No safer pair of hands than those of Alan Titchmarsh could be imagined to coax the nervous would-be gardener into picking up a spade. The BBC evidently think so, as they have commissioned the two series and accompanying volumes of How To Be A Gardener, their most ambitious gardening project to date. The elevation of gardening in recent years from a genteel pastime to national mania, fuelled largely by television, seems to have engendered a large audience of virtual gardeners, keen to get their hands dirty but unsure of how to begin.
No doubt the outstanding success (even by her own standards) of Delia Smith's comparable How to Cook trilogy formed an encouraging precedent. Just as Delia set out to give her readers and viewers the basic skills from which to build a confident technique, so Alan Titchmarsh in this first volume takes his pupils back to the basics ("Back to Basics" is the book's sub-title) of soil types and management, plant growth, seasonality, maintenance and pest control. It's a thorough, utterly professional, novice-friendly job; not all that different from a number of other manuals of garden basics, but self-recommending by the confidence its author inspires--the product on the one hand of a lifetime's expertise and on the other of his inimitable personality. --Robin Davidson