Book Review and give-away.
My BBC Radio Leicester Gardening Book of the Week
Published October 2022
ISBN 978-1 903-36051-4
Illustrations by Rosalie Herrera
Should any of you want to read a book which makes you laugh from start to finish, look no further than Tamsin Westhorpe’s new memoir ‘Grasping the Nettle.’
Tamsin spent her childhood mostly outdoors, by all accounts and her weekends, and after-school activities were often spent collecting snails and creepy crawlies, some she kept as pets. It was the perfect start in life for someone who would make horticulture their career. And what a career she’s had, starting with work on a plant nursery, time as an interior plant landscaper, and after college, a spell as a gardener for Bournemouth parks department and bowling greens.
Along the way, she writes about the colourful characters she meets, and the scrapes she gets into. I’m still holding my breath after reading about the clapped-out Land Rover she bought which would only start from the top of a hill, and had virtually no brakes!
Tamsin bought the rust bucket Land Rover from Southampton docks where it had been used for ferrying fish. Consequently, well you can imagine the pong!
“Fortunately for me and my newest fishy acquisition, the bungalow was at the top of a steep gravel drive. Without it I’d never have got to college. The Land Rover, which I had affectionately and very appropriately named Delilah (‘Why, why, why did I buy you?), regularly wouldn’t start but releasing the hand brake on the slope and turning the key seemed to do the trick. However stressful this daily event was, I couldn’t help but feel happy sitting in the driving seat looking over the bonnet. Now that the fishmonger’s logo had been removed, I felt like a proper horticultural student. On arrival at college- thankfully only about a mile from home- I would never experience actually turning the engine off. Stalling just as I reached my parking space was the norm. It wasn’t until I had a proper car that I realised how poor the brakes were, but thankfully I never went very far or fast.”
We’ve all had trouble starting pull-cord lawnmowers and machines. During her time at Bournemouth Parks department, Tamsin had a bit of trouble with a very heavy cantankerous leaf blower. Trying to start it while being watched by an audience of dog walkers and families heading to the beach was embarrassing to say the least.
“There was no way I could fail, so I learned to be determined and discovered how to cope with a flooded engine. I also understood why steel toe-capped boots are important- to kick power tools! On some days when the blower just wouldn’t start, instead of admitting my failings I would go hell for leather with the witch’s broom. Looking back now, I suspect I fooled no one as the engine was cold to the touch when my colleagues loaded it up into the Transit.”
Tamsin continues her story weaving in all the characters and places she’s worked, from college as a horticultural teacher, to Japan as a lecturer, on to writing for a magazine and becoming an editor. All along the way, the story is peppered with delightful observations, showing Tamsin’s joyful sense of humour and determination to succeed, whatever obstacles are put in her way, mechanical, human or animal.
Bringing things up to date, Tamsin is now a hands-on gardener at her family garden Stockton Bury in Herefordshire which regularly features in the round-up of the best UK open gardens. Tamsin also writes for newspapers and magazines and lectures at home and abroad- making her audiences laugh with tales of life spent doing something she’s completely passionate about- gardening. I think we all know that feeling of being happiest with our hands in the soil.
Congratulations, Tamsin on writing such a sparkling, charming, thought-provoking read. It had me in stitches from start to finish. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. And I learned a lot more about what it’s like to make your way in the world when you choose a life outdoors.
I’m sure Tamsin has started many more people on the path to horticulture through her wit and passion for the subject. It’s a delightfully realistic and thoroughly inspiring book.
Thank you for reading my review. There’s one copy to give away. Please leave your comments below and a name will be randomly selected by Sunday 6pm.
I wrote about Tamsin’s first book here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
Tamsin’s accident in the garden: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/11/03/accidents-in-the-garden/
Some excerpts from the book: