Mix-and-match gardens


by A.M. Clevely, New York: Harmony Books, 192 pp. $25

A.M. CLEVELY lives near Stratford-on-Avon, a fitting region for a man who studied English literature at Oxford, who loves the countryside and the rich smell of newly turned earth, and who is, by profession, a gardener.

He has been that for more than 10 years, six of them as head gardener to the late J.B. Priestley.

And now it is his turn to be a writer, combining his several interests in a book that is both beautiful and practical, and more important, has a specific message.

Clevely has attempted, in his own words, ``to marry a gardening tradition that is centuries old with modern techniques, and varieties, to produce an alternative, and decorative way of raising fruit, vegetables, and herbs.''

To be exact, Clevely has ignored conventional home garden designs that mimic in miniature the large estate gardens of the Victorian era and reached for his inspiration to the cottage gardens of a still earlier time.

The cottagers ``grew their gladioli amongst the black currants, and parsley or carrots edged beds of annual flowers.''

It was patchwork cultivation that saw beauty in every leaf or flower form, whether the plant was purely ornamental or destined for the table. Far from appearing disheveled, these mix-and-match gardens were generally as attractive as they were vigorous.

Clevely's work confirmed what scientific research has proved around the world in recent years: Plants ``grow just as well, if not better, because pests and diseases fail to find them in their more cosmopolitan surroundings.''

``The Total Garden'' shows how to turn land, large or small, into an integrated garden, in which plants work together as a team to produce a delightful whole that ``looks, smells, and tastes wonderful.''

It includes instructions on soil preparation, sowing, and cultivation of specific crops from apples to strawberries, artichokes to turnips, and, among herbs, from angelica to wormwood. Its pruning instructions and accompanying illustrations are particularly helpful.

This is primarily a British book (with references to US climates and varieties) by a British author with gardening experience rooted primarily in Europe.

But don't dismiss it for that reason. The techniques and the tactics described are just as valid on the other side of the Atlantic.

I started gardening seriously in the subtropics, later moving to the temperate highlands of South Africa before transplanting myself to New England. What I found in making these several changes was that food-gardening basics were constant in all three climates.

In short, I commend this book. Its down-to-earth practicality suggests that it belongs in the potting shed. But it wouldn't be out of place on the coffee table, either.

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