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One Magic Square

January 19, 2015

‘Produce locally what is consumed locally’.

E.F. Schumacher


This inspiring book sets out to encourage everyone to start growing produce even if it’s the first time you have ever considered doing so and in whatever limited space there is available. And however overgrown your garden Lolo Houbein says you should be able to find one square metre to weed, plant and keep tidy before moving on to a block of two or three or even four as your enthusiasm grows. Limiting the beds to one square metre is an excellent way to ensure that the preparation is manageable both in time and effort and it will certainly reduce the mystery and challenge for first time growers.

Plots are graded from the easiest and most robust to the complex and tender and Part One starts with various salad plots since salad crops are relatively easy to grow. Lettuce leaves can be picked for several months by taking them from the sides of the plant following the pick-&-come-again method.  Houbein chooses five imaginative collections in this group all beautifully illustrated and ranging from winter to summer produce. In Salad crop A the plan includes lettuce, bush beans, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, radishes and rocket. A large tub to one side takes 2 cucumber plants and in other plot designs she suggests filling the tub with new potatoes or a single courgette plant.


If salads aren’t your thing then a square metre bed can be devoted to broad beans …


…carrots are sown round the edges of this bed. Other plots charmingly illustrated with easy to follow layout plans include: The Soup Plot, The Herb Plot, The Peas Plot, The Aztec Plot and two Anti-Cancer Plots.  If you enjoy making curries here’s Curry Plot B with potatoes and garlic sown separately to extend the crop.


Throughout the book there are many tips and tricks to help build confidence and to get the most out of your beds plus an A-Z of vegetable groups to rotate to help keep your beds fertile.

Now January is probably not the best time to get started it might be icy and it will certainly be cold. But today in the South-West it’s sunny and even if you aren’t tempted outside the preparation could begin on the back of an envelope.  But if you want to get started (and Houbein advises that you should without further hesitation) then dress warmly and pick up a fork or a spade and a tape measure. Choose a spot in the sun and fork over a square metre plot removing all weeds. Rake it flat and sprinkle on blood, fish and bone fertiliser following instructions on the box. If you plan to dig up the lawn lift the sods with a spade and pile them grass side down in an empty corner of the garden to decompose into mulch to use later. Fork in the fertiliser and  if necessary top up the earth with a bag of organic top soil to raise it level with the surroundings. A bed in a lawn may need to be edged with re-cycled wood to stop the grass encroaching.

Food security has been Lolo Houbein’s preoccupation since her childhood in Western Holland where 24,000 people died of starvation in the second world war.  And she has inspiring credentials starting  with her great, great grandfather who was a market gardener and from several family members currently involved in growing food. Yet she meets people with no growing history who produce impressive vegetables at first try. I too see this on the allotment-first time growers with an abundance of healthy produce in their first six months. So get started and if you find no satisfaction after a season or two you can re-turf the lawn or fill the space with shrubs. My guess is that with the help of this book you’ll steadily increase your square beds and enjoy the satisfaction, exercise and creativity that growing your own food brings.

The book is beautifully written with huge enthusiasm and packed full of sound advice. It’s published on February 5th and is available from


Several of us have decided to blog a scented plant from our garden (or conservatory or allotment) each month throughout 2015.  Above is Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) which I have mentioned before since it started flowering in December and it’s at full throttle now outside the kitchen door. It’s a great evergreen for cheering up winter days and by swapping plant recommendations we could ensure a scented plant every month of the year somewhere in the house or garden. Please feel free to join in whether it’s a scented leaf or a gorgeous scented flower- wellywoman  has some great selections on her blog as does Christina on myhesperidesgarden.

Today I cut three sprigs of sweet box for my desk to mix with three winter pansies and some variegated Lamium and the room smells delicious.




11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2015 11:09 am

    Thanks for the mention; It was such a good idea to begin posting about scented plants, what is more important in a garden than wonderful perfume. My Sarcococca is too small yet to be able to cut any but I look forward to it growing so I can.

  2. January 21, 2015 12:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Green Books Blog and commented:
    Such a lovely and enthusiastic review – it always makes us happy to see people enjoying our books!

  3. January 22, 2015 3:14 pm

    This is such a good idea, Sue. I’ve joined in with a post and picked honeysuckle and petasites for indoors. Amazing scent from both of those so I had five days of lovely whiffs and then went off to Wisley to check out the Daphnes! I was in olfactory heaven.

    • January 22, 2015 4:01 pm

      I had to look up petasites (I confess I have never heard of them) and I see it’s a heliotrope and I want it. I love the summer ‘Cherry Pie’ heliotrope and had no idea there was a winter one with flowers and with scent. I am on the case.

  4. January 22, 2015 8:45 pm

    I’ve always loved the idea of square metre gardening. It’s amazing how much you can cram into so little space. Scented plants though, there you have me. I can’t get enough of those.

  5. January 23, 2015 10:16 am

    Yes and by planting the square to max you can reduce weeds and retain moisture and it will look gorgeous too.

  6. January 31, 2015 4:37 pm

    I visited to find out what your scented plant for January was Sue but am even more pleased to have discovered your book review 🙂

  7. January 31, 2015 5:47 pm

    It’s such a great book for getting people started growing at home for the first time. I’m sure you’ll love it and then you can make another square !!

  8. March 1, 2015 2:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Get Children Outdoors! and commented:
    Middlewood Nature Nursery is looking to develop its garden for Children to begin to understand the potential of growing in small urban spaces. I think this book would be most useful indeed.
    Anyone else looking to grow produce and integrate it into their settings, no matter how small, can get all the information they need. Thank you for sharing this

    • March 1, 2015 5:21 pm

      Yes children love squares and can manage weeding and sowing and planting in a space that is a manageable size.

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