Written by Liz Dobbs, ‘Keep Calm and Pot On: Good Advice for Gardeners’ is an endearing, linen-clad, pocket book, intended to provide good advice for gardeners. The iconic ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ derived design certainly makes this an attractive option for many a Christmas stocking. Incidentally, the original poster, one of a series of three, created in 1939 to raise public moral on the eve of World War II, never actually saw the light of day. Despite at least two-and-a-half million copies printed, hardly any were ever distributed. Discovery of an original copy in 2000, and subsequent exploitation, has elevated the design to cult status, on par with the beret bearing ‘El Che’. Though he hasn’t made it onto the cover of gardening books…
The book consists of short paragraphs of gardening advice and practical tips, supplemented with witty gardening anecodotes by accomplished gardeners such as; Vita Sackville-West, Hugh Johnson, Gertude Jekyll, Monty Don and Christopher Lloyd, reminding one as to the reasons we slave away in our gardens. Other prominents, such as George Bernard Shaw, Alexander Pope, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Jefferson also grace the pages, of whom an interest in gardening was a pleasant surprise. My favourite quote has to be Harold Epstein’s, which rings painfully true, ‘It took years to learn what would not grow here. I like to say that I have the greatest catalogue of plants in my compost heap’. Or the more poignant, from the gardening maestro himself, Monty Don, ‘Earth heals me better than any medicine’. Especially stirring after his serious ill-health in 2008, though I may be reading too much into this.
The book’s demure size, limits the possibility for any real literary substance. Consequently, for the experienced gardener, the admittedly restricted gardening advice and tips, have limited appeal. The omission of an index, makes the rather delightful publisher’s prescribed idea, of ‘taking this book outside with you into the garden’, to seek advice when needed, somewhat problematic. That all being said, the book does include some helpful hints, though I suspect not enough, to merit its purchase solely for that purpose.
However, the abundant quotes do make amusing reading, and hence to that end, recommendations to purchase are certainly on the cards. At £4.99, one can be sure that come Christmas, many a garden(ing) enthusiast, would be delighted to receive a copy. What of the long term appeal of this lovely little green book? One suspects it likely, for ‘Keep Calm and Pot On’ to be enlisted to the enviable status of loo literature, along with its fellow stalwarts; the almanacs, cartoon, holiday, and the ‘1001 things to do/see/eat/visit before you die’ books.
Finally, I leave you with another emotive, and very true, quote from the book, by Anne Nelson, ‘Give me Valium, or give me a garden’.