Build A Better Vegetable Garden Book Review

build a better vegetable garden

So as I look out of the window, I see grey, snow-threatening skies. The wind has decided it wants to blow so strongly it feels reminiscent of the opening scene in the Wizard of Oz. Definitely not the type of weather that motivates me to dust off the old boots and get out into the garden.

However, the life of a garden smallholder isn’t spent purely outside being at one with nature. Some time needs to be spent indoors (thankfully at this time of year) planning what you are going to do in the coming year. This is also a great time to prioritise some of those plot improvements, that need a little bit of DIY know-how, or effort beyond time in the soil.

With this in mind, I was excited to see what Build A Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce and Ben Russell could offer in terms of inspiration and guidance. The sub-title of the book demonstrates the context with the text 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest.

Whilst the book may not offer anything in terms of innovation for us in our garden, it does offer some great tips on how to put together projects that are the bread and butter of any smallholding. The way the tasks are described and presented are simple to follow and provide good steps on how to make the projects work from start to finish. The photos also show, in a visual way, how the projects should develop to help those more likely to follow images than text (me included).

If you have no DIY skills and lack the tools that you may find in any DIY enthusiasts toolbox, some of these projects could be beyond you. But don’t be put off, if you’re willing to invest in the tools and time, you could pick up some new skills.

What I love about the book is that it doesn’t only look at the functional aspects of a growing garden, such as vegetable beds or planters, it also adds some neat aesthetic ideas. The one that stood out for me was how to make a scarecrow. The images showing the author Joyce Russell looking at her League Of Gentleman style scarecrow head made me laugh, but the end result is a scarecrow that not only looks good but also does the job.

Other projects, such as the drying cabinet, feel quite ambitious for the average garden smallholder, but it could be a target for those amongst us that fancy a challenge.

Overall I think the book is presented very well. The steps on each project are easy to follow and the images really help. The variation in complexity demonstrates a good step-up for most smallholders, which should mean, it’s not a read once reference.

I think the book is definitely worth a look and I enjoyed reading it. Even the fact that it offered validation of what we had already done and backed-up some of our future plans is encouraging. But take a look for yourself and let us know what you think.

Build A Better Vegetable Garden published by Frances Lincoln. Available to purchase from Amazon.

Grow Your Own Cake Book Review

grow your own cake

When publishers Frances Lincoln contacted me to ask if I’d review a book titled Grow Your Own Cake, I rather eagerly jumped at the opportunity. You see, I’m a bit of a cake fan. I imagine many gardeners are and look forward to a well-earned slice of cake with a hot mug of tea in the afternoon. Reading the press release it was clear I would be dribbling over 50 mouth-watering recipes requiring the use of my home-grown produce, so how could I say no? I mean, just look at the front cover! It’s a win-win situation, my veg patch gets a chance to be sweet and glamorous and I get to eat cake.

I digress. Back to the book.

Author Holly Farrell celebrates garden and allotment produce of fruit, veg and herbs by putting them into baked form, with seasonal recipes for delicious cakes and savoury treats. Every step in the book is easy to follow and includes stunning photography by award-winning photographer Jason Ingram. You’d be wrong to think this is just another recipe book telling you how to use your glut of courgettes, it’s so much more than that, it’s clear a great amount of detail and work has gone into producing it.

There are two introductory chapters, In the Garden and In the Kitchen. The book begins by taking you into the garden, after all, this is where the produce will be grown and picked. If you’re an experienced gardener you can just crack on with the growing year and look forward to producing the ingredients required for the delicious cakes, for the beginner gardener this section will set you on the right path with lots of advice and tips such as basic equipment needed, understanding your soil, soil preparation, digging and no-dig methods, how and when to sow seed and pruning advice to name a few. Next we skip along to the kitchen to brush up on techniques used in the book, basic procedures that are common to several recipes are explained in detail with photographs such as how to make pastry. The detailed tips on crystallizing flowers and herb foliage for cake decoration is just another good reason to include edible flowers and herbs in your veg patch.

The recipe sections of the book are in seasonal order (spring and summer cakes and autumn and winter cakes) with additional sections for afternoon tea, puddings and savoury bakes. Each crop has its own Grow page, and each recipe a Bake page. It really couldn’t be simpler to bake and grow your own cake! Of course, your home-grown produce will be the stars of the show but you should have the usual flour, eggs, butter, sugar and a few store-cupboard staples to hand. Hardly any recipes feature uncommon ingredients and you will notice the simplicity of equipment needed, from garden pots to baking tins the author has been mindful to garden and create recipes which require the very basics. Gardening and baking doesn’t have to be expensive, this book proves that.

I couldn’t review this book without sharing a recipe now could I? That would be cruel. With this in mind I have permission to share with you a seasonal recipe from the book to whet your appetite, it’s perfect for those who still have parsnips to pull from the veg garden or allotment.

Winter Parsnip Cake

Makes a single-layer cake, you will need: 1 × deep, round cake tin, 20cm/8in diameter, greased and base-lined.


  • 150g/5oz unsalted butter
  • 150g/5oz light muscovado sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g/8oz peeled parsnips, coarsely grated
  • 100g/3½oz sultanas
  • 50g/2oz chopped candied peel
  • 200g/7oz plain flour
  • 90g/3oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp honey


  • Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs.
  • Stir in the parsnips, sultanas and candied peel (by hand, or on a slow speed in a stand mixer).
  • Sift in the flour, ground almonds, ground ginger and baking powder. Fold in by hand until everything is incorporated, then pour into the prepared tin and smooth level.
  • Bake for around 1¼ hours, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and put the cake (still in the tin) on a cooling rack.
  • Pierce about 12 holes in the cake, all the way to the base, with a skewer, and drizzle the honey over the top. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, before turning out.

Credit line: Recipe from Grow Your Own Cake: Recipes From Plot to Plate by Holly Farrell, photographs by Jason Ingram. Published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99).

Of course there are plenty of websites and other cookery books with a recipe for carrot cake or pumpkin pie, this book has those classics and the more unusual recipes such as Pea Cheesecake and Fennel Cake, and as mentioned before all in seasonal order to make baking your home-grown produce even easier. If you’re neither a baker nor gardener I’m pretty confident you will be!

Grow Your Own Cake officially releases on 3rd March, it would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift. I’m delighted to offer the following discount code:

To order Grow Your Own Cake at the discounted price of £14 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code QPG415.

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

About the author:

Holly Farrell is a garden writer and freelance consultant on kitchen gardens for private clients. She is the author of Planting Plans for your Kitchen Garden (2013, How To Books) and RHS Plants from Pips (2015, Mitchell Beazley) and contributes to gardening magazines such as The Garden and Kitchen Garden. Holly is also a keen and experienced baker, and has a blog at