Diarmuid Gavin: Top gardening books to inspire the green-fingered
With the thrill of Halloween, carved pumpkin lanterns clustered around front doors and children getting ready to adorn themselves in scary outfits, it's time to retreat from the mayhem.
The clocks will soon go back and the winter's long evenings will set in. Bake-off is over and, funny as it is, The Apprentice just isn't as warming. So, with nothing much on television, I can indulge in my favourite past-time, after digging - reading about gardens.
I love collecting gardening books. Second-hand and new, every one contains somebody else's magic ingredients to grow herbs or create the ultimate paradise.
And having just spent the past year compiling my guide to creating a garden in Ireland, I've been delving into our garden library to check and cross reference advice on everything from a plant's correct Latin name to what screws should be used to construct a deck.
Just glancing at the shelves now I see advice on being an armchair gardener, gardening and planting by the moon, David Austen's magnificent volume on his take on English roses and even gardening in your nightie.
People write about gardens through hard-got experience. They are passionate about them, so people who don't own gardens themselves experience their many joys through the pages of gardening books.
The electronic age has hit us and we can download our books or email them to people. But it's not so easy to curl up with a computer, is it? Recently, I gave a talk to a gardening group across the water. From the audience, somebody asked me to recommend three great books - ones that had inspired me and ones that would give them the advice they needed. It got me thinking. What garden books do I return to time after time? What ones inspire me and, more importantly at this time of the year, which gardening books allow me to dream and even kid myself that I will be able to produce the perfect plot?
The classic garden books don't date, their advice is often practical or fascinating. If you can't find them in the shops, Google them and they will be delivered to inspire.
The earliest gardening books I came across were the expert series by Dr DG Hessayon. He has sold over 50 million of these for a reason - they are clear, concise, and packed with information. His best-selling is The Vegetable and Herb Expert. For little anecdotes, I love The Armchair Book of the Garden, but his Tree and Shrub Expert does name check and give advice on almost all the plants that you would commonly have in your garden.
The Garden by Dan Pearson is different. Dan is one of the most talented gardeners anywhere and this is his tale, published many years ago, of the creation of a beautiful garden at Home Farm. He charts a year in the life of the place and it is packed with beautiful photography of planting schemes.
Helen Dillon's Garden Book is typically wonderful fun, packed with forthright and humorous advice on how to look after a productive plot. Helen's clear writing style means that this tome would be a perfect gift for a beginner gardener this Christmas.
Joe Swift's Urban Garden Handbook shows the city plot as a style icon. If you have limited space and wish to use your garden as an outdoor living room and a play area for the kids, this could provide the inspiration.
Fiann Ó Nualláin's The Holistic Gardener, published by the Mercier Press, is a fascinating practical guide to first aid from the garden. It wonderfully illustrates the great healing powers of plants.
Take Chelsea Home was produced by the Royal Horticultural Society and written by Chris Young. It is practical inspiration from gardens at the show down through the years.
Finally, one that is picture-led. Stafford Cliff has been travelling the world for years photographing how we live in different countries throughout the world. His book, 1000 Garden Ideas, has pictures of pavilions and gazebos, bridges and rocks, topiary and benches, pots and steps, edging and paving, walls and fences - a wonderful collection of pure inspiration.
So, take a little time before the craziness of Christmas to relax by the fire and be entertained by other people's knowledge and collection of ideas.