Minding My Peas and Cucumbers - by Kay Sexton

Book Review by Melanie Matthews

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This month’s review is a book written by a Brighton and Hove Allotmenteer.  When I offered to review the book I was really excited – it was like getting the chance to nose around a neighbours house, I’d get to read about the ins and outs of life on a site I know quite (but not very) well.  But then reality hit!  I know Kay (well, we’ve never actually met but we correspond by email and I like her).  What if her book was, well awful, or even just mediocre?  I couldn’t lie, but I’d hate to think of her reading my critical words.  In the end I decided that if I didnt like it I would have to say that I’d changed my mind and decided to do a monthly recipe instead.   

Phew!  After a tentative few pages (the “Note from the author” sets the context but I always find this a bit tedious and often miss it out), I was enjoying Kay's friendly writing style, and by the second chapter I was definitely hooked.   The book is in bite-sized chunks – there is a story running through it but each chapter has a theme and can stand alone. Although having said that one of the stories which pops up throughout the book (that of HSM or Home Schooling Mother – I’ll say no more – don’t want to spoil it!) kept me up much later than I meant to one night because I wanted to find out how it all turned out in the end - a quite Agatha Christie like mystery, with Kay's friend Celia as the allotment's "Miss Marple".   

I should make it clear – this is the real life experiences of a gardener – not a reference book or a “how to” manual . Having said that there are lots of helpful hints written in a way that doesn’t make you feel stupid and I think even experienced gardeners would learn something. Its not a recipe book either (though I can’t wait to try the asparagus and pea risotto and some of the other recipes for tasty treats Kay shares with her readers).   Kay is well qualified to give advice – she probably wouldn’t class herself as an expert horticulturalist (well we are all still learning), but she has moved around a lot so she didn’t manage for years to get to the top of any waiting lists.  To satisfy her desire for an allotment she became a serial co-worker instead – so she has worked a lot of plots, with different soils, different problems and different pests.  She’s started from scratch several times and built 5 asparagus beds and only harvested from one – that’s dedication!   

The Good:  At last a book about Allotment life from a woman’s point of view!  I have read a lot of books about "my first year on the plot", "my life at the allotment" etc - most of them good (not all) - and I am sure I will review some of them for you in future - but they are all by men. And (forgive me for being sexist) but I do think men have a different attitude to gardening and their plot.  I could really relate to Kay’s experiences in terms of having to prove herself to the “old guard” of men in flat caps!  I also share her interest in allotment life (the human as well as plant kind).  You don't just get to know Kay, but her neighbours too.  Kay manages to intertwine a really engaging narrative with useful information which not only tells you WHAT to do but HOW to do it and WHY (so many books forget the why and if I don’t understand I don’t remember).  Oh and did I mention the mouth watering recipes?  

The  Bad: Some people just don’t like this sort of book.  My OH (Other Half, as Kay calls hers) insists they are pointless insights he doesn’t want into lives of people he doesn’t care about – a bit like Big Brother.  So if you share his views this book is probably not for you!  But if you love to know what makes people tick, to hear about other people’s experiences and feel like at the end of the book you have made a new friend – read it!   

The Ugly: This is a lovely book which I can’t really find fault with.  But be prepared – some ugly things lie between its pages!  From brutal Mafioso regimes (in your soil – not the allotment committee) to mysterious and sinister goings on at the plot of HSM, and finally a voodoo shed, Kay definitely isn’t afraid to show the ugly side of allotment life!   

Buy the book: Minding my Peas and Cucumbers by Kay Sexton is available is available from Summersdale Publishers. It retails at the RRP of £9.99 (but you may find it cheaper) and is available from internet bookshops, all good bookshops or direct from the publisher.  Buy from Amazon.   

My thanks to Summersdale Publishers for sending me a review copy of this month’s  book. Remember I am under no obligation to say nice things – this is my real opinion!

This page was added by Melanie Matthews on 27/03/2011.