Friday 20 January 2012

Joy Larkcom - my gardening inspiration

Joy Larkcom was probably my first gardening icon. Her books had a very strong influence on the direction taken by my gardening (and indeed, culinary) efforts, and I have several of them in my collection. Joy was one of the first advocates that I can remember of the so-called "Potager" gardening style, in which ornamental and edible plants are combined in the same growing-space.

If you are serious about potager gardening, then this book would be perfect for you: Creative Vegetable Gardening:-

The books explains everything about the potager: the concept and its origins; designs for potagers both small and large; advice on setting one up and maintaining it, etc, etc.  The potager "par excellence" is the Chateau de Villandry, near Tours in France. It obviously inspired Joy Larkcom, as indeed it inspires me. I would love to visit it one day...


Do you see why I like it? All those neat beds and straight lines really appeal to my OCD nature! :-)

One of the most useful features of this book is the beautifully illustrated A-Z Directory, which gives an overview of dozens of vegetables with both edible and ornamental potential.

Perhaps my favourite amongst Joy's books is the first one I bought. It is called simply "The Salad Garden". The edition I have was published in 1984 by Frances Lincoln Ltd, but I think the same book has been re-published several times since then. You may not be able to find a new copy of it, but there are lots of used copies available on Amazon, eBay etc.

Like all of Joy's books, this one is illustrated with lots of clear photos and line-drawings of plants, equipment and methods for sucessfully establishing and maintaining your garden and its contents:

This was the first book that came to mind the other day when I was trying to identify the different varieties of Endive in my own garden!

"The Salad Garden" is a much more down-to-earth publication than "Creative Vegetable Gardening" and I think it would have more appeal for the newer and maybe less ambitious gardener.

Joy's gardening style is a simple no-nonsense one, in which practicality takes prime position. This is amply demonstrated in these invaluable little paperbacks:

It was from Joy that I learned about the concept of VSR - Value for Space Rating, which these days is the over-riding principle of my gardening style. According to Joy, anything that does not earn its keep is not worth growing, but this concept is not just about price. It studies the relationship between yields and the space required to produce them, and it also examines whether certain crops are more worthwhile than others because you simply can't buy them in the shops - certainly not in good condition and at the right time of year. Here it is, described in her own words:

Her book then goes on to give concise but practical advice on how to raise pretty well any edible plant you care to name - including of course her opinion of its VSR.
But Joy was not only a practical person, she also had a keen appreciation of beauty in its many forms - not only in the garden, but also in the kitchen, where lots of her garden produce ended up. I think when you see the next couple of photos you will understand where I got the inspiration for my love of the combination of gardening, food, and photography. Who could NOT want to grow, photograph and eat these??

Finally, I want to give a mention to "Oriental Vegetables". [You can guess what that one is about!]
With apologies to readers of my blog in the Far East, I have to say that Britons have generally been pretty sceptical about oriental veg, and furthermore they didn't understand it and couldn't easily buy it. Joy did much to popularise and de-mystify oriental vegetables for the British audience. These days of course, you can buy Pak Choi, Choi Sum, and Chinese Cabbage in every supermarket in Britain, but it wasn't always so.

Incidentally, Joy Larkcom also contributed enthusiastically to the popularisation in Britain of the previously-obscure "Continental Veg" - things like Chicory and Radicchio, Cima di Rapa and Rucola (Rocket, Aragula).

Note on availabilty: I have had most of the books I have described for many years now, but looking around on the internet I see that many of them are still (again?) available from Amazon and suchlike. I have no hesitation in recommending them all to you.


  1. Not that I need another garden book but I am really interested in these. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  2. Those books look really good! Her recipes looked delicious, too.

  3. Wouldn't it be fabulous to have the space they do in the Chateau de Villandry? Of course I would probably destroy all those perfect lines and mkake an edible jungle so its probably just as well I'm not let loose there. I do like this concept of VSR. I definitely need to give it more thought when planning my plantings.

  4. I wonder how long it took to dig all those beds at Villandry!! Mark, perhaps you should consider publishing a gardening book one day. You have the knowledge of planning, building and tending your garden, great photography skills and all those fab recipe ideas you post about - now, will you please come and dig my turf up :-)

  5. I saw Joy once on Gardeners' World and she seemed a very common sense sort of person - she recommended growing squash by winding the vines in a circle around canes to keep them from heading off in all directions. I love Villandry we have been a couple of times.

  6. Great review of Joy Larkoms books - I have been on the lookout for some time now in charity bookshops, but have found nothing - obviously those people who own them won't easily give them up.

  7. She sounds like a wonderful gardening author, thanks for the introduction. I will have to check and see what is available on Amazon.

  8. Thank you! - What a prolific writer. I'd not heard of her and will certainly be looking her up!

  9. Thanks, Mark, an excellent article. Joy is new to me too.
    Incidentally, for anybody seeking out-of-print books, check out (which is now a division of Amazon).

  10. I have Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom. There's no glossy photos in the book like the ones you have reviewed, but it's a really good reference book. I know that many people have it.

  11. I'm sold on creative vegetable gardening. Just what I need to spur me on in my insane endeavours. Thanks, I've been quietly reading for a while...Alison

  12. Joy Larkom is the doyenne of vegetable gardening. I have her book "Grow your own Vegetables" and find it eminently readable. I find that I return to it again and again. I like the look of Villandry too, although I have always been inspired by the Heligan Veg garden, nice straight lines and wonderful plant labels (which I copied).


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