Next to actually working in their gardens, gardeners love to read and learn more about gardening. There are hundreds of new gardening books each year. Here are some of the favorites from my own bookshelves.
It's hard to believe that Mel Bartholomew wrote the original Square Foot Gardening over 25 years ago (1981). It caused quite a sensation then, although I don't think the concept was particularly new. Gardeners had been taking advantage of limited space by gardening in blocks and wide rows for centuries. However Bartholomew did bring the concept back to the forefront and made it accessible to a whole new generation of gardens. The revised edition incorporates ideas like raised bed gardening and soil mixes, to coax even more from your garden. And three are more how-to illustrations for the different techniques. Even if you don't want to lay your garden out in a grid, there is useful, practical information in this updated classic.
The American Hort. Society's A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants deserves to be in every gardener's library because it can pretty much answer any question you have on any plant you might be inclined to grow. Whether there's a question on hardiness, when to prune or propagate or how large to expect it to grow, you will find the answer here.
I could just inhale this book, it is so sumptuous. I've never quite achieved the look of the lush, mature gardens Hensel has photographed, but I sure have had fun trying. The pictures are worth more than 1,000 words and the text is just as useful. Hensel dissects 10 cottage gardens, 8 actual English gardens and 2 successful American/English Cottage garden, including Tasha Tudor's Corgi Cottage. She breaks down what elements go into cottage garden design, how to get the plants to work together and how to work with your house's architecture. There's also an extensive appendix of resources and an index of Cottage perennials. Did I mention how beautiful this book is?
Eliot Coleman can talk vegetables. This man has made such an in depth study of growing just about everything edible. He farms in Maine, and somehow put together that southern France lies along the same 44th parallel as his farm, so the day length, which regulates plant growth, must be the same in both areas. So if he could just control the temperature, he could have a four-season harvest to rival Provence. The system he has developed is amazing and it's probably more than you'll want to take on. But there's plenty that can be scaled down for the home gardener, like rolling cold frames, a temporary A-frame greenhouse and Mediterranean tunnels. If you're an avid vegetable gardener and you like to push the season, this is your bible.
This was one of the first gardening books I remember reading from cover to cover. Damrosch covers all the basics on flowers, vegetables, bulbs and houseplants and gets novice gardeners up to speed without overwhelming them with jargon and theory, yet without talking down to them. She covers everything from "What Plants Need" to which ones to beware of. The new edition is 100% organic, as she and her husband, farmer/author Eliot Coleman have long advocated, and it's full of the kind of wisdom that only comes from years of trying until you get it right. It's a great reference I return to all the time. If you miss their wonderful TV show, "Gardening Naturally", you'll especially appreciate hearing an old, familiar voice on each page.
Color has been the downfall of many an experienced gardener and it's downright intimidating for beginners. Eddison, delivers a good introduction to the art of combining colors in the garden, by comparing it to the use of colors in paintings. She's does a wonderful job of helping you to see the subtle differences in shades and tones and what surprises you’ll get with various combinations.
Written for the beginner, "Gardening for Dummies" does a great job of covering the basics: zones, choosing plants, weeding, pruning... It also lives up to its subtitle, "A reference for the rest of us." The section on pesticides is one of the easiest to grasp in print. But novice gardeners will appreciate it most for it's ability to get them up and gardening in a short amount of time.
Back when most of America was first discoving the Brandywine tomato, Woys Weaver compiled this tome of hundreds of heirloom vegetable varieties and their stories. Woys Weaver is a food historian, a Master Gardener and a manic seed saver. He gardens in the Brandywine Valley and has a Mennonite ancestry that lead him to some of his earliest heirloom interests. Plants are about the only heirlooms that get better as you use them and if you think you've exhausted the heirloom seed rack, take a look at 'Howling Mob Corn', 'Crystal Apple White Spine Cucumber' and 'Murry's Pineapple Melon'. Interspersed with the varieties and their descriptions are recipes and growing tips, all meticulously researched.
I think I'd enjoy gardening with Larry Hodgson. He clearly loves his garden, but I don't get the feeling he takes it all so seriously. Given the choice between running for spray can and finishing his beer, I think Hodgson would finish his beer. Hodgson disspells the idea that shade gardens are boring. Not only is there a whole, untried world of shade plants, but the shade is much more enjoyable to work in during August. The first part of the books talks about his approach to shade gardening: different types of shade, the futile fight against encroaching tree roots and how to add color, light and depth to shade. The second part is an encyclopedia of the best plants for various shade gardens.
Eliot Coleman was one of the first mainstream writers to talk about organic gardening. He introduced a generation of Miricle Grow gardeners to compost, crop rotation and soil blocks. This book was intended for the small-scale market gardener, but there is nothing in here that doesn't apply to us backyard gardeners. He's laid out a blueprint for getting the most from your garden while giving back to the soil. Planting schedules, rotation charts, individual crop management - it's like attending one of his college lectures.