Today is International Women’s Day, when we reflect on and celebrate the progress we’ve made on women’s rights, and challenge gender inequality. I’ll start by addressing two inevitable questions.

1. International Men’s Day is Sunday 19 November
2. There are lots of reasons why we need an International Women’s Day. Here’s one:

Now the politics are out of the way, I’d like to celebrate the work of a truly international woman, Joy Larkcom, who deserves to be better known. I was lucky enough to meet Joy a few years ago, when she gave a talk at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and she was later kind enough to contribute to Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. She has always fascinated me, because she and her husband took two young children on a Grand Vegetable Tour of Europe, in a campervan, whilst Joy researched vegetables that were unknown in the UK at that time. She’s responsible for bringing a considerable number of salad crops to our attention. She’s also a convert to organic, peat-free gardening, so her environmental credentials are impeccable, too.

This is my Joy Larkcom library:

Joy Larkcom books

Two of these are recent additions. I read Creative Vegetable Gardening a long time ago, having borrowed it from the library. In it, Larkcom demonstrates that a kitchen garden can be as beautiful as a ornamental one. She applies the principles of good design to kitchen gardens, using the vibrant textures, colours, and forms of vegetables, herbs, and fruit to create glorious effects and intriguing patterns. Ornamental aspects are more important to me in my new garden than they were in the old one, so it’s time for a re-read!

Vegetables for Small Gardens was Larkcom’s first book, and given my current explorations into the joys of small kitchen gardens it seems a good time to read it.

Oriental Vegetables has been on the shelf for nearly 13 years, and is still the definitive (Western) volume on growing Oriental veg. Mine is the American edition; at the time I wanted a copy there were none available in the UK! This one is more of a reference book than one you could read from cover to cover, but I find it inspiring every time I pick it up. Larkcom learned Chinese for her fact-finding travels in China.

Neither my memory nor my prodigious archives can tell me how long The Organic Salad Garden has been on the shelf, but it’s not that long; it’s only recently that I have overcome my childhood aversion to salad, and Larkcom should probably get some of the credit for that, since she moved us beyond lettuce, tomato and cucumber as the standard British definition of salad. I haven’t really read it, though, so there’s obviously still some room for improvement 😉

Which leaves Just Vegetating, the ‘memoir’ I pre-ordered when it was published in 2012. I didn’t finish reading it at the time; I was disappointed that it didn’t tell the story of the Grand Vegetable Tour and the vegetables Larkcom introduced into the UK. In fact, it’s a curated compilation of some of the articles Larkcom has published over the years, a worthwhile endeavour in its own right. With that thought in mind, I have started reading it again from the beginning, and aim to finish it this time!

I don’t have a copy of what is no doubt Larkcom’s most well-known book: Grow Your Own Vegetables. Probably because by the time I discovered her work I already owned a lot of books covering the basics of growing your own, and was more interested in her work with unusual veg. I may well rectify that oversight at some point – Larkcom’s books are all thoroughly researched and/or backed up by a lifetime of practical growing experience, and so are a likely to be a far better choice for gardeners at all skill levels than a lot of the glossy ‘grow your own’ books that are published at this time of year and are just a rehashing of well-trodden material with shiny new photographs.

The Salad Garden, by Joy Larkcom

You may therefore be interested to know that a fully revised edition of one of Larkcom’s books is being published soon. The Salad Garden, first published in 1984, brought to life a whole new world of salad plants – the ones Larkcom discovered on her Grand Vegetable Tour, and during her experiments with Oriental vegetables.

The new, fully revised edition encompasses the modern reality of smaller gardens, and its publication is fortuitously timed to combat the ‘vegetable crisis’ and benefit from the surging popularity of homegrown salads and organic food. The updates include information about the latest varieties of salad plants, together with recently introduced plants for the home gardener – cucamelons, Salsola, and February orchid – and more contemporary recipes for their use.

The Salad Garden is being published by Francis Lincoln in paperback on 4th May, with an RRP of £16.99.

In the meantime, I have plenty of reading to be getting on with!

Do you have a Joy Larkcom book on your shelf? More than one? Which is your favourite?

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