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Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks: A Series with a Cult Following

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Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks: A Series with a Cult Following

November 30, 2023

Whenever I visit a used bookshop, I march straight to the garden section. Once there, I’ll scan the shelves for slender paperback spines about nine inches tall. I’m looking for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s handbooks, and whenever I find one, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. My gardening book library is full of beautiful coffee table books, and I have my fair share of instructional tomes like the indispensable Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening, but for practical, actionable advice and ideas, nothing beats BBG’s handbooks. 

The Garden began publishing the single-topic guides in 1945. According to Elizabeth Peters, the director of digital​ and print media at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the original format was more like a bound magazine, published quarterly. “Over time these became the more intentionally edited and assigned books you are familiar with,” she adds.

Above: The Garden still carries some of the original handbooks. You can purchase them on the site; $9.95 to $15.95.

The primers had something of a heyday in the 1990s and early aughts under the leadership of Janet Marinelli, who was BBG’s editorial director for 17 years. “The series was esteemed for leadership in ecological practice topics, including native plants, wildlife support, building soils and plant communities, and an overall right-plant, right-place ethos,” Peters notes. But the series came to a halt in 2015, ending its run after the publication of Japanese-Style Gardens.

“The rise of the Internet and the ubiquity of information and broader focus on the ecological practices we had been promoting eroded the audience,” says Peters. “Rather than moving to publishing coffee-table type books, we phased out the series and now focus on digital content.” The Garden still sells more than a dozen of its handbooks through its site, including Easy Compost, which Peters notes was one of the most popular titles in the series, but for the rest, you’ll have to scour secondhand shops, Amazon’s marketplace, or eBay. 

You can find used versions of the handbooks online. This Lot of 5 is \$\1\2.99 on eBay.
Above: You can find used versions of the handbooks online. This Lot of 5 is $12.99 on eBay.

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for the out-of-print guides. Erin Scottberg, a writer, garden designer, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden-certified urban horticulturist, has also amassed a collection of the out-of-print guides. “These booklets are so well-written and laid out, making them easy to digest,” Scottberg says. “Each one covers a specific topic that’s narrow enough to not be overwhelming, but not so narrow that they’re not applicable.”

Horticulturalist Heather McCargo, the founder of the non-profit Wild Seed Project, also has a longstanding fondness for the series. She recalls becoming a member of the garden just to gain access to the handbooks. A few years back, McCargo and her team were contemplating a new format for their annual report when she was inspired to create their own single-topic handbooks. (The Wild Seed Project books are the exact same proportions as their predecessors, so they sit beautifully together on a shelf.)

My collection of BBG gardening guides on the bookshelf.
Above: My collection of BBG gardening guides on the bookshelf.

For many of us, myself included, nothing beats the physicality of a small book. “I love the scale: They’re designed to be flipped through with just one hand,” says Jess Gildea, McCargo’s colleague at the Wild Seed Project. “You can have your seed catalog open in front of you, your guide in one hand, and a pen in the other.” And unlike a digital article, you can make notes in the margins, underline key information. 

So, if you’re browsing a bookstore in the Northeast, keep an eye out for these treasured books. Or kickstart your own collection with a bundle of handbooks (more here and here, and the motherlode here).

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Frequently asked questions

What is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series?

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series is a collection of educational publications that provide detailed information and guidance on various gardening topics.

Where can I find the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series?

You can find the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series on the official website of Gardenista, specifically at the following URL: https://www.gardenista.com/posts/brooklyn-botanic-garden-handbooks-guides-series/

What topics are covered in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series?

The series covers a wide range of gardening topics, including plant care, garden design, landscaping, composting, sustainable gardening practices, and more.

Are the handbooks and guides available in physical or digital format?

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series is available in both physical and digital formats. You can choose the format that suits your preference.

Can I purchase the handbooks and guides online?

Yes, you can purchase the handbooks and guides online through the Gardenista website. Simply visit the provided URL and navigate to the desired publication to make a purchase.

Are the handbooks and guides suitable for beginners?

Yes, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series is designed to cater to gardeners of all experience levels. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced gardener, you can find valuable information in these publications.

How can I contact Gardenista for further assistance or inquiries?

You can contact Gardenista through their website's contact page or by emailing them directly at [email protected] They will be happy to assist you with any inquiries or support you may need.

Is there a discount or membership program available for purchasing the handbooks and guides?

For information on discounts or membership programs related to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks & Guides Series, it is recommended to directly contact Gardenista through the provided contact options. They can provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information on any available discounts or membership benefits.

Product summary  

Landscape & Garden Books

Easy Compost

$12.95 USD from Muze Merch

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