Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 24, 2016

Gardening Year (1980, reissued 1990), by Shirley Stackhouse – it’s time I bought a new edition…

Gardening Year 001Now that the pumpkins have been harvested and the very last of the tomatoes have only days left to ripen, it’s time for the vegie patch to be made ready for Winter crops.  And, as I’ve been doing now for 25 years or more, I turn to my copy of Shirley Stackhouse’s Gardening Year, to tell me what to do next.

I’m not keen on gardening.  I like having a nice garden, but I don’t much like the labour that goes with it.  So I’m not interested in books written for keen gardeners, I want something simple and practical that doesn’t waste my time.  First published in 1980 the Stackhouse book is  a month-by-month guide to the garden and it’s been my gardening bible since I bought this reprint in 1990.  This is why I like it:

  • Each month gets its own chapter, which begins with a checklist.  The checklist on the left hand side tells what should be flowering now, grouped by trees and shrubs; bulbs; annuals and perennials; climbers and natives.  The checklist on the right hand side tells you what to plant in that month, grouped by trees, shrubs and climbers; annuals; bulbs and vegetables.  The page also tells you what to prune, if anything, in that month.
  • Turn the page and it tells you what pests and diseases may be giving you grief, and what to do about them, and some tips for general garden care.
  • Then the chapter launches into more detail about how to achieve an attractive garden for each month whatever the season, and lots more detail about planting, keeping things in bloom, dividing plants, re-potting, composting, pruning, weeding and feeding, pests and all kinds of whatnot.  I usually only browse these sections, because ours is now an established garden and I’m not into planting new stuff and flowers.  For me, now, it’s the vegetable checklists that are invaluable.

Gardening year April 001We’re almost at the end of March now, so I’m looking at April.  There’s the list of the vegies I can plant in my vegie patch.  A month ago at the beginning of March I could have planted beetroot, carrots and parsnips, but now it’s too late for that, though I can plant cauliflower, celery, spinach, and (if I had not already learned that the birds will beat me to the harvest every time), strawberries.

Or so the book says.  But I have more than a suspicion that this helpful book, which has been the mainstay of my desultory efforts in the garden for a quarter of a century, needs updating.  It is so much warmer now, in Melbourne.  It’s only a fortnight since we had overnight temperatures in the high twenties and a couple of scorchers during the day.  We haven’t had an overnight frost in Winter for years now, but humidity – which used to be an occasional nuisance – is becoming a regular feature of our Summer.  And our Autumn is dragging its feet.  My street is planted with plane trees alternating with paperbarks, and at this time of the year the streetscape should be ablaze with red, orange and gold leaves.  But it’s not.  There were a couple of lonely leaf drops last week when we had a windstorm, but that’s all.

So I think it’s time to get a new edition.  I don’t want glossy pictures, I’m quite content with the charming B&W drawings that illustrate the text.  In fact I want the book to be exactly the same in user-friendly style, format and content, just with the advice updated to allow for the climate change that is upon us.   My online explorations tell me that there was an updated edition in 2008, reissued in 2011 (ISBN 9781741966701) and that the ‘new’ edition takes account of concerns about water, climate change and sustainability, though things have changed quite a bit even since then.

Alas, it’s unavailable at my usual sources, though there are second-hand copies around.  But I want to be able to look at it, before I buy it, to see if it’s really what I want.  Thank goodness for libraries! Mine has a copy, on shelf today…

Update (an hour later)

Well, my library has saved me some money.  The list of things to plant in April in the later edition looks pretty much the same as in my edition, and the book itself is big and cumbersome.

While I was there I browsed to see if there was anything else that might be useful, but no, nothing seems up-to-date, and the gardening genre seems to have succumbed to celebrity style, like many cookbooks are.  Big, fat, glossy, full of unnecessary guff, and occasionally obsessed with ‘organic’ issues without any scientific basis for the claims they make.

So, if there’s an aspiring gardening guru and a smart publisher out there, up-to-speed on the changes to Melbourne’s weather, well, you know what to do.

Author: Shirley Stackhouse
Title: Gardening Year, a month-by-month Guide to the Garden
Publisher: Angus & Robertson, 1990
ISBN: 9780207148170
Source: Personal library



  1. I don’t care much for the actual gardening either, Lisa. Love the results though.


  2. Perhaps if Melbourne’s weather has ‘northerned’ you could get a Sydney gardening book from the 1980s. Check out the Salvos.


  3. Peter Cundall also has an excellent ‘A Year in My Garden’ style book similar to the one you describe. Likely out of print by now but tailored for a range of different Australian climates, I think. I’m working from the memory of the copy I borrowed ages ago from the library and have been meaning to buy ever since…


    • They didn’t have that one at the library… I think I might take a trip down to Diggers on the Mornington Peninsula and ask some experts…


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