January. It’s many gardeners’ secret favorite month. Why? Because there is NOTHING TO DO. As a landscape designer who also loves container gardening, I am busy with holiday planters right through the middle of December. So come January I go into deep freeze mode – literally.
So what DO garden designers (and gardeners) do in January? Well, speaking for myself, I typically catch up on movies, books, and friends I haven’t seen much of since March. But inevitably I can’t help but start dreaming about and planning for the coming season. And at some point I pull out my favorite gardening books, curl up on the couch and start thinking about this year’s garden.
I’d like to share the books I turn to, time and time again, to help me plan both my professional projects as well as my own gardens. I’m sitting and looking at my bookcase right now and it’s easy to tell which ones they are. They’re the ones that are bent, worn and with multiple post-it flags protruding from the tops and sides. As you can imagine, I have many books on landscaping and gardening but there are only a few that I have found really earn their keep.
The Well-Tended Perennial Garden (Tracy DiSabato-Aust) This was one of the very first books I purchased while completing my certificate program at the New York Botanical Garden. Tracy is one of the best garden writers out there and this book is invaluable for anyone who is interested in installing and maintaining a perennial bed. Her instructions are very detailed but easy to follow, and clearly come from lots of hands-on experimentation and trial and error. Her writing is warm and engaging and there are many clear and helpful photographs to illustrate her writing. If you purchase only one gardening book, make it this one.
Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (Michael Dirr) This telephone-directory sized book is the go-to encyclopedia for everything you need to know about woody plants – meaning, trees and shrubs. This is not a coffee table book. No lush, beautiful photography or waxing poetic on the latest heirloom rose. Just thoroughly detailed facts on just about every type of tree and shrub you’d want to grow.
Small Spaces, Beautiful Gardens (Keith Davitt) I love designing small gardens. It’s one thing to have acres of land to load up with masses of shrubs, grasses and perennials for that “wow” factor. It’s another to look at a 25′ x 50′ back yard and see the potential for something great. Keith divides the book into individual chapters that illustrate a different type of garden, and the techniques he used (incorporating both plantings and hardscaping) to make the most of each space.
The Natural Shade Garden (Ken Druse) Working and gardening in Westchester means one thing: “shade” (well, it also means “deer” but don’t get me started……..). Lots of old, mature trees and properties that are relatively close together mean that I’m often faced with gardens that receive minimal sunlight. But this does not mean a boring bed full of ferns. This beautiful book is a must-have if your garden is made in the shade. It’s helped to expand my vocabulary of shade plants, as well as how to combine them in an inspired way.
The Well-Designed Mixed Garden (Tracy DiSabato-Aust) - no, Tracy is not my daughter. Or my sister. I’ll admit to only a mild girl-crush. Seriously, I adore this writer and I promise you will too. If you are a do-it-yourself gardener and are new to the process, this is a great book to guide you through the planning, design and implementation stages. She has an entire section on various plant combinations, as well as examples of gardens ranging from small to large. She also includes lists of plants for “specialty gardens” - for example, gardens for cutting or attracting various wildlife.
These would make for a great “starter” collection to get you on your way. I also recommend “Fine Gardening” magazine, which keeps me up-to-date on new varieties of plants, design trends and all the latest gardening gadgets and tools.
What would you add to the list? Any favorite gardening books that you can’t live without? Share them here!