Five Best Gardening Books

Books make the very best of holiday gifts, and for gardeners, many books become lifelong companions. The dog eared pages and dirt smudged covers are signs of the loving use by an avid reader. Genevieve of North Coast Gardening recently asked her readers to name their five most favorite gardening books to recommend to others. We were happy to oblige with the five books listed below. These are by no means the only five, the top five or the fave five, but they are tomes that have been read several times and will never be given away. In no particular order, may we present:

The Southern Living Garden Book
by the editors of Southern Living Magazine, including our friend, Grumpy Gardener, Steve Bender
This is the number one reference book used in the Fairegarden. When the internet was down for several days recently, were we ever glad to have this on hand to answer our gardening questions. (It also revealed how addicted we were to the internet, but that is another story for another time.) This is the book that is given to newbie gardeners to help them get started in the lifelong love affair that will follow the dirty fingernails. Everything is here, lists, plant information, how tos, for the Southern United States. I wouldn’t be without this book. Period.

Designing With Plants
by Piet Oudolf and Noรซl Kingsbury
This book was a mind changer for me. It helped the vision of how we wanted the Fairegarden to progress become more finely formed and listed plants that would help get it there. A heavy use of strong perennials planted en masse that would look good for very nearly the entire year struck a chord with an aging gardener looking for an easier way to manage a yard that is all garden. Chip, chip, chipping away at getting the plantings closer together, using fewer varieties and focusing on ones that do the best in our conditions just makes perfect sense. This book is opened again and again whenever inspiration is needed. The photos alone are worth the price, but the text is fine prose as well.

Radical Prunings
by Bonnie Thomas Abbott
This is not a how to book, it is actually fiction with gardening as a background element. If you love to read about gardens and gardening and have a sense of humor and like a good laugh out loud page turner, this book is for you.

Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden
by Beth Chatto
This was another book in the inspirational category as I struggled to transform a former gravel driveway into a decent looking garden bed. Ms. Chatto is a fine writer and her gardening advice, even though she lives in a very different climate from ours in England, was extremely useful to me. Those of you with similar difficult conditions will find something to help you manage in this book.

Wildflowers Of Tennessee, The Ohio Valley and Southern Appalachians
by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart
This was a gift from my dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone. She has been a champion of native plants for a long time and has helped me to see the light in that department. She hosts a meme featuring wildflowers on the fourth Wednesday of each month. For December 2010 this will fall on the 22nd, so plan your post now so as not to get so caught up in the spreading of holiday cheer that you forget. Just a gentle reminder. Knowing how to identify those plants formerly known as weeds from actual invasive exotics is key to getting it right for the good of the environment and the world as we know it. I suggest you look for a similar type of book that helps identify the plants of your area.

Anything by Nancy J. Ondra

Nan is a fellow garden blogger whose work I highly admire. Some may already know her from her blog, Hayefield and the group blog, Gardening Gone Wild. Nan is a fine writer and her books feature fabulous images by some of the best photographers in the business. The book shown is about Grasses, a subject near and dear to my heart, but all are wonderful. I own several of them.

There are many more books that I could recommend, but time allocation prevents them all from being listed. I do encourage you to delve more deeply into those listed above, and/or make your own list and add your post to Genevieve’s story. Remember, reading is knowledge and knowledge is power. Or something along those lines.


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32 Responses to Five Best Gardening Books

  1. I love “Designing with plants” too – it is rarely far from my side when I am planning and dreaming. Beth Chatto would always be in a top ten list of garden writers, and you have added a new book to my wishlist – “Grasses”. I’ll thank you, my bank manager (AKA husband) may not…

    Hi Janet, thanks for adding to the conversation, one I hope will spur some Christmas gifts that will last a lifetime. These books are like dear friends. Designing With Plants inspired me to get several other Piet and Noรซl books, but this is my fave. You will love Grasses, and Fallscaping is another good one by my friend, Nan. Happy reading! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Carol says:

    A very good list — general gardening, garden design, garden fiction, a specific garden situation, wildflowers, a specific type of of plant, and hey wait a minute — you recommended six books! We gardeners, we just break rules all over the place, don’t we??

    Hi Carol, you caught me!!! HA There are so many, how can we just pick five? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Sylvia (England) says:

    A great selection of books. I have 2 of these books, Designing With Plants and Nan’s Grasses (I love Nan’s books). I have a wild flower book for the UK and several by Beth Chatto. My new books for Christmas are Jekka’s Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar. She is a really good writer and run’s a herb nursery near Bristol (about 60 miles north of us). I don’t have any books on herbs so thought this was a good addition to my ‘library’. A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono which has had really good write ups and he lives locally. I buy my own Christmas books but choosing them is very difficult!

    Best wishes Sylvia

    Hi Sylvia, thanks for your additional thoughts here. I love hearing about the books you love. I saw Jekka while at the Malvern show, trying to educate the Three Men Who Mow and have read her articles in the British gardening magazines. Herb growing was my first passion when I finally had more time to garden when my last child went off to school. How lucky you are to have those nurseries within driving distance. I would be a regular customer! Happy reading, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sunita says:

    Gardens and books … my two favourite things. And books about gardening… perfect! Beth Chatto’s book looks really interesting but going by your description, I think I’d love to read Radical Prunings.

    Hi Sunita, thanks for your input. I really learned alot from Beth Chatto when trying to get the old gravel driveway to look and perform better, but Radical Prunings made me laugh out loud, many times! I would suggest…both. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Eileen says:

    Thanks Frances, love the pillow! I am going to buy Designing With Plants, heard about it previously and know that I would refer to it often. I suscribe to Southern Living, great recipes, but many of their plant recommendations won’t survive in zone 5. I have a friend who moved to South Carolina, maybe I should get this one for her.


    Hi Eileen, thanks for joining in here. You will love Designing With Plants, I still drool over the photos and the text is first rate, lots of plant lists too. For your friend in South Carolina, the Southern Living garden book would be a perfect gift. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I enjoy reading what others think of as a must read regarding gardening. There are a couple here I must read. I need a good laugh so I will try Radical Prunings. Thanks Frances. I like the Faire Garden pillow. Did you do it?

    Hi Lisa, thanks. You will guffaw at Radical Prunings. It is superb writing and funny as all get out! The pillow was a hostess gift from a talented friend in our first Tennessee home in the northeast part of the state, given for having a luncheon at the Fairegarden there. That was the name of my landscaping/craft business there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. gail says:

    Dear Frances, Imagine my surprise as I was reading this delightful list ~and what a truly good list it is~to see the sweet linklove for Wildflower Wednesday and C&L! I hope gardeners are encouraged to get a local wildflower book and to read any/all of the other books on the list! I have ordered Nan’s book and can’t wait to look at her wonderful photos! Have a great weekend~xxoo gail it’s a balmy 35 here!

    Dear Gail, it was my pleasure to remind the folks about wildflower wednesday, and raise awareness about wildflowers and natives in general. It was your persistence that has made my focus more on growing them, and appreciating those formerly known as weeds here. It really is a book I use quite often. You will enjoy Nan’s book. The weekend looks to be warmer perhaps, and wet. But I don’t believe anything the weather people say anymore.

  8. commonweeder says:

    I love Nan Ondra’s books. I have the new book she did with Stephanie Cohen, The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer, in which we even get to see a couple of Nan’s gardens. One of my favorite books is not a how to, The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek. Mine is an old copy but it has been reprinted – a charming and humorous look at the joys and trials, many trials, of the gardener. All year long.

    Hi Pat, thanks for adding that. I have that Karel Capek book, and agree it is a keeper. Nan is such a talent, isn’t she? ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Barbara H. says:

    Well, heck Frances, if you were going to break the rules, why didn’t you just go for 10 and double the gardening pleasure? I’m pleased to have your recommendations and realize I need to start a list so some of my gardening wants become reality. Thanks!

    Hi Barbara, I was hoping no one was counting! Fine gardening books do help pass the time during the wintry months. Those that inspire are the very best. Hope your reality is full of inspiration. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Donna says:

    Books are great gifts and I love the Southern Living Garden Book. Grumpy is the best. I have been a long time follower and he also makes me smile and brightens my day with his wit and humor. Your suggesting books is a gardening winner.

    Thanks Donna, for joining in here. Grump is a funny fellow and the SL book is chock a block full of useful information, no matter if you live in the south or not. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Marguerite says:

    I’ve seen Piet Oudolf recommended several times now and have his books on my ‘to buy’ list. Perhaps this Christmas I’ll treat myself and buy one. My winter reading is getting low after all..

    Hi Marguarite, thanks for stopping by. I have several of the Piet books and this one is the very best in my opinion. If your reading supply is low, better stock up on good gardening books. The original post by Genevieve has everyone’s lists, so there will be lots of good ideas there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Dave says:

    I’ve got this first one but none of the others. Although I do have two other books of Nan’s and both of them are great!

    Hi Dave, thanks for visiting. I believe you would enjoy and get a lot of use from the Piet book. His ideas of using plants that we already grow in masses and with grasses was very adaptable to our climate.

  13. Phillip says:

    Hmmm, more to add to my list! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi Phillip, well, it looks like that list will be getting longer! Have fun selecting and reading during the winter hiatus. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. My Kids Mom says:

    Can’t live without my Southern Living! I also rely on the internet for Dave’s Garden database so often.

    Hi Jill, thanks for stopping by. Where we live, the Southern Living Garden Book is the Bible. I use Dave’s online as well, they are up to date with all the plant botanical name changes. That is something the printed books cannot do. Now if they would just settle on the names and leave it at that! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. One says:

    Frances, Thank you for the recommendation. I think Designing With Plants will be a good start for me. Wonder if it is suitable for tropical gardens.

    Hi One, thanks for reading. I don’t belive the Piet book will work for you in the tropics, sad to say. They are even a colder climate than where I live. Perhaps you can ask around at garden centers in your area for recommendations? But everyone can benefit from the laughs provided by Radical Prunings. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I love the “anything by Nan Ondra.” So true. Nan is a light, and her photography, scrumptious. Of course, you know I love Beth Chatto too.

    Love the wildflowers. Love them all.

    I stumbled this post. It was so good.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks so much. Someday I am going to learn about this stumble thingey. Nan and Beth both speak to me with writing that is sublime. There is nothing like a hands on gardener that speaks from experience. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I love “Grasses” too, it almost made my list, but I went with “Fallscaping” instead. I considered “Radical Prunings,” but then decided that, as it was fiction, it didn’t fit with my theme.

    Hi MMD, I didn’t go with Fallscaping because you had already mentioned it. The other one I have is Foliage, which is food for the eyes. I sort of fudged on the rules, and wanted to get Radical Prunings out there for others to enjoy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  19. Denise says:

    This is a very interesting post. I love books. I have 21 books on my wishing list at the moment and now I think I have to add more. But since I joined Blotanical, I have less time to read books. I spend so much time reading blogs. I wonder how other people find the time.

    Hi Denise, thanks for visiting and welcome. There are so many thing to read about gardening now, with so many wonderful blogs. It was not always so, we had to search for interesting garden stuff. Too much is better than not enough! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  21. Frances–this is neat that you linked to Best Garden Blogs…I made your post–Breaking News of the day. Visit the home page and see! I have the Southern Living Garden Book of course…can’t do without it.

    Thanks Anna. To be honest, I don’t even know how it happened! I have never done a ping back before. Where we live, The Southern Living Garden Book is a must have. Period. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Rose says:

    Excellent suggestions, Frances. I have my own “Wildflowers of Illinois” that I consult regularly during the season–and especially on Wildflower Wednesday for positive i.d.s. I’ve also read Nancy Ondra’s book on grasses, but will definitely check out “Radical Prunings”–I love good fiction and am always ready for a good laugh:)

    Hi Rose, thanks for letting us know your thoughts about the books. I am so glad your have a wildflower book for your area, it is the best way to learn the good guys from the bad guys. I know you will enjoy Radical Prunings, so glad you are going to give it a go. Might I suggest you read it at least twice to get the story within the story. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. My “can’t live without” book is the Western Gardeners Handbook. It sits on my desktop.

    Hi Meredehiut, thanks for that. We have the Western Garden book from our time spent in California. The Southern Living Book is exactly the same type of book, geared to the South.

  24. VP says:

    A fine selection which I see have served you well for your garden Frances.

    I have the Piet Oudolf/Noel Kingsbury book too and you’ve reminded me that I need to post about a garden I visited just after Malvern which has a Piet Oudolf designed garden. I’ve briefly met Noel Kingsbury too – have you read his blog? Very thoughtful and thought provoking.

    I see Sylvia has mentioned Jekka McVicar – I saw her again last week and she will be a VP VIP in January ๐Ÿ™‚

    Your mentioning Malvern brought back many happy memories of both you and Gail… and Don ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Hi VP, how nice to see you here! I look forward to seeing your visit to the Piet garden, lucky you! I do read Noel’s blog. His writing is first rate, I agree. I have several of his books. The memories from Malvern will stay with us always. All of us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Janet says:

    Nice list of books Frances. I have a library of books and not one that you listed..funny. One book I would like to get is a Wildflower book for South Carolina, though I imagine many of the ones in your book would be similar to what is here.

    Hi Janet, thanks so much. There are so many good garden books, there could be many such lists made and still never run out of books to suggest. I agree that we probably share many wildflowers with several other states. These books are so good for identification, and to help teach us that not all roadside weeds are natives.

  26. Genevieve says:

    Frances, I adore your choices! Designing With Plants has been on my wishlist for some time, and Grasses is one that I love so much that I have spare copies to give to new clients who might like her work! Very few books merit that, but Grasses is so deliciously gorgeous, thanks to both Nan and Saxon, that it deserves it. Thanks for sharing your faves!

    Hi Genevieve, thanks for hosting this great meme, so timely as books make the most wonderful Christmas gifts. You will love Designing With Plants, it is my fave of the Piet/New perennial movement in gardening. And those photos in grasses make it as decadent as a piece of the finest chocolate. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Jan says:

    A fabulous selection…very thoughtful choices. I am curious about ‘The Gravel Garden’..I’ll check it out now.

    Hi Jan, thanks. I have three books by Beth Chatto. The Gravel Garden is my favorite. Her writing is wonderful. Hope you like it too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Grace says:

    Well, Frances, if these are books that helped inspire your fabulous gardens then they’re winners indeed. Great meme.

    Thanks Grace, so nice to see you here. For me, inspiration is the reason to read garden books and these all provide that in one way or another. ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Thank you Frances, your list is now on my list! H.

    Thanks Helen. These are good books, but you probably already have the Southern Living Garden Book, I would imagine. ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Oudolfs ‘Designing with plants’ and Chatto’s ‘Gravel Garden’ are in my collection too.

    If you can lay your hands on a copy of Dan Pearson’s ‘A Year at Home Farm’ you’ll not be dissapointed.

    I’m going to seek out a copy of ‘Grasses’.


    Hi Rob, thanks. We are so on the same page with books, I have the Pearson book and love it! Your post with the lights was absolutely the most fabulous thing ever! In case you weren’t sure how I felt about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. majid khan says:

    hi al, i love gardening and i try very hard to find alot of ebooks to download, but i cant find any good book. could you please tell me any web site from where i can downlaod the best gardening book for free. thank you.

    Hi Majid, I am glad to hear you love gardening and reading. I am not aware of a site with free recent books for downloading, sorry. There may be some, I just don’t know of them. Good luck with your garden and the search for free books.

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