The Garden of Vegan (Review)

Cleve West is one of the UK’s top garden designers but perhaps less well known is his philosophy and passion for veganism – a passion that has led to him writing his latest book – ‘The Garden of Vegan – How Plants can Save the Animals, the Planet and Your Health’.

There was a time when Cleve West questioned the importance of his role as a designer, however, two things changed his mind: designing a garden for a hospital and adopting a vegan lifestyle. He will tell you that his transition to veganism – he had been a vegetarian for 30 years – was a profound and varied learning experience and he says he has learned more about nutrition than when he studied it as part of a sports science degree.

This book charts his journey from the tentative beginnings with his first show garden to an understanding of the restorative power of gardens and his hope that people who value gardens and horticulture and benefit from what they provide, consider the far-reaching consequences of our actions on food choice.

There are references as to things you can do as a vegan gardener but the book is not a concise guide as to how to garden ‘veganically’, for as Cleve points out there are other books and websites already doing that admirably. The book touches on some of Cleve’s show gardens (specifically with reference to the healing effects of gardens) but this is not a book about gardens – it’s an honest personal assessment backed up by statistics addressing many of the arguments against veganism in a rational and calm way.

My son became a vegetarian when he was twelve and now in his 40’s has become vegan so I understand some of the arguments both in terms of animal welfare and the damage to the planet that humans are inflicting right now. However, I have to confess I am a meat eater and at my age I have found it problematic to make changes to my diet although I try. So, for me, reading parts of Cleve’s book has been sobering, thought-provoking and yes I confess even disturbing.

The book’s first chapter is entitled Seeds and takes the reader through Cleve’s childhood memories of encounters with animals and hereditary illnesses. He then looks at Veganics, where he talks about Vegan organic gardening. His chapter on Healing Gardens takes us to his allotment as well as to several of his show gardens. Other chapters include The Environment, Health and Humanity, Food (with some great vegan recipes) Transition and Advocacy. His final chapter is A Call to Gardeners, and it is here we learn of his motivation behind writing the book in the hope that it will inspire gardeners to get behind the movement. His chapter on the environment is particularly wide-ranging, covering climate change, global warming, industrialized farming, the oceans and rainforest destruction.

As he points out: “My hope is that people who value gardens and horticulture and benefit from what they provide, consider the far-reaching consequences of their actions and food choices and commit to giving something back to ensure a more sustainable future for all beings that share this Garden of Eden.”

This is a well written, researched, balanced and highly informative book and yes it has made me look again at my own food choices. There is much to commend it and if we really care, as gardeners, about our planet and the choices we make it deserves our attention. As he points out in the book, gardeners are, ‘well placed to make the connection with veganism because we’ve been reaching out to plants for as long as we can remember and depend on them for our survival.’

At the end of the book there is a useful section on Resources if you need help transitioning to a vegan lifestyle as well as a detailed Further Reading list.

Cleve West is the winner of no less than six Gold Medals at RHS Chelsea and for two years running his gardens were awarded Best in Show. His first book, ‘Our Plot’ was described as ‘a joy to read, humorous and humble, full of common sense and belief in community and sustainable living.’ In many respects I felt that ‘The Garden of Vegan‘ is also worthy of that description.

The Garden of Vegan – how plants can save the animals, the planet and our health‘ by Cleve West is published by Pimpernel Press at £20.

A copy of this book was sent for review courtesy of the publisher.

Photo credit: Photo of Cleve West ©Reckless Gardener – the BUPA Garden, Chelsea Flower Show 2008.