ISSUE 48  |  California Dreaming

Gift Guide: Best Books for Garden Lovers

December 03, 2014 2:30 PM

BY Jeanne Rostaing

Gardeners, as we all know, are a breed apart. They count as time well spent hauling rocks, hoeing weeds, and digging in the dirt.  If the weather is too cold and wet for those activities, then they are happy to stay inside and dig into books about hauling, hoeing, and digging. If you are searching for the perfect book for the gardener in your life, we have a few suggestions: books that offer either instruction or inspiration, or both.

Above: Photograph by Kendra Wilson for Gardenista.

Winter is the perfect season to evaluate one’s inventory of gardening tools.  What’s the best way to sharpen those pruners?  Where do pruners come from, anyway?  Answers to these questions and many more can be found in the Royal Horticultural Society’s recently published Tales from the Tool Shed ($18.21 from Amazon) by Bill Laws. Subtitled The History and Use of Fifty Garden Tools, this book gives the back story and evolution of such common garden items as rubber hoses, soil sieves, twine, and even hats–plus tips on their use and maintenance. For more details see our post Required Reading: Tales From the Tool Shed.

Above: A recent release that offers both instruction and inspiration is The Living Landscape by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke ($25.27 from Amazon). It expands on Doug Tallamy’s influential 2007 book, Bringing Nature Home, which explained the importance of using native plants to attract and sustain native wildlife.

Both a primer on how landscapes develop in the wild and a manual for learning how to observe wild areas and then apply nature’s principles to your own garden, the book has breathtaking photographs by the authors (Rick Darke is credited as the principal photographer) of wildlife including birds, butterflies, moths, turtles, and bees luxuriating in habitats provided by gardens designed with their needs in mind.

Above: Nancy Ondra’s Five-Plant Gardens ($14.52 for a paperback from Amazon) is a succinct and breezy book about creating all sorts of perennial gardens out of just five plants, a number Ondra says she settled on as perfect for a small garden because it is enough to provide variety while still being manageable and affordable. This is an excellent guide for the the novice gardener and also a delightful read for the more experienced plant lover. For more on this book, see our post Required Reading: 5-Plant Gardens.

Above: Photograph by Caroline Arber.

Virtual trips to historic gardens via lushly photographed books are an important source of inspiration for any armchair-bound gardener.  The meadows and flower gardens around Monk’s House, the Sussex country home of writer Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, are brought to life by Caroline Zoob in Virginia Woolf’s Garden. Having lived at Monk’s House for a decade as a tenant of the National Trust, Zoob discovered much about Mr. and Mrs. Woolf which she shares with the reader. Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob is £30 from Jacqui Small. For US readers, Virginia Woolf’s Garden is $34.12 on Amazon.

For more on the Woolfs and their garden, see our post Required Reading: Virginia Woolf’s Garden.

Above: Photograph by Marcus Harpur

For more Brit style, pick up The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre. He demonstrates that, even if they are attached to historic homes, the best gardens move with the times. In this gorgeously photographed book, many of the most spectacular gardens have elements which are new or simple. It’s fascinating how features that have been added by various generations have been incorporated so subtly into the traditional designs. The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre is published by Frances Lincoln at $40.

For more on this book, see our post Required Reading: The English House Garden.

Above: Photograph by Allan Pollok-Morris. 

Also in the British Isles,  Allan Pollok-Morris’s book: Close: Landscape Design and Land Art in Scotland ($37.92 from Amazon) offers a surprising guided tour led by someone who loves gardens and has a discerning eye for art in harmony with nature. The frontispiece is a map with the locations of all the places Pollok-Morris visited. The chapter titles are their latitudes. As you read, you go north. Don’t expect to discover a distinctive “Scottish” style. The gardens and art here are remarkably diverse, even including the ephemeral labyrinth by Jim Buchanan on the banks of the River Nith.

For moresee our post Required Reading: Close: Landscape Design and Land Art in Scotland.


Above: Photograph courtesy of the Monacelli Press.

Emma Reuss’s Gardens in Detail ($32.56 from Amazon) is a wide-ranging trove of inspiration. Reuss has selected 100 outstanding gardens from all over the world.  They include every style you can think of, from a 15th century Japanese dry sand garden to a walled prairie by Piet Oudolf to an acid green Martha Schwartz creation made of plastic trees and shrubs. She dazzles you with gorgeous photos and then turns practical with detailed deconstructions of how each was created and why they work. It’s informative and fascinating. 

For more on this book, see our post Required Reading: Gardens in Detail

Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

What better way to end a list than with a surprise?  In Gardens of the Garden State ($35.71 from Amazon), Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry have created an unexpectedly gorgeous book about a much maligned state. It is a collection of essays about 29 public and private gardens all over New Jersey. The variety is impressive and speaks to the diversity of the topography found in the state which is the fifth smallest in the nation yet boasts rolling farmland, mountains, lakes, rivers, seashore, swamps, pine barrens, rocky ridges, and stony hills. The book’s photographs by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls are lovely and effectively expand the often brief text. 

For more on this book, check out our post Required Reading: Gardens of the Garden State.

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