10 best gardening reads

Reading about other people’s gardens and gardening experiences is almost as much of a pleasure as playing in my own. Maybe even more so in the cold and wet of this time of year. Here are my top 10 gardening books. They’ve kept my brain in the garden all year, even when my feet haven’t been:

  • The Morville HoursMorville Hours, by Katherine Swift This intelligent, elegiac book is less the story of a garden and more a personal taste of a pastoral idyll and the strong feeling of connection that gardening brings to the deep past.  It is also a moving deconstruction of the authors relationship with her aged parents, again connected by a lifetime of gardens and gardening.  I reread this for the third time just a few days ago and it lifted my spirits to the level necessary to get back outside into the rain.
  • The LaskettThe Laskett, by Roy Strong Another book that moved me to tears. (Do non-gardeners realise there are gardening tear-jerkers?) This is the story of the garden that the author built with his late wife. It is beyond the scale of anything I can image ever owning, but that is part of its charm. I felt able to visualize every detail of the garden – and most importantly understand the thinking behind it.  If only I could visit it!
  • The brother gardenersThe Brother Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf  Subtitled “Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession” – this is wonderfully written and really entertaining history of the early plant collectors and the species they introduced.  It is by far the most enjoyably written of the books I have read on this topic – the author is really engaging and it roars along at a cracking pace.
  • What Plant WhereWhat Plant Where, by Roy Lancaster Simply indispensable!  I don’t dip into it quite as much as I did when I was first building the garden – most of my spaces now have plants in already! But whenever I need to find out the perfect plant for a tricky place, this book is the first place I turn.  One book I will never, ever part with.
  • Propagating PlantsRHS Propagating Plants, by Alan Toogood  Follow the step by step propagation tips in this book and you can make anything grow.  Seeds, cuttings, root cuttings, even grafting (though I haven’t tried that yet).  If you know the plant type then this books provides all the details of how and when to propagate, with various methods to try according to the season and stock.   This is the book that started my love of propagation and I still use it often.
  • Succession plantingSuccession Planting For Adventurous Gardeners, by Christopher Lloyd  Give me a feast of the photos in this book over any cake any day.  It’s probably a dim thing to admit, but at least half the time I pick this book up, I barely read a word – the pictures are enough for me.  But that would be to do Christopher Lloyd a disservice.  The concepts and advice in this book really can be applied to achieve a continuity of colour and interest in the “normal-sized” garden.  I’ve tried some of the ideas in the sunnier parts of the garden and have been really pleased with the results. I look forward to experimenting more.
  • The impossible gardenThe Impossible Garden, by Rosa Steppanova  This book was a gift from Shetland and I later visited Rosa’s garden, The Lea at Tresta, Shetland  I found this story of building a garden particularly interesting and inspiring, because Rosa also gardens on an exposed coastal slope and the winds in Shetland are even fiercer than they are here on the mainland of the Highlands.
  • Botany for gardenersBotany For Gardeners, by Brian Capon  This is a reasonably accessible book about the science of plants and how they work.  I found that once I understood the mechanics of what plants need (why, for example, seedlings get leggy in poor light) it suddenly became a lot easier to more accurately care for them.  A really useful book that covers a lot of valuable information, from plant and soil care to propagation. It also helps take the “accident” out of successes and failures.
  • garden structuresRHS Garden Structures, Richard Wiles I can hardly believe I’m recommending a DIY book – it must be all that digging I’ve been doing.  But this one is a cracker.  Need to cut steps in to a hill? Want to build a pergola? This book shows you how in really clear steps and diagrams.  My copy is starting to curl slightly from being rained on, which must be a compliment to the author.
  • garden in winterThe Garden In Winter, Rosemary Verey The winters are long and dark here.  From the very beginning it was critically important to me that the garden I created here had shape, texture and colour in winter.  This book was not just an inspiration (the photos are serious eye candy) but also a very practical guide to planning and planting a winter garden.  In fact, I’m going to start to read it all over again right now.

These are my top ten garden books – I’d love to hear about some of your favourites!


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