Bob's Reading List

I’ve spent much time reading many books, particularly older ones, concerning gardening, farming, cooking, natural history and numerous related areas. Almost every one has taught me something new. However a few books turned out to be exceptional; so well written or informative they became worth reading solely for their own worth regardless of any intellectual or pragmatic interest in their actual subject matter.

Many of these great works are known only by collectors of antiquarian books or literary scholars and seldom are any ever brought to the public’s notice. You are unlikely to pick one up by chance so without recommendation you would probably never uncover it’s wonders. I have discovered these books virtues and want you to enjoy them too. Thus I am recommending those that I have found really superb. And all of them lead to a fuller understanding of this wonderful world.

As I said, you do not need to have an interest in the subject to be entranced by a book. This is what is so delightful about many older books- they have unique insights, explanations and asides as well as footnotes, anecdotes and profuse examples. Now these would be edited out. But so often it is in these ‘errata’ that the most interesting nuggets are unearthed.

Many of these fine books are long out of print, and even when available as re-prints are seldom widely known. Yet each should be. Fortunately now with the facilitation of the internet many institutions are making such gems from their library available as e-books, with more becoming available daily. Where known this has been indicated and where possible a link given. Market e-sites and second hand bookshops are another source and original quite readable copies in dishevelled condition may be available much more economically than perfect leather bound tomes or expensive photo re-prints.

you do not need to have an interest in the subject to be entranced by a book

Most of these books will be especially valuable for students and scholars of the natural sciences wanting sources of original observation and argument. Of course academic courses recommend those books you need for your studies, or more accurately, for your exams. But seldom will they suggest discarded or politically incorrect predecessors, and they never mention any books you might actually find interesting!

Other books you might like to know of are the necessary references for the practical back yard gardener wishing to understand the processes they are working with or to identify some unknown plant or critter. Although the internet can be a good source of information often a book is more convenient and can be ‘to hand’. So I have included a list of those reference books I find I use more often than others though of course there are so many potential alternatives.

Indeed; omission from any of my lists is no insult, it’s merely there are so many more to select from, in the end it can only be my opinion….

Thus the following is my ‘recommended reading list’, those books I found riveting must reads, the many others uniquely interesting and well worth reading, and those that I find exceptionally good for reference.

My top ten Must Reads- ###L. Junius Moderatus Columella 12 volumes on husbandry, AD70, first trans. 1745* This is superb. The collected knowledge of husbandry and horticulture as successfully practiced by the Romans written by a man who was obviously well versed in the actual processes. A huge amount of very sensible well reasoned advice on everything but especially pertinent on grapevines, nursery practice and grafting. Also includes recipes and methods for preserving foods. And not very PC but the pieces on choosing dogs, and choosing a bailiff, and even more-so choosing the bailiff’s wife are exemplary. ###The Physiology of Taste Brillat Savarin, 1825, trans. M.F.K. Fisher ISBN 0-394-47343-4 It’s often said ‘We eat to live but the French live to eat’ and here this is exactly the case. An original mind discoursing on food. I have nearly had indigestion just contemplating some of his meals. ###Freaks and Marvels of Plant Life; or Curiosities of Vegetation M.C. Cooke, 1882, Pub. Longmans Whether you hold evolutionary or creationary principles it is still simply marvellous what nature and or God have made. Many of these phenomena are near forgotten and indicate fanatastic possibilities for research. Eg Flowers get warm when blooming; and not just a little, some aroids can apparently get too warm to hold! ###Kirby and Spence’s Entomology or Elements of the Natural History of Insects comprising an account of Noxious and Useful Insects, of their metamorphoses, food, stratagems, habituations, societies, motions, noises, hybernation, instinct, etc. etc. 1873, Pub. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge A textbook, huge and comprehensive, but so incredibly well written that you cannot put it down. The descriptions of actual events such as plagues of various insects, now forgotten, are fascinating in themselves. The asides and anecdotes are a particularly rich source of pleasure. ###Horticultural Tour of the low countries Caledonian Horticultural. Society, 1823* I would love to re-trace their steps. These curious learned Scots visited nurseries, parks, institutions and private gardens in what are now parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and France. They accurately observed and recorded what they saw and the advice contains much of use to us still. In particular it is amusing to note that they were amazed by the good behaviour of Continental children compared to their own and remarked that it would not be possible to have such statuary and flower displays remain long undamaged ‘back home’. ###Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan F. H. King, 1927, Pub. Jonathan Cape These ‘moderns’ take a tour of the East before the old ways disappeared and were amazed by the efficiency and effectiveness of the time worn methods, scrupulous economy and intensive hand labour. I loved the idea of farmers providing public toilets beside roads just to capture any passing fertility! ###Curiosities of Natural History four volumes, Frank Buckland, 1857 This man is the proto-green warrior. He introduced many animal welfare schemes and instituted salmon ladders and fish farming. More bizarrely from modern more vegetarian points of view was the way he thought all meat was too valuable to be wasted and thus ate almost anything that ever lived just to find out it’s value. There was not a rare animal or fish caught, washed up or even died in a zoo that he did not try. Yet he was horrified by whatever meat a French friend once served, on can only guess… ###Vegetable Teratology Maxwell Masters, 1869* It is only in the way things go wrong do we truly understand how they function properly. Fascinating, admittedly some technical explanations are now superceded but the observations and recordings are encyclopaedic. Indeed not just fascinating but faciating. ###Tree Crops a Permanent Agriculture J. R. Smith, ISBN 0-06-090610-3 We continue with annual cultivation when perennial cropping is so much more ecological and efficient. Trees are our potential saviours and this is a seminal book. Full of good stuff. ###How to attract and protect wild birds Martin Hiesemann, 1907* Simple, but still unknown gem. Not just on habitat but on nest construction and providing sites (eg bend and tie three slim near vertical branches together forming a tripod as it is in this they can lodge their nests). More importantly; garden birds do not ‘want’ our rectilinear boxes but the rounded holes made by woodpeckers (in a box, with insufficient suitable material, the nest may deform from a circular bowl into a lobed shape pressed into the four corners. Eggs will then lodge and not easily given the thrice daily turning they need for viability so many may fail). Then there are these on my shelves that have given inordinate pleasure or educated me in unexpected ways - * Daubeny Roman Husbandry 1857* * M. Porcius Cato on Agriculture trans. 1803 * Forsyth on Fruit trees 1803* * Vegetable Staticks Stephen Hales 1727 * Treatise on Gardening, William Cobbett, 1821 * Useful Plants of Great Britain, C. Pierpoint Johnson 1862 * Rennie’s Alphabet of Scientific Gardening* * Useful Knowledge, William Bingley 1821 vol 2 the plant world* * Practical Gardener, Abercrombie 1831! * Theory of Horticulture, John Lindley 1840* * Fruits, flowers and farming, Beecher 1859* * Miniature fruit garden, Thomas Rivers 1860* * The Orchard House, Thomas Rivers 1859* * The Vegetable Garden, Vilmorin-Andrieux. Pub. John Murray 1885 * Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World, U.P. Hedrick ISBN 0-486-20459-6 * Hamilton on the Pine Apple etc 1845! * Pomarium Britannicum, Henry Phillips for Hort. Soc. London 1821* * Weed Control, Robbins, Crafts & Raynor 1942. Pub. McGraw Hill * Anecdotes of the habits and instincts of birds, reptiles, and fishes, Mrs R. Lee1853, Pub. Grant & Griffith * Dictionary of Economic plants, John Smith, 18882, Pub. Macmillan * Nature Series on; British Wild Flowers considered in relation to Insects, Sir John Lubbock, 1897, Pub. Macmillan * Wild Nature won by kindness, Mrs Brightwen, 1800 * Kinship with all life, J. Allen Boone, 1954, Pub. Harper and Row * Animal Life yesterday and today, J. Morewood Dowsett, Pub. Grayson & Grayson * An Essay on Animal, Mineral and Vegetable poisons 1823* * Manufacturing Arts in Ancient Times, James Napier 1879 !! * Agricultural Records AD 220-1977, J.M. Stratton ISBN0-212-97022-4 * The Life of the Bee, Maeterlink, trans. A. Sutro, Pub. George Allen 1901 * The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms with observations on their Habits, Charles Darwin, 1881 * Soil conditions and plant growth, Sir John Russell Pub. Longmans. ##These I find the most accessible and useful reference books – * Good Things in England a practical cookery, Florence White 1932 Pub. Jonathan Cape * Scented Flora of the world, Roy Gender's ISBN 0 583 12891 Pub. Granada 1977. * The Oxford Book of Food Plants ISBN 1 85052 017 8 Pub. Peerage books 1969. * Food for Free, Richard Mabey, Pub. Fontana/Collins. 1972/75 * Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World, U.P. Hedrick ISBN 0-486-20459-6 * Tropical Planting and Gardening, Macmillan. Pub. Macmillan 1949 * The Good Fruit Guide. ISBN 0 905 343 123. L.D.Hills. Pub. H.D.R.A. * The Plant Finder. Hardy Plant Society. * The Veg. Finder. ISBN 0-905343-19-0. Ed J. Cherfas. Pub. HDRA. 1994. * Fruit, Berry and Nut inventory. ISBN 0-882424-51-4. Pub. Seed Saver Pub. 1993. * Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs ISBN 0 7153 8302 7. Pub. David & Charles. * The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe, R. Fitter, A. Fitter, M. Blamey, Pub. Collins * Plant Physiological disorders 1985. ADAS, HMSO. * The diagnosis of mineral deficiencies in plants, 1943. HMSO. * Pests and Diseases of Fruit and Vegetables, 1976, A.M. Toms and M.H. Dahl, Pub. Blandford, ISBB 0-7137-0771-2 – they also did a companion Garden Pests and Diseases of Flowers and Shrubs which I’ve not used but is probably as good. * The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs & Conifers, George E. Brown Pub. Faber & Faber. 1972.