Not long after I finished the first draft of my manuscript for The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An A to Z, I received an email from an editor at Black Dog Publishing, asking me whether I would like to contribute to a collaborative book with the working title “Growing Stuff”.

She said:
“the book will probably have a ‘How to’ section at the beginning, with instructions on tools, pruning, deadheading, seasonal changes, etc., and then be followed with a series of project-based gardening activities. These will be along the lines of “How to grow mint in a pot/makeshift container, and how to make a mojito cocktail with it once grown.” The projects will be in a step-by-step format, instructing on the necessary materials, time-frame, care instructions for growing the plant in question, and a recipe for the accompanying activity. They would also be illustrated by photographs, and possibly some illustrative diagrams.”

The deadline was tight – completed projects were required by the beginning of December. I put a call out on my website to see whether any other bloggers/ authors would like to join in, and volunteered to write about growing herbs and using them to make lemon balm tea and Mojitos. After I had submitted my words, and accompanying photos, the editor came back and asked me whether I would consider writing some more general gardening pieces for the ‘how to’ section at the front of the book.

I really loved your mint article, it is exactly what I’m looking for both in content and writing style.

And so I also contributed sections on edible weeds and plants for wildlife.

Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening

Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening

The book was published as ‘Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening’ in paperback in March 2009. It’s nicely laid out, and the collaborative nature means it’s a fun selection of projects, including everything from a DIY polytunnel to a spot of guerrilla gardening and growing carrots in your wellies. I didn’t feel that it really justified referring to itself as an ‘alternative guide’, because most of the advice and projects are pretty conventional. But it is a nice book for a new gardener keen to grow their own food, focusing on fun projects that are usually confined to books on gardening for kids.


In September 2010 I was sent a proposal for another collaborative book project, entitled ‘Gardens of the World’. This was a very different idea, a sister volume to ‘Foodies of the World’ (a recipe collection and guidebook to the world’s best food blogs). The aim was to produce the gardening blog version, and I was asked to contribute a couple of posts from my blog (I chose Five Easy Unusual Edibles and Growing Nasturtiums) together with some pictures of my garden and some words about myself and the blog.

I sent in my words and pictures, but sadly the project never got off the ground. The last I heard was an email in November 2010, saying the book would be launched in July 2011, but it wasn’t, and it seemed like perhaps the era of collaborative book projects might be over.

Compost heap

But in June 2012 I received an email from Niki Jabbour, a garden writer/radio host from Nova Scotia, Canada. She was working on a book for Storey Publishing, “detailing approximately 100 plans for a wide range of edible gardens from dozens of experts – from vertical veggies to edible hedges to beneficial bug gardens to ideas for community garden plots.”

When she found out I was a Master Composter, Niki asked me whether I would like to contribute a plan for a composter’s garden. She assured me that actual artistic ability was not required, as the plans would be drawn up nicely by a proper artist. I would only need to submit a rough sketch of the garden, together with a couple of pages of details of the design and the planting, and about me.

Circle of Life Garden by Emma Cooper
My Circle of Life garden design sketch

At the time I had chickens in the garden, and their poo ended up on the compost heap with my garden waste. And I had worms composting the kitchen waste… I already had a composter’s garden, but it certainly hadn’t been designed. I wanted to emphasise the importance of composting and of recycling nutrients back into the soil, and so the Circle of Life garden design was born. I designed it as a set of concentric circles, with the chicken run in the outer circle, and entrance to the garden through an arch. The compost bins were near the chicken runs, for quick disposal of their poo. Comfrey and rhubarb were planted to soak up the nutrients soaking away from the compost heaps, and there was a comfrey tower to turn the leaves into nutritious plant food.

The centre of the garden was a circular bed of flowering plants to attract beneficial insects and wildlife, and there were four large vegetable beds (suitable for a crop rotation!) where the bulk of the finished compost would be put to use.

A circular garden unusual here in the UK, where houses tend to have square or rectangular gardens, and aren’t normally large enough to have different designs in different areas. So the Circle of Life design wasn’t entirely practical for a gardener like me, but would be easier to accomplish in North America where there’s generally more space… and the ideas behind the garden were more important (and transportable) than the design as a whole.

“Emma… this is amazing!! Thank you so much. And your info is super detailed, which will help me when I write up the description on you and your plan – hopefully this week!! I may come back with a few more questions, but I can’t think you’ve missed a thing! Love the shape too, I may just have to dig up a new section of my backyard! 🙂 “

Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden

Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden

Niki and the editors then went to work, and it was a long time before I saw the fruits of their labours – the book was published as ‘Groundbreaking food gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you garden’ in the UK in May 2014. The illustrations are stunning, and really bring out the designs. There’s something for everyone here, with garden plans for chilli lovers, herb fiends, balcony gardeners and more. Each of the 73 contributors picked a topic they were passionate about and designed a garden around it, and it really comes together to be a fascinating book.

This post is the third instalment of an ongoing series explaining how I came to write each of my books. If you want to read the posts in chronological order, you should start with growing vegetables is always fun and move on to In Alphabetical Order.