Gardens Illustrated

Caroline Beck

The history of allotments touches on wider events and is shaped by forces that may seem unconnected to today's allotment gardener. It is a story of greed and power, of hunger, protest and the struggle for a fairer society. It concerns the arrogance of the ruling and the rising middle classes and their indifference to the plight of the poor - but also philanthropy, the pursuit of ideals and, eventually, some beneficent legislation.

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Country Life

Leslie Geddes-Brown

"This is more than a history of allotments - it's the history, from 1066, of the constant struggles the poor had to keep land on which they could grow vegetables and raise a cow. If there was ever an example of history repeating itself, it is here..."

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The Independent

Annalee Mather

"...Caroline Foley's fascinating book traces the developments of allotments back to the Middle Ages and the origins of the right to your own piece of land. These areas were..."

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Mary Keen

"Growing food is the subject of Caroline Foley's Of Cabbages and Kings. Described on the cover as...The Wake. The Tillage Act in 1563 aimed to prevent the conversion of arable to pasture 'in order to curb idleness, drunkenness and all other lewd practices'. (This is a recurring theme in the social history of gardening. Ralph Austen, a Calvinist Proctor of Oxford University wrote a treatise on fruit trees, pointing out the connections between good husbandry and the good life)".

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The Lady

VG Lee

"Foley's book adds flesh to the bones of this strand of social history, taking us from medieval Britain, when the majority of the population owned nothing, to present-day allotments which, quite apart from fruit and vegetables, allow space for flowers, wildlife, conservation and! A must for the bookshelf for any fervent allotmenteer."

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Daily Mail

Jane Shilling

"Caroline Foley's fascinating and handsomely illustrated history of the allotment movement finds a dark story of greed, hunger, protest and philanthropy behind the green oases. Allotments have deep roots in the medieval custom of common land, where the landless poor once grew food to feed their families."

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The Times

Iain Finlayson

"British allotments are more for leisure than necessity these days but their social history is less politely pastoral. Those strips of land were the line between wellbeing and destitution..."

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A Guide to Growing Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs on your Plot

The Guardian Sam Wallaston


Allotments first appeared in the 18th century, places provided for the poor to grow their own food. Then, in the first and second world wars, every scrap of common ground turned into one; now they are enjoying a renaissance and are increasingly being colonized by the middle classes, enthusiasts of things organic, office workers who like to put their hands in the soil at weekends - stress relief through the cultivation of runner beans.

Caroline Foley takes you from site assessment through bed planning, soil preparation and planting to harvesting. She addresses important issues - grass paths or paving paths, the blocks-or-rows dilemma - and then takes you alphabetically through the vegetables from Abelmoschus esculentus to Zea mays.

That is okra to sweet corn for the non-Latin speakers. There are handy tips on humus, mulches and manure, and on how to avoid gall mites, scab, soft rot and blight. And she tells you how to get the bad bugs - so you don't need to employ the sort of chemical weaponry that might get your plot put on to George Bush's axis of evil.

There are pictures too - of crimson cabbages, asparagus bursting through the soil, a pair of ripened aubergines … blimey, time to jump into the water butt, I think. Is it my imagination, or have gardening books ever cottoned on to the fact that when it comes to publishing, sex sells? And we haven't even got to the fruit section.

The Allotment Handbook

Gardens Illustrated Juliet Roberts

Being a self-confessed allotment addict, I found myself heartily agreeing with Caroline Foley's statement that there couldn't be a better time to take on a plot.

From the first chapter 'Getting Started' to the last - 'Pests and Diseases' - the information is written in an accessible, engaging style that has a tried and tested air.

Having recently written a book about kitchen gardening, I was particularly interested in which of the hundreds of vegetables now available Caroline had included, as well as how they were grouped. Categorized under clear headings such as the beetroot Family, roots and Stem Vegetables and Distinguished Perennials, all the basic groups are covered thoroughly. I was pleased to see some more unusual varieties too, such as amaranthus, sweet potato and scorzonera. Alongside the practical information, Caroline has included a list of recommended varieties and interesting historical snippets. The chapter 'Safeguarding Your Site' is particularly good, containing a breakdown of allotment legislation and appropriate action to take if your beloved plot comes under threat.

The text is illustrated with simple line drawings, but these are rather few and far between, and I would have liked to have seen many more. In particular, the section on weeds would have benefited from illustrations to help novices recognize which demons to b eat into submission.

Fortunately the text is made more digestible by being interspersed with plenty of subheadings and boxes highlighting tips, trouble shooting advice and case studies.

Another small gripe is that the list of useful addresses at the back of the book is rather scant. I couldn't help wondering if the text was cut short simply to suit the single page devoted to this chapter.

There is an overwhelming number of vegetable-growing books on the market, but The Allotment Handbook distinguishes itself by fulfilling the needs of a specific group of growers and by being heartfelt. I see it as a reference book rather than a cover-to cover read and will be regularly dipping into it to remind myself of tasks to get on with as well as for specifics. My copy is already covered with grubby fingerprints.

The Garden Will Sibley

A useful volume for allotment holders, giving valuable advice on all aspects of plot management.

For those of us who already have an allotment, or who are about to take the brave but enjoyable first steps towards becoming allotment holders, this book is well worth reading. It should certainly encourage newcomers and arm them with confidence when meeting 'the all-powerful plot secretary'.

It usefully covers what to expect and questions that need to be asked on the initial look round. Details included on allotment law and the useful addresses are both fascinating and genuinely helpful for those with a plot.

Chapters on month-by-month jobs are handy for non-experts, and regional weather statistics give a good guide as to what to expect and - perhaps how to plan. The gardening techniques are adequate for beginners and should lead to further investigations...

Allotment Vegetables

Kitchen Garden

If you are just making your first sortie into growing veg. or a keen grower just needing a modern reference book, then the A - Z of Allotment Vegetables by Caroline Foley could be for you.

It has three main sections, one with useful information on gardening techniques, another, the heart of the book, comprises a vegetable directory, literally an A - Z of all the popular veg. and some unusual ones too.

Crops are divided into their respective groups such as roots, legumes, brassicas and salads. Also, quite unusually, there is a substantial section on showing veg with some hints and tips to help you win that elusive red card…

Gardens Illustrated

A vast directory of vegetables, both common and exotic, along with practical gardening advice.

With more money being spent on vegetable seed than flowers for the first time in 40 years, allotment and vegetable gardening is increasing in popularity. There are numerous guides but Caroline foley's threw up an interesting nugget of first glance. Jerusalem artichokes are one of the easiest plants to grow in the vegetable garden, but their uses seemed limited. Soup, yes, roasting - great, but as a substitute to water chestnuts in Chinese cookery?

Four Shires Books

Caroline Foley is a renowned gardening writer and is passionate about growing fruit and vegetables. Following on from her successful guide, the Allotment Handbook, comes this companion title. Whether you have an acre or a courtyard, it is possible to grow your own vegetables so that you can enjoy fresh, seasonal produce that you have grown with your own hands.

The A - Z of Allotment Vegetables presents a vast directory of vegetables, both common and more exotic, to fit with the current growing interest of world cuisine alongside practical gardening advice. The directory is divided into vegetable groups, from potatoes to onions, fruiting varieties to salad leaves, and for each group Caroline gives information on the various types available as well as advice on everything form planting and cultivating to harvesting and cooking.

Good Housekeeping

If you are inspired to flex your own green fingers, you'll find the A - Z of Allotment Vegetables by Caroline Foley invaluable. As well as the beautiful illustrations, it's full of useful tips and practical advice.

Optima Magazine

Following on from her brilliant definitive guide, The Allotment Handbook, comes this new book full of information on all the best known vegetables, as well as numerous exotic and lesser-known ones along with advice on sowing, planting, problems and much more.

Gardens Illustrated

A vast directory of vegetables, both common and exotic, along with practical advice.

The Times Magazine Alice Miles


I was in the gardening section of a bookshop, disorientated as I stared at the unfamiliar books. It felt like shopping in a foreign supermarket, only more bemusing. Here I had no map at all: no brands I recognized, publishers I trusted, authors I knew or could disregard.

Did I go for a book with lots of pictures; for an "essential gardener", a vegetable growing guide, a TV tie-in? There were plenty of "complete" gardeners or "essential" gardeners, but when I took one down it said on the front "volume two". Now I may not be a complete gardener but nor am I a total fool: how complete can volume two be without volume one.

There were several small books that would fit in a pocket for immediate reference on the vegetable plot; large and heavy ones that probably had the lot cove red. Blinded by choice, I left the shop instead with a handful of novels.

Fortunately someone has sent the A - Z of Allotment vegetables (Caroline Foley; New Holland) to the Times, which the gardening editor handed on to me. I have no idea if another book does it better, but, apart from the fact that it doesn't cover herbs, this has been a godsend.

Here, I discover what "bolting" is - plants panicking and doing everything too soon. Which is a nice idea, though it puts paid to a vision I had been enjoying of rows of little parsnips and leeks fleeing over the sout downs in an excited chatter.

Here too, at last, I discover burdock: a large plant with roots like fagt old man's fingers, and sticky burs to boot. Fortunately only a few of the burdock seeds seem to have germinated and the shoots are being eaten by something, so it may be making much of an appearance.

Everything is taking for ever to come through, but little bit b y little bit they are poking up - the parsnips, the spinach, the leeks.

Potatoes and onions are doing great. But not the carrots. Barely a shoot can we see in what is supposed to be a five long rows of these. Not a bolt, not a saunter - not a squeak. Why?

How to Plant Your Allotment

Amateur Gardening Francine Raymond

A lovingly illustrated guide for any allotment gardener which is full of useful information and handy hints as well as lists and charts that will help you get the most out of your garden. It also includes 16 full colour allotment plans, ranging from the high speed plot for fast harvests to a big family plot to produce as much fruit and vegetables as possible.

The Allotment Source Book

Brighton and Hove Allotment Society Melanie Matthews

Some of you may know of "The Allotment Handbook" by Caroline Foley. It was one of the first books I bought when I got my plot - it has a great "whats going on this month on the plot" section which was really helpful for a new gardener who had no idea what they were doing, and a real step up from my first year's planning (reading the back of seed packets!). Well Caroline has a new book out - its called The Allotment Source Book.

The good:
Essentially its the Allotment Handbook's bigger, cleverer sister. This really does seem to be everything you want to know if you are a beginner (or even before you get your plot). Its got beautiful colour photos and drawings - of real people and their plots, and it really starts from square one. Allotments - what are they, how are they run, what are the rules, how do you get one, how do you decide which one to take? After years as a site rep, introducing newbies to allotment life I found that Caroline's advice on these issues really rang true for me.

Then it goes on to more traditional gardening topics - equipment, germination, growing, watering, pests and diseases, harvesting, etc. It seems to me to be an excellent book for beginners, as it covers many aspects of gardening that some books take for granted. It has a monthly section - what's in season, what do do, what to watch out for and (for the swots), what you can do to "get ahead" (oh I wish I was that organised!). Its all about re-use and recycling too (how very "now"!) - I have a problem with birds on my plot and can't wait to try making a bird scarer from a plastic bottle, wire coathanger and two margarine tub lids (it spins and rattles apparently!).

The bad:
My gut feel is that the trained horticulturalists or experienced gardeners will not learn an awful lot from it. But I've been gardening 10 years and still consider myself a beginner and I found it useful.

The ugly:
Nothing really. This is a beautiful book which means I will never take it to my plot - which is a shame. But there are other books for that - and I will try and cover them in future reviews.

Review on Adrian Moyes

You might expect a 'Sourcebook' to be a book about sources. This one is, but it's also much more than that - it's a source in its own right.

It's also about much more than allotments - it's about any piece of ground that you want to cultivate for vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers or even wood, or wildlife. It's true that there are sections on the history of allotments and on the law and allotments, but most of the book is about growing things anywhere. Anywhere in Britain, that is - the book assumes our (by global standards) gentle climate and fertile soil.

The early history of allotments is surprisingly early - 1649 and The Diggers (or 'True Levelers'), anticipating today's Green Movement. It's not surprising that allotments are still measured in old-fashioned measurements - rods, poles, or perches (they all mean the same) - the distance between the nose of an ox and the heel of a plough.

And recent history is surprisingly recent - the Dig for Victory campaign of WWII, and current worries about pesticides, climate change, food miles, and peak oil. No wonder so many people want to grow their own. No wonder so many people want to have an allotment, a patch of subsidised land, surrounded by other people doing the same thing, and willing, even eager, to share their experience.

Carline Foley's book shares her experience with you. She's obviously got plenty of it. She's a freelance garden writer who contributes to newspapers (including the Guardian/Observer) and various magazines. She's written five other books - four specifically on allotments.

She tells you extra things about what you thought you already knew - like how to water (watering at night encourages slugs, so water in the morning), sowing seeds (rows should be north-south to avoid the plants shading each other), pre-testing seeds (with a germination test) - and some you maybe didn't - like the Heritage Seed Library (you can get, for free, up to six types of unregistered seeds a year), or the story of Henry Doubleday's Russian Comfrey, which led to the establishment of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) to promote organic gardening, or parsnip seeds (which don't keep, and need to be bought fresh each year), or National Beanpole Week which encourages the use of locally grown beanpoles, which, if you're so inclined, you can also grow on your allotment.

The book is just choc-a-block full of useful advice and tips, to say nothing of Francesca Foley's lovely photos (worth the price on their own). It has tips on paths (make them straight from A to B - otherwise people will prefer a running jump over a bed), on making comfrey or nettle tea as a fertilizer, on saving seed, or attracting wildlife, on growing herbs.

It starts right at the beginning - with advice on getting an allotment, on dividing it up, and on how to grow almost everything you might want to grow (including beanpoles).

But it doesn't seem to have so much on what (and what not) to grow - in some ways the most important decision of all. Our own, personal, criteria are:

  • Maximum output for minimum input (thus rhubarb, globe artichokes, fruit)
  • Difficult to buy - or less taste when you can (thus spinach, salad leaves, herbs - not potatoes or onions)
  • Pesticide free if possible (thus not brassicas - too many pests and diseases)

We also grow leeks - which don't fit any of these criteria - but we get a perverse delight from harvesting them in the deep midwinter.

Obviously everyone has their different tastes, equipment (greenhouse, window-sill, cold frame, etc), soil, and capacity for digging, so everyone else's criteria will be different from ours. Even so, it would be nice to have had a prominent discussion of principles in such a comprehensive book.

There is another point. A book so full of practical advice and tips on so many topics needs good navigation. Unfortunately the index doesn't live up to this need - it is just too comprehensive; Beetroot, for instance has 22 entries, Brassicas 29, and Broad Beans 31.

Which makes it difficult to find your way about.

But these are very minor gripes; The Allotment Source Book is a real treasure trove. It's ideal as a present, ideal for a group library, ideal for yourself.