Back in the days when my kitchen garden was limited to a lonely lemon tree and narrow strip of vegetables, I discovered Backyard Self-Sufficiency* by Jackie French and it set my mind alight.
By the end of the first page I was entranced by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the book with its lavish descriptions of home-grown produce that you can almost taste. And by book’s end I was convinced that even if I never grow grains like buckwheat in my suburban patch or keep rabbits for meat, I could, should the need (or desire) arise.
French states emphatically that she does not promote complete self-sufficiency. She tried it out once from necessity and it was exhausting: ‘Self-sufficiency is as insular as it is exhausting. You turn in on yourself. And there is little leeway for a crisis.’
Instead, she espouses ‘almost self-sufficiency’ for a rich and prolific life. And, gifted writer that she is, (French has written over 140 books and has won more than 60 national and international awards), the picture painted is both vivid and alluring . She contrasts a neat and orderly backyard with mown lawn and sandpit and a house with spotless kitchen with,
a suburban jungle; a maze of tangled apple trees and grape vines, carpets of strawberries, and kids with mulberry-stained faces who don’t come inside till dark. You trip over a box of apples in the laundry, and the kitchen smells of summer tomatoes and of the basil on the window sill.
Although permaculture isn’t mentioned expicitly, many of the book’s suggestions appear to be inspired by the permaculture movement, such as growing forests of fruit trees, planting a no-dig garden, generating your own fertiliser and water, and choosing perennial crops where possible.
Recipes include hop beer from ‘easily grown’ hops, wattle ‘coffee’, chamomile shampoo, mock ginger (a colonial standby made from caramelised pumpkin and powdered ginger) and Chinese salted plums.
But despite its practical suggestions and recipes, Backyard Self-Sufficiency is less about instructions than inspiration. Growing a garden becomes exciting and desirable. And that’s exactly as it should be.
What books have inspired you as a gardener?
Backyard Self-Sufficiency by Jackie French
Aird Books, Melbourne
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