ISSUE 56  |  In the Library

10 Easy Pieces: Editors’ Favorite Gardening Books

January 23, 2013 4:00 PM

BY Janet Hall

Gardening books are too often put to pasture in the reference section of personal libraries. Think again. Our collection personal favorites not only offer practical advice, but also fall into the “curl up with a good book” category.

Have an all-time favorite gardening read? Please share in the comment section below.

Above: Michelle loves Katharine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden, a collection of 14 essays originally published in the New Yorker, and posthumously collected by her husband, E. B. White. While out of print, copies are easy to find through Abe Books. “Like all great gardeners, Katharine White was highly opinionated,” says Michelle. “She did not believe in roses that had no scent or in a garden that had no lawn, and she explained her positions with such ruthlessly mild precision that it is impossible to disagree.”

Above: Janet is a fan of Ken Druse’s books: “They masterfully combine practical advice with inspiring ideas and photos.” His latest effort, Natural Companions offers another amazing photographic feast. Photographer Ellen Hoverkamp uses flatbed scans of artfully arranged plants to highlight plant combinations that Druse recommends for your garden; $26.40 at Amazon.

Above: Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden is a favorite of Margot’s. “I love this collection of classic essays recommended to me by the most knowledgeable gardener I know. Perenyi’s writing reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher’s—it’s filled with brilliant observations, amusing stories, and straight-up wisdom.” Available for $10.91 at Amazon.

Above: Sarah recommends Ngoc Minh Ngo’s Bringing Nature Home: Floral Arrangements Inspired by Nature, a beautifully shot tome with great visual inspiration and plenty of ideas on how to create simple, natural flower displays; $29.70 at Amazon.

Above: Julie’s favorite is Noel Kingsbury’s Natural Garden Style: Gardening Inspired by Nature; $49.95 at Amazon.

Above: Alexa loves the urban gardening tips and inspiration photos in Garden Anywhere. This book offers basic gardening advice about everything from design—repeat color and form to “create movement and flow through the space”—to building your own compost bin; $24.95 from Williams-Sonoma Agrarian.

Above: Kendra, our UK gardening expert, recommends Garden People: Valerie Finnis and the Golden Age of Gardening. “Garden people are a bigger draw for me than plant personalities. This book is about the well-liked and accomplished plantswoman Valerie Finnis, who was also handy with a Rolleiflex,” says Kendra. “The book’s appeal lies in the square portraits, with their glorious post ’50s color, from Nancy Lancaster weeding in a sombrero to Percy Thrower, Britain’s first TV gardener. The story of the post-war gardening scene in this country is told through the prism of Valerie Finnis and her own fascinating life.” It is available for £10.84 at Amazon UK.

Above: A collection of Henry Mitchell’s witty and wonderful gardening essays written for the Washington Post, The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening is a favorite of Michelle; $19.11 at Amazon. “The man was a curmudgeon, and I say that with great admiration. He was every gardener’s conscience,” says Michelle.

Among his cranky (and genius) observations: “Plants are not ‘material.’ The phrase is commonly used by people of careless habits, indifferent brains, and, I suspect, no morals whatever. We do not want, therefore, any ‘plant materials’ in any ‘outdoor living room,’ but we do want bushes, herbs, flowers, water-plants, and so on, and while we all have sense enough not to expect the impossible, we have a right to expect the magical.”

Above: A refreshing take on flower arranging, offering up inspiration for creations using plants from your own garden, Petal and Twig: Seasonal Bouquets with Blossoms, Branches and Grasses from Your Garden from Seattle-based gardening writer Valerie Easton is $12.41 at Amazon.

Above: Here’s the reference book of our collection (and, undoubtedly, one of the most dog-eared books of the group). The A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants from the American Horticultural Society is a deep resource for the gardening bookshelf. It is available for $50.40 at Amazon.

(N.B: For more, see “Visual Taxonomy: The Encyclopedia of Flowers.”)