One Magic Square – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One Magic Square
Grow your own food on one square metre

by Lolo Houbein
368 pages Hardback, 20 x 20 cm
Published by: Green Books, 5th February 2015
Price: £19.99
ISBN: 9780857842800

3929Little Lolo Houbein was delighted with her gift of a cabbage from the friendly German soldier. During World War II, starving during the famine in occupied Holland, she was too weak to carry it, but managed to drag it home to her family. Ever since then, she has been preoccupied with food security and food self-sufficiency and One Magic Square is the result.

Lolo shows how you can have a productive food garden on a single square metre. She provides inspiration for everyone, with easy plot designs for hardy vegetables, and others for tender and exotic produce. She starts with five seasonal plans for salads and leads you in easy stages to just the degree of food self-sufficiency that you want.


Little Lolo feeding the chickens in uncle Wim's garden

Lolo Houbein sees the vast areas of unused spaces around our homes as an opportunity to be more in control of our food supply, with fewer food miles and a healthier diet: you can do a lot in one square meter. You do not have to live in the country or have a large garden, or an allotment. Food will grow where you are. Square meter gardening is perfect for growing in:

  • Balconies, terraces and courtyards

  • Small gardens with limited space

  • Large gardens or allotments with abundant space

It's a myth that you need to spend ages gardening to grow your own food. Some foods you plant once and forget until harvest time. People sometimes see gardens laden with produce and then take on a huge allotment, never having gardened before and fail, dejectedly. Don't to this to yourself! Small is Beautiful, so no matter how unkempt your patch, you can weed one square meter, plant it and keep it tidy and productive. Gradually increase the area if you want, as you get used to the peaceful routine of gardening and the rhythm of the seasons.

You can change your lifestyle instantly by digging up one square meter. It won't take much time or work, but it will relax and delight you, rejuvenate you and get you in touch with your wild side without leaving home! In no time at all, you'll discover a great sense of achievement in growing the smallest salad, carrot or potato. You'll be eating a wider variety of fresh food, some of which is not available in shops.

This is a very detailed and highly informative book on all aspects of square foot gardening, only that here it is geared at a square meter rather than a square foot, and a square meter equals approximately three square foot (or should that be feet), though I will continue to refer to the method as “square foot gardening”, if the reader does not mind. It is easy and even fun to read and fact-filled book that also makes you look at the toilet roll tube with completely different eyes.

“One Magic Square” is, probably, one of the most detailed manuals for square foot gardening I have – so far – seen. At the same time it is easy to read and not just full of theory. The author also leads the reader into cooking of the vegetables grown, and much more.

“This book has been inspired by the chaotic times we live in. It aims to put you in control of the production of at least part of the food you need”, says the author on page 74 and with this she speaks right from my own heart also. Personal food security, at least to some extent, is what it is all about.

Lolo Houbein was born in Holland and later moved to Australia. Since surviving the famine in Holland in 1944-1945, food security - and the absence of it - has been a lifelong preoccupation for her. She is an author of both fiction and gardening books.

If I could give this book more that five out of five I certainly would but six out of five does not really compute and neither does a five plus. So, I guess it just has to be five out of five. Great book and I can but recommend it, and not just to the newbie.

© 2014