Great Books for Gardeners

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

American Meadow Garden

Santa, baby, are you listening? Bring me some reading material to curl up with. Literary nonfiction would be lovely—such as all those books I’ve enjoyed by Susan Orlean, Scott Calhoun, Amy Stewart, and Diane Ackerman. I’ll take a great garden reference tome, too, like The American Meadow Garden by John Greenlee and GGW regular contributor/ace photographer Saxon Holt.

 I’d also be thrilled by one or all of these, recommended by savvy online gardening pals:

Down the Garden Path

“I’ve been enjoying Beverley Nichols. Start with Down The Garden Path.” — Raleigh, NC garden writer and Gardening with Confidence blogger Helen Yoest.

The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd.” — Louisville, KY, gardener and seed specialist Allen Bush.

 Spirit Garden Inspiration

Spirit: Garden Inspiration by Dan Pearson and Beth Chatto. Incredible, unexpected and how could you not want it?” — East Coast landscape designer and blogger Susan Cohan.

Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates by Lauren Springer Ogden and Rob Proctor. I LOVE this book!!!” — Zone 7 “garden chick” and blogger Reno Martin.

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin. Beautiful book. Great info.” — container gardening columnist Kerry Michaels

Right Rose, Right Place by Peter Schneider.  FANTASTIC.” — Tennessee plantswoman/blogger Leann Barron.

 Garden Bulbs for the South

Garden Bulbs for the South by Scott Ogden.” — Linda Lehmusvirta, producer, Central Texas Gardener (KLRU-TV, Austin, PBS).

“Look for well done regional guides such as Bart O’Brien’s [et al] California Native Plants for the Garden. Also consider well written botanical monographs like Howard Scott Gentry’s Agaves of Continental North America, University of Arizona Press, 1982. If you know how it grows in the wild, you will know how to grow it in the garden.” — Susan Eubank, librarian, research specialist, book reviewer and blogger, Los Angeles Arboretum.

 “Botanica is my gardening bible…and quite a hefty gift, too!” — Watercolor artist Connie Williams.

 Green Thoughts

Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi. Have read it umpteen times!” — Bay Area designer, San Francisco Garden Show staffer and Interleafer blogger Laura Livengood Schaub.

 “I’m going to echo Laura. Perenyi’s Green Thoughts is an amazing read. As is Henry Mitchell’s One Man’s Garden — I love that book.” — organic gardening columnist Colleen Vanderlinden.

Hardy Herbaceous Perennials by Jelitto and Schact. My copy is so worn. When I had my indoor plant business, The Exotic Plant Manual by Graf was my bible. Also, nothing warms the heart deeper than a copy of Hortus III in your stocking!” — Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries, Portland, Oregon.  

Garden Primer

Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. Just got the new edition for the library.” — Texas Master Gardener, blogger (Aunt Debbi’s Garden) and library lady Debra Middleton

“Our most-used book is the Sunset Western Garden Book because it’s a good all-around regional reference. The new book I like a lot for the concepts it introduces is Bringing Nature Home, concerning the value of natives in the landscape as food source for the insects that the birds we love then eat. The book closest to my computer is the AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, but that’s more for checking plant IDs than everyday garden reference. My wife has been using my book, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, as she thinks about natives to plant in her mother’s garden. — Bellingham, WA photographer, author and blogger Mark Turner.

 Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

“What Mark said! Oh and Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest is a must for native plant lovers.  And I’m not biased like Mark’s wife may be. 🙂 — Seattle garden writer, photographer and Rainy Side Gardeners blogger Debbie Teashon.

 “Anything by Bill Cullina. His latest is Understanding Perennials. He was at The Garden in the Woods, Framingham, Mass. Now he is here in Maine at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. He is knowledgeable, funny and a really good writer.” — Robert Scherer, who gardens on 16 acres in Maine.

“I have to agree about Cullina’s books. Mine are literally falling apart at the binding. They’re my bibles! I got Understanding Perennials: A New Look at an Old Favorite by Cullina for my birthday and am loving it.” — New England ‘Habitat Gardening’ blogger Ellen Walther Sousa. 

 Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss–A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  The writer treads delicately and dramatically between her scientific education as a bryologist and her indigenous Potowatomi heritage. You will never look at moss the same way again.” Eugene, OR garden writer Mary-Kate Mackey.  

Garden Masterclass by John Brookes is sumptuously written and photographed and has a wealth of information, both micro and macro.” — Fine Gardening Cool Green Gardens blogger, Santa Barbara landscape designer and all-round good guy Billy Goodnick

“I agree with Billy, I love John Brookes books. But also anything by Ken Druse, Rick Darke, and Bill Cullina. And everyone must have Michael Dirr and Allan Armitage books in their library.” — Boston landscape pro and graphic designer Bridget McManus.

The Collector’s Garden, Ken Druse; Gardening with GrassesPiet Oudolf and Michael King; The Secret Life of PlantsPeter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.” — Los Angeles garden designer and Germinatrix Ivette Soler.

“For vegetable gardeners, anything by Angelo Pelligrini. His books are out of print, but he has a really lovely philosophy about growing food.” — Organic Gardening’s West Coast garden editor, eHow home and garden expert, and DigginFood blogger Willi Galloway

French Dirt

“Everyone knows Michael Pollan for his latest books on food but Second Nature (2003) is great winter reading about his early experience in the garden. And French Dirt by Richard Goodman made me fall back in love with vegetable gardening!” — Pacific Northwest garden writer and Planted at Home blogger Lorene Edwards Forkner.


 Ohio blogger Kylee Hartwig Baumle of Our Little Acre says of Ken Druse’s Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites: “this is the book I wish I’d written.” Me, too!

And did you know that several GGW regular contributors have written books? Be sure to visit the GGW store on Amazon.

Now it’s YOUR turn. Which gardening books would you recommend, or are on your own wish list?

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
21 comments… add one

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Frances December 3, 2009, 6:59 am

I have been thinking about the Meadows book, it is very appealing. Right now am reading Dan Pearson’s Spirit and loving it, but my go to garden book is Designing With Plants by Oudolf and Kingbury. Henry Mitchell and Nichols are superb.

Good to know, Frances. I agree about Designing with Plants! Debra

Frances December 3, 2009, 7:00 am

All of Nan’s books are great, it must be added. 🙂

Yes, GGW’s own Nan Ondra has authored several outstanding gardening books that include “Grasses” (photographed by Saxon Holt); the recently released “Perennial Care Manual”; “Fallscaping”; and “Foliage” (all photographed by Rob Cardillo)—in addition to “The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer”; and Taylor’s Guides to Roses, Soil and Composting, and Plant Propagation. Debra

Linda Lehmusvirta December 3, 2009, 9:52 am

LOVE this list! Thank you so much for doing it.

I’ll add all the books by Mary Irish to my list, though my entire list goes on for pages!

Excellent point, Linda. I keep Mary Irish’s “Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants” near my desk and refer to it often. I especially find useful her cold-hardiness list for each species. Debra

Allan Becker December 3, 2009, 11:25 am

I heartily recommend” 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Plants by Tracy Disabato-Aust. The suggestions in her book will give any garden a “WOW” factor without hard work.

Hi, Allan — Great recommendation! Thanks for reminding us. Debra

Leann Barron December 3, 2009, 2:15 pm

so many great recommendations, love this list, lots of great winter “weeding”!

Ha! Yes, you now have your winter weeding list. Debra

Ellen Sousa December 3, 2009, 3:18 pm

Does Santa read this blog? If so, I would like ALL of the above books for Christmas please 🙂

Santa reads this blog, but he has frost issues. Debra

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 3, 2009, 3:38 pm

So many great books, so little time! I have read many of the books listed, and I agree they are wonderful. The one book I’d add is “The Garden Visitor’s Companion” by Lousia Jones. It’s the book I wished I’d had when I went to Spring Fling in Austin and the one in Chicago. Helps avoid foot in mouth syndrome when visiting gardens.

Ooh, sounds interesting. I could use a book that helps me from saying dumb things when visiting gardens…like enthusing over a phormium, only to find out it’s a cordyline. Debra

Lorene Edwards Forkner December 3, 2009, 4:15 pm

Great list Debra!!! Now I just have to change your name to mine and MY Christmas reading list is complete!!!
Happy, happy,

Is there anything better than a stack of glossy new gardening books waiting to be browsed? I confess I sometimes pull up a chair at the garden shelves at B&N and go through the ones on my wish list. Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature is almost as good. Debra

Commonweeder December 3, 2009, 4:59 pm

A wonderful list. I say a here! here! for Nan Ondra! In fact I’m Giving Away her Perennial Care Manual on Sunday. Stop by and leave a comment before midnight Saturday.

That’s terrific, Pat. Hey, everyone, December 6 is the second anniversary of the commonweeder blog. Be sure to visit, leave a comment and possibly win Nan’s book! Debra

Scott Calhoun December 3, 2009, 6:32 pm

Thanks for the shout-out Debra. I quite like being situated between Susan Orlean and Amy Stewart. And Lorene, I agree that “French Dirt” is one hell of a gardening book. Also, Greenlee’s new “American Meadow Garden” was unfairly panned (in my opinion) in the L.A. Times but I think it is one of the year’s best.

Scott, you combine great design advice with engaging tales of your own challenges and region. When you were in San Diego last month you told me the topic of your next book, and I can’t wait!

Btw, Saxon wrote a zinger of a reply to the LA Times review of the “American Meadow Garden”. Google “American Meadow Garden Los Angeles Times” to read his comment, and one from Greenlee as well. It used to be authors had no recourse when misunderstood by a reviewer. Now they can post a reply on the Internet. Another reason to applaud blogs!

Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence December 3, 2009, 6:49 pm

Hey Debra, I am so happy to share with you another book to add to your garden book wish list.

Just released is Bobby Ward’s new book

Chlorophyll in his Veins, J.C. Raulston, Horticultural Ambassador

For more information visit


What a great title! Thanks for the tip, Helen. Debra

Susan Cohan December 3, 2009, 7:16 pm

Debra–What a great list. I always buy myself books for winter reading. Glad you included Dan Pearson’s book…I just ordered Greenlee’s and French Dirt. Good thing it’s finally getting cold and I can justify sitting inside with a good read!

I have a friend who moved from Southern CA to Mass because she wanted a real winter to stay inside and read. Every year, I prune rosebushes between Christmas and New Year’s. But it gets dark early, so that drives me indoors. Debra

Ramble on Rose December 3, 2009, 8:51 pm

This is a wonderful list! I am currently reading Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison (review coming shortly on my blog), and while it’s a very unconventional gardening book, it’s very original and makes you think.

I’m intrigued…please post a link here when your review is online! Debra

Michelle D. December 4, 2009, 12:02 am

For the garden designer there is no better book for inspiration than “Paradise by Design” by genius landscape architect Bill Bensley.
This book depicts the best in sensual resort and spa design work, all in fabulous tropical locations across the world.
The quality of the craftsmanship and design work is sublime.
Pure garden design porn elevated to art status.

Michelle, LOL. I love the phrase “pure garden design porn elevated to art status.” Sort of applies to your own work (which is very high end) as well, n’est-ce pas? Debra

Connie Williams December 4, 2009, 10:04 am

Hi Debra,
Thank you so kindly for the mention. What a wonderful list you have created. Thanks for that too! Happy, happy holidays to you and your family.

Hi, Connie — I find it fascinating that you use Botanica as a reference for your lovely watercolors. I admire your work very much! Debra

Robin Ripley December 4, 2009, 6:42 pm

Stop it! I just had to buy shelves for this garden book buying addiction and I don’t need you egging me on.

Well, I suppose I could put some more shelves in that corner over there…


Any wall is fair game for shelves. If there’s ever a major earthquake rescuers will have to shovel me out from beneath a mountain of books.

Debra Lee Baldwin December 5, 2009, 4:43 pm

Ahem. This is quite a compliment: Sharon Cohoon, who edits Sunset magazine’s outstanding blog “Fresh Dirt,” linked to our list of Great Books for Gardeners (and “our” means all of you who graciously contributed your suggestions). On the same page, you’ll find a glowing review of my friend Pat Welsh’s revised Southern California Organic Gardening, plus a link to author Scott Calhoun’s own list of fave books. Now, how cool is that?? I’m purring!

Kylee from Our Little Acre December 5, 2009, 10:24 pm

Thank you for including my recommendations, Debra! Want to see what else I’ve recommended?
There are just so many good ones out there! I’m going to check out some of the ones you’ve listed here.

Great list, Kylee! And we’ve just scratched the surface. I look at my own bookshelves, and what’s mentioned here is just a fraction of the books I wouldn’t be without. Another writer whose books belong in every gardener’s library is Sharon Lovejoy. And of course I have every book ever written on succulents! Debra

Kylee from Our Little Acre December 5, 2009, 10:27 pm

I just now realized how almost identical the title to our posts are. I truly didn’t do that on purpose. I originally entitled mine “10 Books Every Gardener Should Have” and then changed it because I realized that every gardener has a different focus when it comes to their own gardens. Well, anyway…

You’re in Ohio and I’m in SoCA…its a wonder we have any overlap at all. It’s a credit to the book authors that they can make their topics relevant to a national audience. Debra

Benjamin December 9, 2009, 5:44 pm

Can we add envrionmental / nature books? Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, most anythign by Scott Russell Sanders (Staying Put?), Dakota by Kathleen Norris, the anthology The Sweet Breathing of Plants, Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, Cultivating Delight by Diane Ackerman….

You bet, Ben! I’m always eager to hear about good reads. Btw, of all the authors we’ve mentioned, I admire Diane Ackerman’s writing style the most. Debra

Ramble on Rose December 18, 2009, 4:32 pm

Well, it took me a little while but here’s the link to that post about Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition

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