ISSUE 21  |  Summer Preview

Alexa’s Library: 9 Favorite Classic Garden Books

May 29, 2015 1:30 PM

BY Alexa Hotz

While I’m always on the lookout for the latest small-space garden book (a very appealing topic to me of late), my best reads are usually unearthed at a used bookstore, with their covers worn out and sun faded. Those are the same sorts of books I find myself pulling from a friend’s bookshelf for a good, quirky read. For instance, I spent my formative twenties very affected by the the controversial 1989 book, The Secret Life of Plants, and although I’m still unsure if it’s a hoax I find myself worrying about my houseplants’ emotional health.

Here I’ve gathered a list of my all-time favorite gardening and flower arranging books, most of which are vintage (with a few recent releases as instant classics).

Derek Jarman’s Garden

Above: Photograph by Lily Stockman from her Book/Shop Summer Reading List.

A compelling and personal gardening book, Derek Jarman’s Garden chronicles the filmmaker’s adventures as he built a garden across the road from a nuclear power plant in Dungeness, Kent toward the end of his life (Jarman died in 1994). What I love about this one is Jarman’s DIY approach to gardening (lining beds with seashells and building stakes from driftwood) and the evolution of his experience and gardening knowledge as the flower beds take shape; $15.95 at Amazon. 

For more about the book, see England’s Best-Loved Garden: Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.

Sunset Western Garden Book

Above: My college beau was a budding landscape designer and would have clutched his edition of Sunset’s Western Garden Book while sleeping if it was socially acceptable. For many West Coast gardeners, Sunset’s guide is their bible, and while new editions are published often you can still rely on a good used copy today (while accounting for climate variation in recent years). The latest edition, The New Western Garden Book is $26.71 at Amazon.

The Flower Shop

Above: From author and aesthetics cognoscente Leonard Koren, The Flower Shop (Stone Bridge Press, 2005) is an exploration into running a small flower business told through a profile of Blumenkraft, a flower shop in Vienna. Having worked as a lead floral designer in a small shop for five years, I can attest to the timelessness of the owner and designers’ daily tasks and the struggle of mixing nature with commerce. A good read for anyone with interest in the floral design industry or at-home floral arranging; $19.95 at Amazon.

Tropic Patterns

Above: A vintage book from photographer Anton Bruehl, who took a detailed look at native flora, í  la Georgia O’Keeffe. All the images were taken within a minute’s walk of Bruehl’s house in Boca Raton, Florida. For the tropical flower lover or the ’70s-era photography enthusiast; used versions of Tropic Patterns (Dukane Press, 1970) are available from 77 cents on Amazon.

A Flower With Love

Above: Bruno Munari’s A Flower with Love (Corraini Editore, 2008) details a set of creative flower arranging skills to inspire adults and children. I like it for its accessible approach to flower arranging, which claims that everyone has the intuitive ability to design with flowers and promote a personal vision through the medium. It’s currently available from used sellers on Amazon, starting at $7.54. Photograph from Book Stand.

Decorating With Plants

Above: Terence Conran’s Decorating With Plants from 1989 puts houseplants first in the interior design process. Conran talks about how to plan out a new space with plants first, which will then dictate the type of furniture and accessories with which to couple them. A novel way of decorating! The book is available from used sellers on Amazon for $3.23.

The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging

Above: I always like coming across old photos of British interior decorator David Nightingale Hicks, who stylistically seemed like a 20th-century Oscar Wilde with a sort of awkward opulence. It’s no surprise that his 1976 book, The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging, is having a renaissance among millennial bloggers. Used copies from $7.96 are available on Amazon. For more from Hicks, see our tour of his garden, The Grove, in Oxfordshire in Brit Style: The Garden With (Almost) No Flowers.

The Gardeners’ Book

Above: The Gardeners’ Book by Diana Craig is a more recent reference material (published two years ago) but on thumbing through it you can tell it’s an instant classic for the gardening enthusiast. The book takes a similar approach to our own site, with a mash-up of gardeners’ tales and tried-and-tested gardening tips. Craig calls it “a horticultural celebration.” It’s $12.96 at Barnes & Noble.

Garden People

Above: Photograph by Amy Azzarito for Design Sponge.

A photographic chronicle of gardens and their caretakers (a smorgasbord of British gardening style) from photographer Valerie Finnis. This book is really more of a tactile Pinterest board, but it does the job of inspiring readers to get out into the garden. Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis (Thames & Hudson, 2007) is $28.14 at Amazon.

Add to your reading list with our favorite new gardening publications detailed in our Required Reading columns, with books such as Private Gardens of Paris, The Gardener’s Garden, and Gardens of the Garden State.