Until the weather breaks, try these uplifting gardening books
Staring out the windows at my office, freezing rain has turned to snow.
But spending the day winnowing 60 garden books down to seven favorites has me thinking of warm summer days, fragrant lilies and standing in the vegetable garden barefoot, enjoying the first tomato of the season.
It's one reason garden books are so important: They take us to another place, provide respite from gray days and inspire us to take chances in our own gardens. So many of the books that come across my desk rehash what's been written hundreds of times before.
These seven have something special and a permanent place in my garden library.
“The Art of Gardening” ($34.95, Timber Press): This book tells the story of Chanticleer, a 35-acre “pleasure garden,” which happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. The garden is in Wayne, Delaware County, near Philadelphia. Executive director and head gardener R. William “Bill” Thomas is the main author, but a host of Chanticleer's gardeners share their expertise along with some secrets, too.
What could have been a 300-page advertisement for the garden is, instead, a loving memoir packed with extraordinary ideas and simply a pure celebration of gardening.
Rob Cardillo's photography is stunning. It's hard to believe most of the images were created in only a year; the depth of work should have taken decades. Cardillo somehow discovers just the right light and moment for each scene. His work elevates the book from magnificent to masterpiece. Don't ask to borrow it.
“Plants With Style” ($24.95, Timber Press): Standing in a garden near Pasadena, Calif., Kelly Norris identified several plants and even went into detail of how to incorporate them into a landscape. It's always wonderful to tour a garden with a plant expert who's witty and well informed. That's exactly the feeling you'll have when reading Norris' book. It's like taking a stroll with the author, learning something new and wonderful with each step.
Norris is horticulture manager at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and also an iris expert. What's equally impressive as the text is Norris' photography, which is eye candy. What makes the book so engaging is the author's sense of humor as he explains what he loves and despises, too. It's done in such a way that you'll smile all the way through while learning precious information about varieties that, without Norris, would remain a mystery.
“The Seed Garden” ($29.95, Chelsea Green): This book by Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro is an indispensable resource for any gardener who longs to save his own seeds. In a world where a packet of tomato seeds can cost $7, discovering ways to save and store varieties is not only fun, it's a way to preserve a rich history of plants and save a few bucks, too.
This is much more than a textbook though; it's written brilliantly. “The Seed Garden” has a laidback tone, easy-to-access information and is beautifully illustrated with spectacular photography.
The book's second half details how to save seeds from just about anything growing in a vegetable garden.
“Growing Beautiful Food” ($32.50, Rodale): Author Matthew Benson also took the splendid photos in this book, which is all about growing your food organically. Ironically, that means twisted carrots and cracked tomatoes, which are beautiful, too.
Benson is quite a wonderful storyteller and captivates readers as he takes us on his gardening journey of discovery. He shows us gardening without chemicals is not only possible, but practical, too. Benson even includes a fascinating chapter on raising bees and the benefits of doing so. It's an easy read and filled with great ways to create a great natural garden.
“Seeing Seeds” ($29.95, Timber Press): The combination of words by Teri Duncan Chace and amazing photos from Robert L lewellyn make this book not only a visual feast but an in-depth look at the secret life of seeds.
Llewellyn uses a technique called image stacking for the photos with dramatic results. Basically, every part of the subject being photographed is in focus. It's accomplished by shooting subjects on a light table from slightly different angles and stitching the images together using a computer program.
I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the image of deep-red maple seeds on the front of this book will sell lots of copies.
Chace's inspiration came from snacking on grapes in a friend's garden, spitting the seeds to the ground and, in an epiphany, pondering questions about how they survived, thrived and a host of other wonders about them. The author's journey is the reader's reward as she explores every fascinating detail about the unknown life of seeds.
“Heirloom Harvest” ($85, Bloomsbury): This might be a little pricey for your garden library, but it's one of the most unusual and intriguing garden books I've ever come across. Photographer Jerry Spagnoli spent 15 years visiting author Amy Goldman's 210-acre farm in Rhinebeck, N.Y., using the historical daguerreotype process to create unique and wonderful images, each one a work of art.
The cost is reflected in the quality of the reproduction as the thick, glossy pages do these works justice. This is one book to leave on the coffee table for friends to gush over.
Goldman is a prolific author devoted to heirloom plant preservation. In her essay, Goldman relates her love of this land for more than a quarter of a century.
“I have romantic leanings and tend to follow my heart,” she writes. “That's as true now as it was the first time I saw the Abraham Traver house 27 years ago. In hindsight, I know that my heart steered me straight and toward a future I could never have imagined.”
The collaboration is a celebration of a place that obviously holds a special place in the author and photographer's heart. After spending an hour with this book, you might have the same feeling.