Books: Fiction for outdoor lovers

It might be difficult to tell from my writing on this blog (I make far too many grammatical errors and cannot excuse myself for my bad proof reading enough) but I am and always have been a book-worm. I pretty much devour books. I read a lot of varieties but I do love old-fashioned fiction written in the style of the Brontes, Hardy, George Elliot, Jane Austen, Thackery – and I must add, I have ready every novel by Daphne Du Maurier, ‘The Hunger Games’ series a few years back and grew up adoring Enid Blyton, ‘The Butterfly Lion’ and when I was twelve, my favourite book was ‘The Book Thief’. Book-worm.

It is even more exciting when the character suddenly finds his/herself in the most gorgeous scenery or working on the land. I relate to it immediately. I have compiled a list of fictional books for the outdoors, old-fashioned, farm labour lovers on the internet, as well as recommending some outstanding reads worth trying…

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THE SECRET GARDEN – Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

‘After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no one is allowed to enter. Then Mary uncovers an old key in a flowerbed – and a gust of magic leads her to the hidden door. Slowly she turns the key and enters a world she could never have imagined.’ Penguin Books

This is a lovely book sold as a children’s book but it will be a delight to all adults too. It deals with grown-up situations – poorly children, orphaned children, loneliness, charity, father and son love, the wonders of the outdoors, gardening and wildlife and finding life again – but is written in a tone that makes it gentle enough for a child to read it. This is a wonderful technique as it makes a book about serious subjects actually happy. I felt so joyous whilst reading this book. I wanted to go to Yorkshire, run on the moors and play in the secret garden behind a stone wall, weeding in the peace and quiet, be Dickon, the kind-hearted animal and plant whisperer. It is a beautiful read and will make you happy and want to live.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

ANNA KARENINA – Leo Tolstoy

‘… taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.’

‘‘I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,’ he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.’

 ‘He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of the scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent- shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.’

‘Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’ www.goodreads.com

It is a BIG read. Not quite as long as ‘War and Peace’ but still a chunky book. The film of ‘Anna Karenina’ focuses mostly on the relationship of Anna and Vronksy, overlooking Levin who actually takes up most of the book. He is a really interesting character. Some people say that the chapters where he is scything and working alongside his fellow farmers is the most boring part of the book. To me, it was the best. I felt a glowing excitement while I was reading it and that was the day I decided I wanted to one day get a scythe. That dream came true a couple of weeks ago. I am sure that anyone who loves farming, being outdoors, physical labour, old-fashioned tools etc. will adore this part of the book. If you don’t, then still read it as the rest of the book is exciting, dramatic, filled with deceit, death, love and hatred, family affairs, success and failure. A typical good old-fashioned read.

 ‘The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.’

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Thomas Hardy

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world is almost a palpable movement. To enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are diregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.”

‘Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.’ goodreads.com

One cannot write a list of country-worshiping fictional novels and not include Thomas Hardy in it. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is probably my favourite but I love ‘Tess of D’Urbevilles’ (read the description of the green hills surrounding Tess and her fellow milkmaids – I wanted to be an old-fashioned milk maid living in Dorset straightaway and that was before I had even been or heard of Dorset) and I have read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, slightly less country but an exciting read and still set in Hardy’s Wessex. Dramatic, romantic, honest, tragic and sad (Hardy’s style I am afraid), I urge everyone to pick up a famous copy. Trust me, I know people who have studied his poetry at school and thought they hated Hardy’s melancholy writing, have then read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and realised that he is a brilliant story teller.

‘It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may supposed the Dryads to be waking for the season—The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations […] there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-altogether.’

‘This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.’

Books: Gardening

Some gardening books I recommend:

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‘Grow your own Eat your own’ and ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’, both by Bob Flowerdew

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own’ – Bob Flowerdew: Offers advice on harvesting, storing and cooking your homegrown produce throughout the year. He discusses how to grow for your particular kitchen needs, coping with gluts and storing and preserving: drying, jams and jellies, syrups and squashes, salting, brining, fruit cheeses and butters, pickles, chutneys, sauces and ketchups, soaking and sprouting… His recipe includes handy tips of growing techniques, adopting an organic approach to gardening, includes recipes (fruity up and down pancake, cinnamon baked pears, plum sorbet, artichoke pate, stuffed courgette flowers, pickled beetroot…) and adds a little extra page on keeping poultry and bees, underlining the wonderful relationship between keeping an organic garden and livestock.

‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’: Gardening organically and how to ‘work with nature’ rather than to fight against it. A good book for organic gardening completely, not just for growing produce. Discusses making own liquid feeds and compost too.

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‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ by Charles Dowdling and ‘Gardner Cook’ by Christopher Lloyd

‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ – Charles Dowdling: Dowdling first started growing vegetables commercially in 1982 when he set up his first green box scheme, eventually selling about 200 salad bags per week. This book highlights the different salad leaves one can grow, growing hardy varieties outdoors during the winter, growing easy-peasy micro leaves and dealing with the abundant pests salad leaves attract. He is quite keen on planting and the relationship with the moon cycle. He also includes lists of what is best to plant per month, breaking down the extensive list and narrowing the sometimes overwhelming options one can have for planting, making it easier. There are also some recipes for all seasons included from his wife, Susie (e.g. June: Somerset Spelt Risotto with Sugar Peas and Pea Shoots, September: Dark Red Lettuce with Cucumber, Cashew Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds, January/February: Winter Salad with Lettuce, Winter Purslane, Apple and Cheddar …). He also divides the salad leaves into sections and discusses the different varieties and when best to plant them. For example, for lettuce, he writes about how to grow it, when to grow it, growing it outdoors/ in a container, problems, harvesting, watering, types of lettuce (hearting, loose leaf etc.), colours of lettuce (dark lettuce has a slightly bitter flavour, slower to grow than light green and less attractive to slugs, apparently) and then he discusses varieties (e.g. Loose Leaf, he recommends, ‘Lollo Rosso’, ‘Aruba’, ‘Rubens Red’ and plenty more). It is a very useful, detailed book for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient in growing green leaves for themselves or others.

‘Gardener Cook’ – Christopher Lloyd: Lloyd depicts how to grow the best varieties of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs and how to use them in cooking, including recipes. It is divided into the following sections: Fruit Trees, Soft Fruit, Root Vegetables, Green Vegetables, Salads, Herbs. He writes information on the produce he grew at Dixter and a little history he has with the particular food item, before offering some recipes (Apple Charlotte, Spinach Flan, Potato Salad with Wine and Anchovies, Beetroot Baked with Cream and Parmesan Cheese, Rhubarb and Banana Pie, Leek and Mushroom Tart…). Included lovely photographs, too. As Lloyd writes in the blurb, ‘Growing one’s own food is tremendously rewarding… We have always grown fruit and vegetables in the garden… What could be more natural than to use them effectively in the kitchen?’

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‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ and ‘RHS Vegetable & Fruit Gardening’

‘The RHS: Vegetable and Fruit Gardening’: A large book packed with information about growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Discusses types of plants briefly in A-Z order among other advice, such as crop rotation.

‘The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’: Largest saved for last – this is a whopper of a book. It has everything technical you need to know about gardening and is a good one to refer to.