As we lazy gardeners know, being caught slumped in front of the TV gives the impression of being an idle slob - and we prefer to be discreet about our weakness for the fourth deadly sin. However, reading anything, even the instructions for a Rowenta iron ("Do not iron clothes on body"), indicates a person of studious and intellectual persuasion, who shouldn't be interrupted by anything as demeaning as physical labour. And so, in my last Lazy Gardener column for The National, I leave you with 10 of my favourite gardening books - plus one for luck. Most of us like reading - so these books are not only to disguise our true natures and provide enjoyment, but to answer all your queries about yellowing leaves and red spiders.
1. Flora edited by Tony Lord (published by Cassell). This magnificent set of two books and a CD is rightly subtitled The Gardener's Bible and is a must.
It details 20,000 plants from around the world, giving the genus, family and common name, physical description, variants, subspecies, cultivars, place of origin and climate zones of each, accompanied by abundant photographs. Out of print at the moment, but easily obtainable second-hand in excellent condition through Amazon. 2. Plant, an A-Z survey of the world's plants from a gardener's point of view, endorsed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This is the perfect companion to Flora. Written by international experts, it features illustrations of about 2,000 plants, explaining the origins, natural habitat and conditions each needs in your garden.
3.The Amateur Gardener, by AGL Hellyer. Just as The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book should be given to everyone about to be left alone with a cooking pot for the first time, so The Amateur Gardener should be thrust into the hands of anyone confronted by that first plant pot. Agreed, it would be preferable to be a train spotter than waste time actually trying to read either of these two boring and turgid tomes.
However, they contain all the practical, basic information on their subjects needed to jump-start the beginner and to remain as the very best no-frills guides in kitchen or garden shed. 4. How to Garden, The Royal Horticultural Society. An easy-to-follow guide to doing what it says on the cover, with clear photographs and a gardening widget - click 'get and share', choose an application and follow the instructions.
Written for the UK market, so gardeners in the Gulf should wear sunglasses to adapt its advice. 5. Gardening in the Middle East, by Eric Moore. The author is a US horticulturist with experience in the Middle East since 1977. He has supervised projects in several Gulf states, as well as Egypt and Jordan. Fully illustrated in colour, its sections include: Types of Garden, Choosing the Right Plant, How to Ensure Plant Survival and Growth, and a Plant Encyclopaedia. This is the only book on the subject and it works for me.
6. The Essentials of Garden Design, by John Brookes, who is honoured as one of the daddies of modern garden design. This book removes the need to pay his serious private consultation fee in order to pick his brains for inspiration and education when planning a garden. 7. The Water Gardener, by Anthony Archer-Wills. Not just a beautiful book, this is the reference for everyone who wants to bring water into the garden.
It covers every angle, including fountains, ponds, streams and leisure pools; preparing the site in any situation, construction, special effects, safety and maintenance; fish, wildlife and planting techniques, with a full catalogue of appropriate plants, trees and shrubs. Even if you employ a designer and workers rather than doing it yourself, the knowledge you will gain from this book will be invaluable for briefing your contractors.
8. Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening, by Garden Organic, formerly known as the Henry Doubleday Research Organisation (www.gardenorganic.org.uk). Everything you need to know about going green in the garden, even if you haven't got green fingers. 9. Tropical Garden Plants, by William Warren and Luca Invernizzi Tettoni. If you're gardening in the Emirates this book could end up hitting you in the pocket.
Tettoni's meticulously observed photographs and Warren's wide knowledge could prompt very pricey shopping lists for some of the world's most luxuriant and striking plants. 10. How to Make a Wildlife Garden, by Chris Baines. Well written for the UK but relevant to the UAE, which is on one of the great flight paths for migrant birds, as well as having a wide variety of native butterflies and insects. Among readers this is the most highly recommended book on the subject and well worth having.
History of the Garden, edited by Howard Loxton (Bounty Books). This fabulous book deserves a column of praise to itself for the breathtaking photographs of places, plants and plans and the astonishing knowledge of its 14 authors. Persia to Greece to Rome, the corseted rigidity of French tradition, gentle English landscape and cottage, courteous Italianate formality, the sun-glazed Hockney sophistication of California, Japanese and Chinese minimalism, the floating islands of the Aztecs, Moghul estates, back yards Down Under, the German schloss ... no garden style is excluded.
This is the book for browsing, learning, inspiring, surprising and dreaming. Treat yourself. You're worth it. Starting on 27 February Nick Leech will share his experiences and tips as he creates a garden from scratch in Abu Dhabi.