The Gardener's Year, by Karel Capek

As I said, one of my aims for this year is to streamline my gardening library a little bit – not a drastic chopping back, just a little light pruning to keep the shape 😉 One way I’m going to be doing that is to pick one book a month that I haven’t read, or properly read, and see whether it merits a place on the shelf or needs to leave in search of a forever home with a gardener somewhere else.

As it happens, the first book on my shelf is one I have never read, and so I picked it as my January read. The Gardener’s Year is a gardening classic. It was written by Czechoslovakian author Karel Čapek and first published in 1929. It’s mainly a collection of gardening articles that were published in a Czechoslovak newspaper, and my copy is the English translation by Geoffrey Newsome (published in 2003). It keeps the original line drawings, which are by the author’s brother Josef. I honestly don’t know how long it has been on my shelf.

The Gardener's Year, by Karel Capek

Čapek paints a picture of a gardener that we will all recognise, from that first moment that a new gardener is born:

“Your attitude towards things has changed. If it rains, you say that it is raining on the garden. If the sun shines, it is not just shining any old how but shining on the garden. If it is night-time, you are pleased that the garden is resting.”

However, he was not a big fan of vegetable gardening:

“In due course, it became clear that I was going to have to munch a hundred and twenty Radishes a day because no-one else in the house would eat them anymore; the following week, I was drowning in Savoy Cabbages, after which came orgies in Kohlrabies, even quite tough ones. There were weeks when I had to chew Lettuce three times a day rather than throw it out. I do not mean to spoil the pleasure of vegetable growers in any way, but what they have grown, so must they eat.”

[If you’re faced with a similar scenario then you really need a copy of The Small Harvest Notebook!)

Čapek is gently entertaining on the obsessions of gardening, such as the importance of soil improvement and the great lengths we will go to, to ensure a fine tilth. The Afterword states that many gardeners have used this book as a gardening manual, and the monthly chapters would give you an idea of the most important seasonal gardening tasks, but it’s jogging the memory rather than instructing in any serious sense.

From my personal perspective, the entries in the book probably worked very well when published on a monthly basis, but I found them to be a bit too samey when read in one go. So whilst this book no doubt makes a lovely gift for a gardener with a little more poetry in their soul, it’s not one I would read again, and so it loses its place on the shelf. In due course it will set out on a journey to find a more appreciative audience, and its space will be filled by a volume that I find more inspiring, or more informative.

Have you read The Gardener’s Year? What did you think of it?