It looks like none of us are going out much this winter, so once you’ve watched all the box sets that you ever wanted to see, remember there are these things called books. They have the power to lift you off your sofa and out into the natural world, if only in your imagination. Or maybe they will send you into your kitchen. Whichever, here are my personal reading recommendations for the long winter evenings.

Monty Don My Garden World
Published last month, this latest book from Monty is more of a personal memoir than a gardening handbook. That’s a good thing, as far as I am concerned. Monty’s role seems to be as chief encourager of gardeners and would-be gardeners, rather than giving us the exact instructions. (If I want exact instructions I turn to Geoff Hamilton’s books) Monty gives his observations on the natural world going through the year, and on the wildlife and wild flora that come into his garden, from Barn Owls to Goshawks to foxgloves and wild apple trees. And of course, dear old Nigel, his ever-present best friend. I won’t say anymore on that except make sure you have your handkerchief ready when you reach the epilogue. The book is enhanced with Monty’s own photographs, and it is nicely made although on very cheap paper. Definitely one you can give to anyone who loves gardening and nature in a warm, fluffier sort of way.

Raymond Blanc The Lost Orchard: stories and recipes by Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc has set out to revive and restore the fortunes of many old varieties of apple, planting a massive orchard of 2,500 trees at Le Manoir, his world-famous restaurant and garden in Oxfordshire, and another one in France. Raymond says he is ‘a chef who loves art, gardens, music, design and food’, and these interests show in this book, which is gorgeous, with a section of photos, gold lettering on the cover and beautiful woodcuts for each section. The majority of the book describes the results of his ‘great apple tasting’ of over 100 varieties, which took place over two weeks in October 2018.  And there is the issue with the book. I wish he had taken longer to write it, because the originality of it comes from the tasting notes, and it is very frustrating to read about several varieties that the apple was not ready, so could not be tasted, or even that he had lost the notes. If Raymond had waited one more year he could have learned, and given to us, so much more. The book also covers pears, quince, fig, medlar and stone fruit trees. There are useful lists, such as ‘best fruit for growing in a garden’ and a delightful section of recipes. It is a very enjoyable book, oozing with the undeniable charm of Raymond Blanc, but I hope that he carries on growing, testing and tasting and publishes a revised edition in the future.

Naomi Slade An Orchard Odyssey
This is a cheerful book, stuffed full of high quality, evocative photos and also lots of practical advice for starting your own orchard, even in the most urban of locations. Naomi is big on community action, from orchards to smaller growing schemes, and she shows clearly how every little bit of green benefits the whole habitat, including the humans who live there. Her enthusiasm shines through this book, giving us no excuse for not getting out there and getting involved. I would recommend giving this book to anyone who wears their eco status with pride, and to anyone thinking about starting any kind of community green project, not just an orchard. Although the more community orchards there are, the better, of course.

Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates Orchard: a year in England’s Eden.
This is an evocative, poetic book about an ancient orchard from January to December. Beginning with a brief history of the apple, the book then describes the rich life of the orchard, each writer taking a month each. Both have an eye for the details, and both appreciate every creature that is drawn to make a home in the orchard. There are some wonderful photographs too. The orchard is a magical place, full of atmosphere and history. This book reminds us how precious and how endangered such places are, and how much could be lost.

Gill Meller root stem leaf flower
 It’s been a good year for cookery books, and I think this is the best and most original of the lot. Gill has been chef at River Cottage for eleven years, and it shows in the quality but simplicity of these recipes. Every dish is seasonal, and vegetarian, or ‘veg-centric’, which, as he says means that seasonal ingredients ‘become special, like a friend you rarely see, or a song you’d forgotten you loved.’ Apples feature in some of the recipes, together with other orchard fruits – who can resist a recipe for ‘Quince Fumble?’ So put together Gill’s thoughtful introduction on the importance of eating vegetables and fruit, together with delicious recipes, interesting photos and even some poems, and you have the perfect book to read all around the house, not just in the kitchen.  

If you choose to buy one of these titles, there are many options, both online and on foot. However, if you choose to buy through Amazon Smile, you can select the East of England Apples and Orchards Project as your designated charity against all your purchases.