Ten Terrific Garden Books

Go ahead. Blame it on all the top 10 lists that have become pervasive in the publishing world. You know, the 10 best movies, the 10 best CDs, the 10 Bests DVDs, the 10 best fiction books, the 10 best non-fiction books, and so on ad nauseum. Sorry, but I’m going to go add yet another.

I’ll call my list My 10 Most Inspiring Garden Books. I read tons of gardening books, and they’re one of my favorite ways for plodding through the off season. But there are a few that have really stood the test of time, books rich enough not to surrender all their ideas in a single sitting, ones I can read and reread and still come away with something new. I look to them as a treasure trove of ideas for making new designs or improving old ones, for learning about plants, and for just plain getting fired up about getting outside and getting down to work. If gardening is equal parts inspiration and perspiration, a good book can help me get a good start on the first half of the job before spring comes around.
Here are 10 of my most inspiring favorites:

Eden on Their Minds: American Gardeners with Bold Visions by Starr Ockenga (Clarkson Potter)
The Collector’s Garden: Designing with Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse (Clarkson Potter)
A Garden Gallery: The Plants, Art, and Hardscape of Little and Lewis by George Little and David Lewis (Timber Press)
When I’m paging through garden books, I’m often looking for examples of exceptional personal gardens, those handmade by their owners. Seeing what one person or one couple can create over the years can be inspiring not only for the sophistication of the design or plantsmanship, but for the simple virtue of showing just how much can result from the work of one or two. A garden like that tells me, “You can do it too.” And so I’m inspired to persevere. My favorite books of all time for this kind of browsing are “Eden on Their Minds”, “The Collector’s Garden” and "A Garden Gallery."These superbly photographed tomes offer glimpses of extraordinary gardens and brief profiles of their owners. The Collector’s Garden features luminaries such as Dan Hinkley, Marco Polo Stufano, Nancy Goodwin and Ruth Bancroft. Eden on Their Minds sweeps us into the gardens of Linda Cochran, Marcia Donahue and others. Little and Lewis stays put in their extraordinary Bainbridge Island garden, which is equal parts plantsman's paradise, imaginary archaeology, and magical spell. For my money, these books offer the best garden tours you can take this time of year. And for anyone who fears they may be teetering on the edge of gardenmania, Ockenga, Druse and Little and Lewis offer proof positive that there are people out there who are far more afflicted than you’ll ever be.

Hot Plants for Cool Climates by Susan A. Roth and Dennis Schrader (Houghton Mifflin)
Having been bitten hard by the tropical bug-figuratively, and, at times, all too literally-I’ve found Dennis Schrader’s book the best title of the lot when it comes to growing tropical plants in temperate climes. Besides stunning photos by Susan Roth, it’s filled with great information on design, and on overwintering tender plants. It also includes a super encyclopedia of plants worth trying—along with propagation and overwintering tips for each variety. And last but not least, it includes a comprehensive list of sources for tropicals.

The Inward Garden Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning by Julie Moir Messervy
(Little, Brown)
Julie Moir Messervy has a unique spin on garden design, one based primarily on the psychology of the garden’s owner. Her purely personal approach paves the way to creating gardens that really resonate. Stripped to its essence, her approach returns us to childhood, and the memory—and meaning--of those special places we held dear. From there, she asks us to recall the landscapes we have found meaningful in the world at large. Julie then shows the way to translate those spaces into garden places all our own. Her trailblazing book on design is one to turn to again and aagian. Plus it's got great photos by former National Geographic staffer Sam Abell.

The American Horticultural Society A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants edited by Christopher Brickell and Judith D. Zuk (DK Publishing, Inc.)
A good reference is indispensable for checking how to grow unusual plants, for identifying some of those prized plants whose names have long been forgotten, for learning about the ultimate sizes or growing conditions required some strange specimen and for all matter of inquiries. Thanks to its many pictures, the hefty The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is my favorite.

Second Nature, by Michael Pollan
I mean no disrespect in calling Michael Pollan an egghead. He is, without doubt, the deepest thinking garden writer around. His collection of essays about gardening in its largest and most all-inclusive sense is one of only two gardening books I’ve ever read that made me stop and consider what all my efforts were about. (The other of those two books, it so happens, is “The Botany of Desire”, also by Michael Pollan.) Whether he’s writing lyrically about mowing the lawn or examining the bloodlines of roses, Pollan is utterly compelling. For a more cosmic look at the world of gardening, go no further.

Planting Combinations: Winning Plant Combinations for Every Garden by Jill Billington (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Great plant combinations are the building blocks of a great garden. This thoughtful volume, filled with stunning photos by ace garden photographer Clive Nichols, covers all the bases, from big picture ideas like overall style to nitty gritty details like working with smooth-leaved plants. Among the many great thing in its pages are photo series showing the year-to-year development of several gardens.

Color by Design: Planting with Color in the Contemporary Garden by Nori and Sandra Pope. (available in paperback as “Color in the Garden” (Soma Press)
This Canadian expat couple has become the kings of color in Great Britain.. The Popes are known best for the fabulous musings on single colors schemes. Their Hadspen House garden recreates the color wheel with segment devoted to exploring every nuance of each color as they make their way around the palette. Their provocative colorist theories are intriguing, but I’m afraid to say I find the essays—one for each color--kind of stilted and of less than practical value. The book’s best feature is easily the photos, again by Clive Nichols, which will inspire all but the color blind to look at their gardens in a new light.

Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael A. Dirr (Timber Press)
This compendium of hardy woody plants is tough to beat. It’s comprehensive, well illustrated (especially worthwhile are pictures of plants in different seasons, in fruit in flower and or fall foliage), and full of hard-won knowledge about what works and why.
It’s also got a very useful set of lists in the back-with detailed plant lists for a whole range of varying conditions as far as light, soil type, moisture levels, and more. Anyone intent on introducing a greater range of woody plants should stop here first.

No comments: