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!



  1. jodi on January 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I’m looking at my frozen garden right now! Debating whether to add more creeping phlox in some places.

    • sheri silver on January 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

      I have a love/hate relationship with creeping phlox. It’s SO short-lived in terms of bloom, yet it blooms nice and early when there’s little color in the garden. You also can’t beat it for low-maintenance and the deer seem uninterested (always a plus!) 🙂

  2. Shira on January 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I don’t think I realized that you went to NYBG, I did too! When did you finish?

    Of course tracy’s books and the Dirr are my constant companions too – and Dirr’s new book is amazing (think manual of WLP but with color photos). For veg growing, The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch is still my #1 resource after all these years.

    • sheri silver on January 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Yes! I finished in 2003 – was there for 2 years, and received my certificate in Garden Design. How about you? Thanks for sharing your books – I knew about the Dirr book but not The Garden Primer! Will have to check that out.

  3. Shira on January 22, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I finished in 2008 – also in GD… seems like a lifetime ago! I was halfway through a second cert. in Arboriculture, then gave up after slew of mediocre professors and other random life stuff. Maybe someday I’ll finish!

    • sheri silver on January 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      That’s too funny – small world! I felt badly at the time, that I didn’t go for multibple certifciates – so many people in my program were doing that. But, like you, “life” made that impossible to consider!

  4. Hotly Spiced on January 23, 2012 at 6:39 am

    That’s a lot of reading material. Of course, things are very different here in the Southern Hemisphere where we are having our hottest months of the year (except for this year where sumer has evaded us completely). We should be busy in our gardens but the cool weather has stunted the usual rapid growth.

    • sheri silver on January 23, 2012 at 7:39 am

      Yes, I clearly am a garden writer with a “northern” point of view…….Between my baking and gardening the potential for overflowing bookshelves is great! I tried to narrow down to the fewest books that would cover the broadest range. Note that I didn’t mention any on container or vegetable gardening – it was so hard to stop! 🙂

  5. GreetingsfromTexas! on January 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I know nothing about gardening but I can contribute to the movies and books you are catching up on.

    Books – Mindy Kaling’s ‘Are other people hanging out without me’ is laugh out loud funny. And I’m just starting ‘The Vintage Affair’ by Isabel Wolff today.

    Movies -I loved ‘Midnight in Paris’, Shirley McLaine’s Coco Chanel movie, and all of the movies I blogged about here.http://megansilianoff.blogspot.com/2011/12/movies-by-megan.html

    Excited to have found your blog! I promise all my comments won’t be so intense & lenghty! =)

    • sheri silver on January 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      I LOVE Mindy Kaling and just ordered the book – thank you!. Let me know about the other you just started. Funny – all the movies you mentioned are in my Netfilx queue right now – can’t wait to see them, esp the one with Kristin Scott Thomas – I adore her (did you ever see “Tell No One”? One of my favorite movies ever. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0362225/). So happy to have found you too! And I love long intense comments so keep ’em coming! Oh and, you like Milk Duds? Try these – http://www.sherisilver.com/?p=2845). Thanks for writing! 🙂

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