Books to Begin With (And Books to Grow Into)

I am a book lover and a garden lover, so it is perhaps no surprise that my garden library has kept pace with my growing garden.

Here are a few of the books I most appreciated in the early years of my gardening:

  • The Garden Primer, by Barbara Damrosch: Once, I read this book to learn about the kinds of plants I might want to grow. Now, I refer back to it when I need reminders like how shallow to plant a bare-root peony.
  • The New Victory Garden by Bob Thomson: I picked this one up years and years ago at the home of my in-laws. In many ways it is out of date (even then I knew that I didn’t want to use the chemical fertilizers Bob recommends), but his enthusiasm for every kind of vegetable was so inspiring. I thumbed through this book so many times, my in-laws finally gave it to me.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver: This one is more memoir than how-to, and I found it enormously inspiring. Kingsolver is an incredible writer, and her personal stories are compelling and educational.

As my experience with plants has increased, I find myself seeking out books that are less plant-focused and more design-focused. I’m beginning to learn what so many have learned before me: it’s one thing to know how to grow a beautiful flower, but it’s another task entirely to cultivate a beautiful garden. Here are a few I’ve recently appreciated:

  • The Artful Garden by James van Sweden: I feel sure that I would not have appreciated this book in my early years as a gardener. Back then I simply wanted to learn about plants and how to grow them. Van Sweden’s book is a call to integrate our appreciation for one art (say, painting or sculpture or music) into our garden design. I am only a very new designer, but I appreciate this reminder to pay attention to my own creativity and find inspiration in all the arts.
  • Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf: I’m a big admirer of Oudolf’s naturalistic garden designs (like the Lurie in Chicago and the High Line in New York City) and found this book very helpful for considering how I might bring some of that naturalistic style to my own space.



Posted on

February 19, 2020

1 Comment

  1. melony

    Roots, Shoots, Buckets, & Boots by Sharon Lovejoy is a beautifully illustrated and fun book to dream about with the kids.

    My dad bought me Sunset’s Western Garden book to help me figure out how to grow things in Colorado. He said it was a best seller when he worked for a time at a local nursery in NM.

    I appreciate what you shared above about certain books being helpful in the different seasons of your gardening journey. I’ve found the western garden book to be overwhelming even tho I do think it is very educational. My guess is I need to back up and read something more basic. I will check out the Garden Primor. Thanks!


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