Review: Monty Don’s new book ‘Down To Earth’

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: October 8th, 2017 In: Garden style & living, Shop

Monty Don’s new book, Down to Earth, has lots of good practical advice, but it isn’t a ‘how to.’

'Down to Earth' by Monty Don - a review

Monty Don’s new book, ‘Down To Earth’, at its launch on the Ham Yard Hotel’s roof garden in October 2017.

Down to Earth is about Monty’s personal gardening philosophy, and what works for him.

Monty says that the idea came to him while he was on a yoga holiday. His publishers hadn’t asked for a book. As he scribbled down everything he wanted to say, he didn’t know if it would ever be published.

To be honest, most book publishers would publish a laundry list if it came from Monty Don. He is genuinely loved.

I ran a video short interview with him on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page and the comments ‘love that man’ came flying in.

Monty Don 'Down to Earth' book launch

Monty launching Down to Earth. I put a video of our interview on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page, and comments included ‘Love that man.’ and ‘Love his scarf’. His easy, natural style (and strong visual sense) comes across in ‘Down to Earth.’

However, ‘Down to Earth’ is far from being a laundry list. It’s not even a list of ‘gardening jobs to do’ or ‘top tips’. It explains the ‘why’ of gardening.

And, yes, we do need to know the ‘why’, just as much as the ‘what’.

Everything from garden design to veg growing

‘Down to Earth’ is about everything that’s worked for Monty throughout his lifetime of gardening. He’s not a professional gardener, he explains. But he’s seen many, many seasons come and go.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve read alot of gardening books, I’ve been to talks, I’ve visited gardens and I’ve interviewed expert gardeners. Even so, I learned quite a bit from this book.

For example, I’ve long been trying to create a ‘white border’. In ‘Down to Earth’, Monty explains that a ‘white border’ is effectively a ‘green border with white highlights.’ Instead of focusing on which white-flowered plants to buy, I should have been planning the foliage structure.

Aha! Lightbulb moment. No wonder my white border has always looked so scrappy. He also adds that white borders are best in shadier spots as white bleaches out in strong sun.

Is ‘Down to Earth’ accessible for new gardeners?

Down to Earth is chatty and friendly. You can dip in and out of it, or look up a particular topics, such as ‘containers’ or ‘shrubs’.

But you could also keep it on the bedside table as a book to enjoy.

There are useful pull-out quotes in each chapter. On tools, for example, he says ‘ you really only need a spade, fork, rake, hoe, trowel, secateurs and a knife.’

Seven essential tools, as recommended by Monty Don

Monty’s ‘7 essential tools’ are the same as mine, except that I’ve recommended a hand fork rather than a knife. Personally, I use the hand fork alot, though I find a knife useful too. Perhaps it should be ‘8 essential tools’. What do you think?

As I did a post on the seven essential tools for your garden, I hastily checked it to see if they were the same ‘seven essential tools’ as Monty’s. Phew. Only one difference – I’ve got a hand fork instead of a knife in my round-up.

For small or middle-sized gardens?

Size is a funny thing in the gardening world. A quarter of an acre can be described as a ‘big garden’ or ‘absolutely tiny.’ Monty Don’s own garden, Longmeadow, is considerably larger than most of our gardens.

But advice like ”It is a mistake to think of a pot as a wholly independent flower arrangement. It needs to work with the colours and textures of the building’ holds good for all sizes of garden.

‘Down to Earth’ is organic and wildlife-friendly in a low-key way. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from watching BBC Gardeners World, but Monty is an organic gardener and was president of the Soil Association for several years.

He also gardens with wildlife in mind (and he points out that slugs, moles rabbits and mosquitoes are all wildlife too).

But he doesn’t ram either down your throat.

In the spirit of full disclosure…

I should say that I was invited to a launch party for Monty Don’s ‘Down to Earth‘, and I was also given a free copy to review.

Monty Don signing copies of 'Down to Earth'

Monty Don signs my copy of ‘Down to Earth’ on the Ham Yard Hotel roof garden.

Incidentally, I sometimes wonder why newspapers and magazines – who are given everything free to review and are often invited to launch parties – aren’t legally obliged to disclose such things while bloggers are. I doubt that any of us has ever read a book review (except on Amazon) where the reviewer has actually paid for the book.

(And speaking of Amazon, you can buy Down to Earth by clicking on links in this post. If you do I may get a small fee).

But this does give me the opportunity to mention the launch party, which was held on the Roof Garden of the Ham Yard Hotel.

Cocktails at the Ham Yard Hotel

Cocktails worth disclosing on the roof at the Ham Yard Hotel.

Were DK Books being witty in launching a book called ‘Down to Earth‘ on a roof? Or did they choose it because it’s a very attractive roof garden, with delicious food and drink?

Roof garden bench at the Ham Yard Hotel

A ‘horse’ bench on the roof garden at the Ham Yard Hotel.

Either way, do go, if you get the chance. London is leading the way in roof gardens at the moment. And the cocktails at the Ham Yard Hotel are well worth disclosing.

Canapes on the roof garden at the Ham Yard hotel

Is it possible to give an unbiased review after being fed with delicious canapes? I believe it is. I wouldn’t have given ‘Down to Earth’ so much space unless I genuinely thought you’d like the book. I’ve been completely honest about what I think of it, and I’ve also been specific about who would enjoy it.

Is there anything wrong with Down to Earth?

If you like lots of photos in your gardening books, you may want to see more pictures.

The photos are good, and are mainly taken by Monty and his wife, Sarah. But there aren’t very many of them. Personally, I didn’t need more photos, but some of you might.

But otherwise, the book is readable, accessible, informative and enjoyable. You can’t really say more than that.

Add Down to Earth to your Christmas list…

If you’re an amateur gardener, I think you’d enjoy Down to Earth.

I also think it would be an excellent house-warming present for anyone moving to a new house and starting afresh with their garden, especially if they’re new to gardening.

And, of course, Monty’s fans from Gardeners World will love it. It’s vintage Monty.

See Monty Don talk about his gardening philosophy in my video review here (although I do apologise for the sound, the editing…..):

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A review of 'Down to Earth', Monty Don's latest gardening book. Read it to find great practical tips and Monty's garden philosophy. A gardening book for small (and middle-sized) gardens and yards - and I only had one tiny criticism....#gardening #gardentips #bookreview #MontyDon

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