Books I Love

These books are infused with the love of gardening. Some are highly informative, some are lyrical, some are both. All provide rich sustenance for the gardener’s soul. I hope you come to treasure them (or at least some of them) as much as I do.

Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden
By turns hilarious and engrossing, this autobiographical account by an Australian-born English writer (who was whisked off to Pomerania by her insufferable aristocratic German husband) is one of the classics of garden writing.
Karel Čapek, The Gardener’s Year
Another little classic originally published in Czech by the essayist, fiction writer, and playwright who contributed the word “robot” to the English language. Humane, funny, and utterly endearing.
Geoffrey Charlesworth, The Opinionated Gardener; A Gardener Obsessed
Delightful, erudite, occasionally caustic essays by a great rock gardener.
Beth Chatto, Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden (aka Drought Resistant Planting); The Green Tapestry; The Dry Garden; The Damp Garden
Beth Chatto was practicing habitat gardening, with exquisite artistry, long before most of us had ever heard of the concept. All her books make worthwhile reading. Plus, she looks like my mom.
Robert Dash, Notes from Madoo
Equally noted as a painter and a gardener, Dash has written some of the most poetic and original garden essays of the last half-century.
Geoffrey Dutton, Some Branch Against the Sky
Dutton is a poet living in the Scottish highlands. This season-by-season survey of his very wild garden is rich with beautifully precise prose about plants, the weather, and the land.
Elizabeth Lawrence, A Southern Garden; The Little Bulbs
Even if you don’t garden in the South, Lawrence is worth reading for her graceful, learned, but never pedantic prose. And if you don’t read The Little Bulbs, you’ll never find out about Mr. Krippendorf.
Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden (revised edition)
He really was a legend. And under that carefully cultivated curmudgeonly exterior he was a big old softie. We can’t all garden as though we own Great Dixter, but we can certainly learn a thing or two from this great, omnivorous, opinionated gardener.
Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman; One Man’s Garden; Henry Mitchell on Gardening
Dear Henry Mitchell. He was just about the sweetest man who ever lived. His writing (which does honor to the English language) is as much about philosophy and life as it is about gardening. And he makes me laugh until the tears come. Absolutely essential.
Mirabel Osler, A Gentle Plea for Chaos
How refreshing to encounter a beautifully written book that gives you permission not to be perfect. Also, one of the best book titles ever.
Eleanor Perényi, Green Thoughts
Tart as a well-made vinaigrette, the essays in this book taught me that garden writing could be witty and entertaining as well as informative. Perényi is as punchy a prose stylist as Pauline Kael.
Lester Rowntree, Hardy Californians; Flowering Shrubs of California and their Value to the Gardeners
Rowntree’s finely wrought prose, with its vivid descriptions of plants and landscapes, will make you want to head immediately for the Sierras. (Legend has it that when she was on her botanizing trips and far from civilization, she would strip down and wander naked among the wildflowers.)
Graham Stuart Thomas, The Art of Planting; Colour in the Winter Garden; Cuttings from My Garden Notebooks; The Garden through the Year; The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book; Graham Stuart Thomas’s Three Gardens of Pleasant Flowers; Ornamental Shrubs, Climbers, and Bamboos; Perennial Garden Plants; Plants for Ground-Cover; The Rock Garden and Its Plants; Thoughts from a Garden Seat; Treasured Perennials
Yes, I know that’s a lot of titles (there are even more I haven’t listed), but Thomas has so much to teach, and he does it both gently and thoroughly. Perennial Garden Plants is the book that made me want to become a gardener — it opened my eyes to the vast possibilities and pleasures that gardening offers.
Katharine White, Onward and Upward in the Garden
This compilation of garden writing for The New Yorker (of which she was fiction editor for many years) doesn’t have much cutting-edge gardening information, but it brims with intelligence, humor, and keen observation. And if E. B. White’s introduction doesn’t make you choke up, you have no soul.
Louise Beebe Wilder, Color in My Garden; Adventures with Hardy Bulbs
Why bother with Vita Sackville-West when you can immerse yourself in Louise Beebe Wilder? For my money, Color in My Garden is the best book by the best U.S. garden writer of the first half of the 20th century. She was way ahead of her time.