Diary of a Modern Country Gardener – Review

Sandy Felton reviews Dairy of a Modern Country Gardener by Tamsin Westhorpe and discovers a new delightful gardening companion that is fast becoming a bestseller.

Think of all the conversations you have had over coffee with your gardening friends – the successes, the challenges, the new ideas, the how-to, the vagaries of the weather and what the best tools are for a particular job. The companionship and passion engendered in those conversations can be what makes gardening so special.

While reading ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener‘ it was as if I was having one of those chats over coffee with author Tamsin Westhorpe, albeit metaphorically, such is the delightful writing style and content of this book. As I sat on a cold and miserable day, bemoaning the lack of gardening time as the wind and rain continued to pulverise Cumbria, there was an instant warmth radiating from the pages of this enjoyable book.

Tamsin gardens at Stockton Bury, an open garden at the heart of a working farm in Herefordshire and this book forms part of a personal year-long diary reflecting the twists and turns of the countryside, from the sublime to the ridiculous. She has written the book as an enthusiastic gardener for fellow enthusiasts and I have to say it works jolly well.

Starting the diary in February, Tamsin takes us through each month, the ups and downs, the successes and the challenges, the funny asides – March seeing her as the muddiest mother at the school gate – the reassurances when we learn that we are doing something right, and if we are not, the right way to do it. At the same time Tamsin manages to give the reader an insight into rural life and what it is like working in a country garden – something in itself that I found enjoyable and informative.

The gardens at Stockton Bury occupy a four-acre plot 320 feet above sea level on rich Herefordshire clay. As it is set in the heart of a working farm it is surrounded by fields and orchards with the garden existing happily with the farm.

Each month starts with a list of tools required for jobs that month, a list of must-have plants and at the end of the month a list of things to do and a Country Project. The Projects are particularly helpful with everything from coppicing hazel, keeping hens and poultry and making dazzling container displays to summer garden parties and saving and storing seed.

Tamsin’s lovely conversational style brings you right into her world and although I have never met her by the end of the book I felt we were old friends! There is so much good and sensible advice here as well as sharing experiences that many of us as gardeners have encountered at some time in our lives – the impatience to get planting in May, choosing what plants to use for the cutting garden, what treats will come forth in each season.

We are taken behind the scenes when she goes to talk to gardening groups – experiencing a power cut and having to continue talking by candlelight not to mention on one occasion having the chairman pass out when introducing her! We follow her to Chelsea where she is a judge, and we share her experiences at the end of a completed autumnal day, when she settles on the sofa with a bowl of homemade apple crumble made with windfall apples from the garden. Perfect.

There are reminders not to slouch in October when you think the gardening year is done and to avoid locking the shed and retreating to the sofa because, as Tamsin points out, this is the month to take hold of the garden and when you look at her list of ‘things to do’ you realise this is sound advice.

The joys of a country Christmas, (yes, she does tell you how to make a wreath), are not forgotten either. Finally, you will indeed be glad you didn’t sit back in October as January beckons, and anything can happen particularly weather wise.

Tamsin is definitely a hands-on gardener and this clearly shows in every sentence. She is also a public speaker, podcast presenter (candidegardening.com/GB/podcasts) and RHS Judge. Her proudest achievements are being able to judge at RHS Chelsea and the fact that she started her career as a greenkeeper at a young age. In fact, the book will serve as an inspiration for anyone wanting to go into horticulture as a career and in its own way is a ‘shout-out’ for us girls to seriously consider gardening as a career choice.

She has gardening in her genes it is true – she is fifth generation of the family to work the land at Stockton Bury, bought by her great-great-grandfather in 1886. Her great-uncle was John Treasure of Burford House Gardens in Tenbury Wells, who proved that it was possible to make a career in gardening, achieving, as he did, many RHS Chelsea Gold medals and being awarded the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour.

Tamsin is also a features writer for newspapers and magazines, former editor of The English Garden and deputy editor of Amateur Gardening magazine. As a prolific lecturer at home and abroad she says her aim is to make her audiences laugh, and she certainly does that through the pages of this entertaining book.

Jules Hudson, presenter of Escape to the Country makes the comment that ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, ‘is an enchanting escape in the company of a passionate and endearingly imperfect gardener’ and I couldn’t agree more.

Diary of a Modern Country Gardener‘ by Tamsin Westhorpe is published by Orphans Publishing – www.orphanspublishing.co.uk – in hardback at £20.

Photographs credit: Pictured above centre and right, the Author, credit Dan Chubb