Books to beg, borrow or buy 


An organic guide to knowing, growing and using garlic, from

Australian Whites and Tasmanian Purples to Korean Reds and Shandongs

Penny Woodward

Pub. Hyland House 2nd Edition 2014

One rule in life, if you can smell garlic, everything is alright.’ (JG Ballard)

It is not so very long ago that I can remember Melbournians looking on garlic with great suspicion.

However, as Penny notes in her introduction, garlic’s popularity has grown dramatically over the

past  few decades, thanks to the arrival of migrants from the Mediterranean and Asia. Most of our

garlic is imported, and there are good reasons to prefer locally grown varieties. This book is a

wonderful resource for those of us who would like our garlic to be very locally sourced: from our

home gardens.

It is not just a ‘how to’ manual on growing garlic. There is a chapter detailing its botanical structure  

and characteristics, its chemistry, its cultivars, and its place in culinary and medical history. There

are the stories of a dozen or so Australian growers who describe the cultivars they grow, the

techniques they use, and how they have adapted to their particular climates and soils. And whether

it is a recipe for a simple salad dressing or the more complex instructions on making black garlic,

you’ll find it here, along with traditional folk remedies using garlic. Penny’s background in science is

evident in her careful summary of the most recent research into garlic’s possible health benefits.

Then there is the ‘how to’: how to choose suitable cultivars, how to prepare the garden bed, how to

plant the cloves and tend the plants, how to harvest and store your crop, how to recognise and deal

with pests and diseases. This is clear, practical information from an experienced garlic grower, well

illustrated with excellent photos.

There are squillions of garlic cultivars! I’d figured out that there are soft necks and hard necks, white

garlic and purplish garlic, plus elephant garlic which isn’t really garlic, more a type of leek. Penny’s

book, however, describes about sixty distinct varieties, with photos of each.

I am inspired! I’ve followed Penny’s instructions, my garlic is in, and shooting.  Now, here’s hoping

for some home grown garlic with cloves that are no

microscopic like those from my previous garlic growing attempts.

'A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.’ (New York proverb)

Community Gardens – A celebration of the people, recipes and plants.

Penny Woodward and Pam Vardy

Pub. Hyland House 2005

You may be detecting a bit of a theme here! This is another of Penny Woodward’s books, this time

written in collaboration with Pam Vardy.

There are over 600 community garden pots in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Penny and Pam have

gathered the stories of some of the gardeners: residents of public housing estates, people of many

nationalities and cultures who delight in tending their little gardens and growing food plants from

their home countries. Sharing their plants and their knowledge with one another is a wonderful way

of overcoming language barriers and building friendships.

Many of these gardeners have been through horrific experiences as they fled war or persecution in

their homelands. Their gardens have become places of peace and healing, and, as they grow and

harvest some of their traditional foods, a little bit of home here in Melbourne.

As well as sharing their often heart breaking stories, many of those interviewed by Penny and Pam

have shared recipes from their home countries. The second section of this book looks at some of

the plants grown by this diverse group of gardeners, and how they are used. Many of the plants here

are either unfamiliar to the average Aussie, or regarded as inedible weeds. Who knew that both the

leaves and young shoots of black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) are good for diabetes and high

blood pressure, and can be used in stir fries and soups? Or that the ripe berries can be added to

soups and made into relish? Or that not only the flower petals but also the leaves of calendula (C.

officinalis) can be eaten? In Russia they are added to salads and sandwiches.


The Thrifty Gardener

by Millie Ross

An ABC book published by Harper Collins in 2012

Our cities need gardens, big, small, flowery, flavoursome,

forbidden, fragrant, flawed or just a bit of fun.’

Millie Ross's approach to gardening involves low cost, rental-friendly gardens and the

re-use and re-purposing of materials. The Thrifty Gardener is a practical, ‘how to’

manual with plenty of step by step instructions and photos as well as many creative

handy hints. Her down-to-earth manner and quirky turns of phrase make this a great

resource for beginners to the joys and frustrations of gardening, while still having useful

snippets and ideas for those who have a longer history of growing stuff.

Millie discusses all the basics, from assessing, planning and designing your property to

soil structure and plant nutrition; from propagation to organic pest control - and all in

easy to understand, colloquial language. Container plants, no-dig gardens and wicking

beds are covered, as well as pond construction, paving, building fences and walls, and

growing a living cubby. Other projects include a native bee house, solar shower,

self-watering pots, a fire pit and more.

Kid welcoming and dog friendly gardens are important and recurrent themes, as is

making use of what you have or what you can get for free.

Millie is clearly excited about gardening and its joys and possibilities, and it is hard not to

be caught up in her enthusiasm.

My only criticism is that the attractively coloured pages can make reading the text a bit

of a challenge.

Millie Ross is a regular guest on the 3CR Garden Program on Sundays (7.30 - 9.15am

855AM radio).

She is a contributor to the ABC’s Gardening Australia program and magazine.


Creating Your Eco-Friendly Garden

Mary Horsfall

CSIRO Publishing

Mary Horsfall describes the development of the garden she and her husband created

on an almost empty block in north-central Victoria. It is a mostly ornamental garden

but the careful thought and planning processes are applicable to everyone. This book

nicely counters the current trend for the instant gardens seen on TV shows.

Chapters on planning, choosing plants, preparation, construction, planting and water

use make up much of the book.The author emphasises the importance of waiting and

observing, thinking about what you need and want, and using books, magazines and

garden visits for inspiration.

There are practical suggestions for choosing plants: buying advanced plants that can

be divided, browsing local community markets for cheap, hardy plants, and selecting

species that will contribute to and encourage biodiversity. Lists of poisonous or

potentially drain blocking plants are helpful too.

We are reminded about the importance of doing things in a sensible order

(earthworks before planting!), and of thorough soil preparation, as well as the value of

minimising hard surfaces in favour of water absorbing mulch or pebbles. There is

good basic information about greywater use and an evaluation of various irrigation


Biodiversity is a recurring theme throughout the book, and the chapter addressing

this topic gives an excellent explanation of how and why we should encourage

biodiversity of plants, animal life and soil micro-organisms.

Regarding safe pest control, the author notes that the starting points for healthy

plants are healthy soil and biodiversity, that spraying pesticides hurts beneficial

insects as well as pests, and that destroying the pests removes food for the predators

we need to make welcome. Alternatives to spraying are offered: flowering herbs and

nitrogen fixers among the orchard, companion planting, crop rotation, physical

protection, traps and lures. However, the reality is that things do get out of kilter at

times, and the book includes an extensive list of safer pesticides, mostly home-made.

Drought struck soon after the Horsfalls moved into their new home. Their garden had

been designed to cope with minimal water, and just as well. The author outlines their

experiences and lessons. No matter how carefully one thinks and plans in advance,

not everything works as anticipated.

Well worth a read.