December 30, 2007

My Gardening Book Library

A view of my downstairs collection of gardening books
I know, I even arranged them by color. Believe me, I am not one who would ever be described as organized. This was just a silly artsy task inspired by some photos on Flickr, and besides, I never really ever know how to best organize my gardening books anyway; should it be by genus? Monographs? Literature? or by culture? Alpine Plants, greenhouse plants, but then should Campanulas be places in the rock garden section or the perennial section? Color - works best given my memory.

OK. people are already writing in with their selection of their five most favorite gardening books to spend quality time with. This was tough, even for me. I know what my favorite books are, but I am a little embarrassed to say that some of them are not as 'fancy' as one may expect. I can say that I prefer informed gardeners, those who are not beginners, but mostly experts at something. I appreciate talent and expertise, and rarely feel that someone is ever too rightout or self centered if what they write is about what they are passionate about and thusly, has become their expertise. I only selected those books that I like to pull out of the library on snowy days, at night, or re-read often, even if by 'reading', I mean looking at the pictures. There are plenty of alternate favorites that could easily be placed on this list, but these would be those species specific books - Bowles book on Narcissus or Clivias by Harold Koopowitz. This will always remain on a 'list' of some sort, but a list which changes weekly, based on what-ever genus I am obsessed with at the moment.

So here is a stab at my favs.

1. Adventures of a Gardener by Peter Smithers

I discovered this book at a used book store in Providence, Rhode Island, and found it very influential. I know I have read many reviews on Sir Peter Smithers book, most talked about it's biographical nature, but I don't have a problem with that at all, since Sir Smithers had a fascinating life. This is a book I dream with, and it's about a privileged life that we could all dream about. From his Early experiences with Nerines as a child in pre-war England, to his later years- after Parliament, at his architect designed home at retirement in Lugano, Italy in the Alps. This is a book full of gorgeous plant portraits of Sir Peter's favorite plants, and it was just one of those books that made me write down lists of must-get plants to grow both outside and in the greenhouse.

2.Dan Hinkley's The Explorers Garden
This must have book for any serious gardener really may be more frustrating now that Heronswood Nursery has been acquired by Burpee and has sadly become Wal Mart-ized. Since many of Dan's suggestions for recommended plants could only obtained from his collections from expeditions to Nepal, China, Tibet, etc. through his masterpiece 1 inch thick catalog. I've saved all of my Heronswood catalogs (still missing 1999), and these two are worth reading in bed or by the fire, but regardless, THE EXPLORERS GARDEN is what one would expect from such an intelligent and knowledgeable man as Mr. Hinkley is. I hope he considers writing another book, but until then, this is another of those works that will have you making lists and searching the seed lists. One of the best features of this work is the cultural information, and I refer to it constantly for hints on such things as 'how to propagate Cardamine' ( in March, divide the tiny rhizomes or scales). Where else and who else would provide this information?

3. GARDENING by Martha Stewart

(OK, go on.,.,.say it). I love this book. Perhaps more nostalgic than anything else, this 1991 masterpiece was one of the first books that combined good design and gardening together. I remember fifteen years ago being so inspired that finally, someone had the vision and knowledge to write a book that I wished I had written then. Say what you will about Martha, I can just tell that she truly knows what she is doing when it comes to many things, especially with those things that she is passionate about. I never could understand why people always say that Martha Stewart is all about being perfect...or homemaking.....I think she is all about excellence, and doing things the right way. SO when she planted German Bearded Iris, she planted ALL of the cultivars that she could find. Old World Roses.....she planted as many as she could afford.
This is still an influential book for me, and to this blog. As a professional designer myself, I appreciate her sense of style as well as her respect for cultural excellence. In 1991, this book changed gardening for much of America. Of course, when I finally write my book on Gardening, this book will become sadly, obsolete!


This is my favorite of all of the Ken Druse gardening books, and although I have them all, this is the one that drive me to make lists. ( I must love making lists!). Ken is a terrific talented photographer, and a humorous as well as honest writer. His books are all fun to read and to flip through for inspiration, or to loose oneself in. Although, many of these books feel a little dated, I still can become excited when seeing new combinations of plants. Much of what was rare in 1990, is now common, and as plant breeders continue to introduce new crosses and discoveries, the excitement of the moment, that is expressed in many of these books may be lost on some who could never appreciate how rare and expensive a Cornus alternifolia variegata was in the 1990s. Others, especially those who might be new to gardening, may find some of these books overwhelming, or inspiring, yet for many of us, once you become inspired, then collect let's say Hellebores, and then buy every book on Hellebores that you can find, and then move on to another genus....may find a chapter introducing the rare Hellebores being bred in the 1990s as tired, and has-been. Others, who are just becoming Helleborized may find this the perfect next step.

5.A YEAR AT NORTH HILL by Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck
I love this book, more than any other book by these guys, who are practically my neighbors in Vermont. I think I can safely say that this is the book that I have read and re-read more than any other book. It must be because I can relate to so much in this work, the photos of a New England garden in different seasons, early morning sin in the March woodland, or a first snow, fluffy on Winter Berries. I have never visited their garden nor met these guys, but I have been so influenced by them. From collecting Auriculas to building my greenhouse, to the raised alpine bed along the greenhouse foundation. There is so much inspiration here that I still even right now, have this book at my bedside, and look forward to nesting in during a nor-Easter (like tonight) to lose myself in their Vermont garden. Since one of my goals is to move and live in either Vermont or the Berkshire mountains just west of me in Massachusetts, this book truly is my muse.

Other books that we're runner ups include Vojtech Holubec;s new work THE CAUCASUS AND IT"S FLOWERS, BURIED TREASURES by bulb guru Janus Ruksans. THE GARDEN PLANTS OF CHINA by Peter Valder,Roy Lancasters classic A PLANTSMAN IN NEPAL.....I will stop here!!

1 comment :

  1. That's a pretty good list; Smithers' book led me to get going on planting magnolias if i ever wanted to see them blooming; they are sort of a lifetime project. I sure miss the old Heronswood catalogue; finding some little ginger growing in a forest of rhododendrons and snow white birches in some high pass in China. I'm hopreful the North Hill guys will someday write THE gardening masterpiece that they are obviously capable of (I also get out North Hill every winter). I hadn't heard about the new Caucasus book; I'll have to look for it. The two places I want to visit are the Caucasus Range and the Julian Alps.


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