional botany heading the same way? This is a year for thoughtful books about plants and the way they affect lives, what they make people feel and how we can respect nature. Many of the year’s works might appeal to non-gardeners. Readers hoping for rose-tinted pages may be disappointed.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £14.99) is ostensibly a diary of his allotment over a little more than a year. But, he writes: ‘Sometimes, when I think of this book, I am almost bewildered. It has taken such a turn. It was to be about gardening… with personal stuff added in.’

The editor of the Observer food magazine, Jenkins grows exotic vegetables and describes them lusciously. He hits the Hampstead plot at 6am for a couple of hours, before leaving for a day in the office. An obsessive gardener, he sows heirloom seeds, coriander from Brazil, Trail of Tears beans from Cherokee, and mustard from India and Japan. He grows no roses, but always marigolds, ‘common like foster kids’. Which he was. Between visits to the allotment, he digs up his past, ‘the personal stuff’. He tells a brave story, but admits that it is ‘lacking in laughter, the growing the only light to balance the shade’.

Radiant light shines on allotment life and on the occasional breaks which he takes to a family summer house in Denmark. Jenkins is a marvellous and observant writer. Mice eat the gardening gloves to prepare for winter, when snow will fall ‘as soft as Tunnock teacakes’. He can summon swirling flocks of birds, or rain, or mist in a sentence. The Hampstead pages glow with references to friends and food. ‘Home is homegrown,’ he writes.

But he is always drawn back to the search for who he really is.

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