Book Reviews: William Barron by Tamsin Liddle and Peter Robinson, Wild Fruits, Berries, Nuts and Flowers by B. James

I was asked if I wanted to review these two books and for two different reasons I jumped at the chance.  I have not paid for these books, nor have I been paid to write these reviews.  My words and opinions are as ever my own.

William Barron The Victorian Landscape Gardener by Tamsin Liddle and Peter Robinson

The blurb for this book tells me that William Barron is an unsung hero of British garden design.  The more I read this book the more I had to agree with this description.  I read it also with an increasing sense of 'why did I not know this?, which is of course why I needed to read this book.

This is not a large book, but it is full of information.  We are led gently into the subject by an introduction to influences on Victorian garden design: Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton, the influence of the Grand Tour and also about Biddulph Grange and Repton.  The scene is set for William Barron's arrival.

Central to the book is Barron's work designing the gardens at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire.  Now here I admit a twinge of embarrassment.  I have been to Elvaston and was not aware who had designed it.  In my defence it is many years since I last was there and this book has reminded me I really need to visit again.  Barron's love of topiary is evident at Elvaston and this book provides illustrations and photographs of how the grounds looked in the past and how they do now.  There is also a comprehensive list of other commissions that Barron undertook including Leicester's Abbey Park.  If I felt a twinge of embarressment at Elvaston, imagine my total dismay that despite having lived in Leicester for over a decade now, I still have not visited Abbey Park.  I have driven past it many many times, but never actually ventured inside.  This I must remedy.

As well as designing gardens Barron also wrote a book about The British Winter Garden published in 1852 and here he extols the virtues of evergreens and topiary in the winter garden.  Barron also invented a machine for transplanting mature trees, a vital machine for creating the gardens at Elvaston and beyond.

This book gives a fascinating insight into Barron's work, with its core being his long relationship with Elvaston but also detailing his other works.  The book is published by Amberley and the royalties from the book are going to support the Elvaston Castle and Gardens Trust, ensuring that the gardens survive for future generations to enjoy.  I really enjoyed this book, that it will prompt me to revisit Elvaston and finally visit Abbey Park is an added benefit.

Wild Fruits, Berries, Nuts and Flowers: 101 recipes for using them by B.James

I was keen to review this book as the foreword is by a friend of mine, Barbara Segall.  Barbara is an accomplished writer on the subject of food growing and herbs in particular.  Barbara is a keen forager and I am sure that this book must be extremely useful when she returns from her walks with her food finds.  This book was originally published in 1942 and has now been reissued by Pimpernel Press Ltd.  Curiously nothing is known of the original author, which makes the book rather intriguing.

The recipes inside are wide ranging and fascinating.  I confess that I had never heard of carrageen and definitely no idea that you could make blanc-mange from it (remember blancmange?  A frequently served dessert when I was younger and I confess I really didn't like it; no, not even the pink stuff).  You can also make fruit jelly from carrageen apparently.  I know you all know it is an edible marine lichen and it is only I that is in the dark about its wonders.  More known to me are rose hips and there are recipes for Hips in Syrup and Rose Hip marmalade.  The book has recipes for all sorts of ingredients that you can forage for, several of which I had no idea that they were edible such as primrose petals. The recipes themselves are mainly very simple, just a handful of ingredients that makes me think they are probably very good and tasty recipes.  There is not lots of faffing around there is just a focus on the fruits, nuts etc that have been foraged.

The book does start with a vital reminder that you have to be certain that you have foraged the right things.  You do not want to cooking up something that could cause you harm.  Barbara also tells us that for some of the techniques that are assumed in the recipes you might need to do a bit of extra research.  The internet is a wonderful research engine at such times.  I pondered as I read through the recipes, that Barbara astutely observes were written in war time when food was scarce and waste-not want-not was a much used phrase; that as we are entering a period of austerity with rising living costs being a daily threat through the news media, whether this book is especially a timely reissue.  

Regardless of this it is a charming book.  Many of the ingredients you can forage are easily available when in season and I can happily recommend it.

Take care and be kind.

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