by Lia Leendertz
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As crowdfunded projects go, Lia Leendertz could not have hoped for more success for The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018. Amazon number one best seller, social media sensation, championed by Cerys Matthews each on her BBC Radio 6 show – the book clearly struck a chord with many and has gained a loyal band of followers, among which I’m more than content to be counted. Having more than proved its worth as a concept, the new almanac sees a switch from the original publishers, Unbound, to the Mitchell Beazley imprint of the Octopus Publishing Group in a decision that must have been something of a no-brainer for the new custodians.
With an annual publication – and it looks like this is what the almanac project will be – it’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn with the previous years’ incarnation, and so it was a welcome discovery that the current publishers have adopted an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach. 2019’s book follows the same format as the 2018 volume – same size, paper stock, typography; same ox-blood red endpapers, thick cover boards and monthly markers along the cut edge of the pages. The blue foiled title and textured covers add a little pizzazz (Mitchell Beazley having a little strut – stick around, kiddo, you’re in the Big Time now). A similar binding and a ribbon page-marker all lending a quality feel, and placing the two books together confirms us in our suspicions that the collectors among us will be requiring space to dedicate to a collection of almanacs that promises to keep growing for as many years as the author cares to allow, and since Lia appears in no hurry to give up (“I can write these forever!”, she told me), that’ll need to be some shelf.
So much for the superficial details, and on to the content. Everything we’ve come to depend upon is here again – the monthly opening spread with a quick summary of notable dates, the sun, moon and tide tables, sea temperatures, weather, garden tasks, nature notes and recipes. All the year’s data, all in one place, set within a multi-cultural, folky context with the kind of effortlessly informative but conversational prose that was such a delightful feature of the first book. Whereas each month in the original almanac began with the author’s thoughts upon that time of year, the 2019 version focuses on the etymology of the month’s name, and follows this up with an appropriate folk tale. Welcome additions to this year’s almanac include seasonal folks songs with musical notation, meteor showers, beehive behaviour and, rather splendidly (in spite of my no longer eating dairy), cheeses of the month.
And – oh! The illustrations! I’ve long been a fan of Celia Hart’s wonderful lino cut depictions of plants and animals in their native habitats, which clearly demonstrating the artist’s first-hand knowledge of the countryside. We were charmed by her three-year stint illustrating Frank Ronan’s wonderful article at the back of Gardens Illustrated magazine, and hugely excited to discover that the huge and complex project which she’d been referring to for months on social media was in fact this very title. It’s clearly been a labour of love – one full colour artwork for the covers, in shades of deep pink, indigo and (appropriately for an East Anglian based artist) Cambridge blue, and fifty black and white images to accompany the text. Sensitively drawn and with a wealth of detail you might find surprising for a style of print making not most immediately associated with subtlety, each illustration warrants some minutes in silent meditation, and Celia’s distinctive style helps set this year’s book apart from its predecessor, giving it very much an identity of its own.
An entirely worthy successor to the original volume, if you’ve even the slightest interest in reconnecting with the world about you, be you data nerd or whimsical dreamer, it’s hard to recommend this book highly enough. Buy it.
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Hello! I’m Andrew, gardener, writer, photographer, and owner of a too-loud laugh, and I’m so pleased you’ve found your way to Gardens, weeds & words. You can read a more in-depth profile of me on the About page, or by clicking this image.