Do you have a gardener for whom you purchase gifts?
Last spring, I asked the Leon County Master Gardener Volunteers what gardening books they actually own and have on their shelves at home.
Many gardeners rely on the internet for gardening advice these days, such as the excellent UF/IFAS Lawn and Garden site. As a result, I thought any books Master Gardener Volunteers would choose to keep would have to be special, either because they were a great reference or just a joy to read.
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The books that were shared with me fell into three categories: fiction, non-fiction, and technical.
I enjoyed compiling this list and based on others’ recommendations, have added a few new ones to my home library. It is by no means comprehensive, instead it is a snapshot of what a group of Tallahassee Master Gardener Volunteers own and enjoy.
Some of these books are new releases in 2021 and some are more than 30 years old. Be sure to check out both the new and used bookstores in Tallahassee for these treasures.
Hopefully, you will find a book amongst this collection that will pique your or your gardening friends’ interest this winter.
7 favorite fiction titles
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: Every gardening book list should start with this book as it is a classic in English children’s literature. The three main characters are children, and through the care and revitalization of a neglected and secret garden, the children heal themselves and their family.
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly: Focuses on several women who love the same garden at a large manor house in England. It jumps between three time periods, including 1907 when the garden was being designed, 1944 when the manor house was being used as a convalescent hospital during World War II, and in the present day while it is being restored to its 1907 design. Not only did I enjoy this book for its story and discussion on garden designs, but I also learned about how the British government requisitioned large homes to use during the war and the jobs the British women worked to support the war effort.
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman: Story about a young widow with two young children who works as an illustrator. As part of a new assignment, to illustrate plants for a seed catalog, she must take a gardening class and brings along her daughters and sister. The lessons she learns along the way are laugh out loud funny, poignant, and sweet. Warning, some language is rated PG-13.
The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman: Explores the unlikely relationship between two very different women brought together by the pain of war (WWII and Iraq War), but bonded by hope, purpose… and flowers.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: The main character ages from an orphan child to a young adult cycling through the state’s foster care system. The different flowers help her express emotions using the Victorian language of flowers. The book includes a fair amount of information on flower biology.
The Trellis and the Seed by Jan Karon: This is a short book, only 26 pages, although there are no page numbers. It is the story of a seed that grows and the woman who nurtures it. It is a book of encouragement for all ages.
Garden Poems edited by John Hollander, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, 1996: In an anthology that covers centuries, from Han-Shan in the fifth century to E.E. Cummings in the 20th century, these poems are classic beauties about gardens and life.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: The author is both a scientific professor and Native American, and that is important information to know in describing this book. This book describes Native American wisdom regarding respecting plants, land use management, and the science behind that wisdom. I enjoyed learning about both the Native American plant wisdom as well as her culture.
Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon: This is a perfect intro to plant biology for the non-science inclined. This book covers the different structures of plants, why they need what they need, how they take up nutrients, and all the different types of reproduction. Believe it or not, it is a page-turner and makes plant science very accessible. Also, it has great illustrations and pictures.
We Are Each Other’s Harvest by Natalie Baszile: This collaborative, community-driven compilation shares stories of Black land ownership and knowledge handed down for generations. The contributors include Michael Twitty, Joy Harjo, Elizabeth Alexander, Margaret Wilkeron Sexton, and Ross Gay.
Lessons from Plants by Beronda L. Montgomery: The author is an African American Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. Just published in 2021, by the Harvard University Press, this book explores how plants adapt to their environment and cooperate with each other to survive. There are many lessons in this book where mankind can learn from plants.
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard: If you’ve read any books during the past decade on forestry and the links between mycorrhizas and trees this author has probably been quoted. Professor Simard was one of the original and leading researchers on how trees communicate through fungal threads. While containing detailed descriptions of her research and findings, it is amazingly readable and comprehensible to non-scientists. The book takes the reader through her life as she explores trees and their connections to each other.
The Grumpy Gardener: An A-to-Z Guide from Galaxy’s Most Irritable Green Thumb by Steve Bender: The collected wit and wisdom from the Southern Living magazine’s Senior Garden Editor. This book provides lots of tips for maintaining plants with humor and sarcasm.
Nature’s Best Hope by Doug Tallamy: All of Doug Tallamy’s books were recommended to be on this list by several gardeners, but this one book in particular was cited as a must-read by anyone interested in conservation.
Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer: Jenkins Farmer spoke to us at a State Master Gardener Conference a few years ago. He is a farmer in South Carolina on land long owned by his family. In his book, he mixes historic knowledge about growing and the land, stories of people he has met through the years and how they have impacted him and their communities, and practical information about plants and growing. It’s the kind of book you want to read slowly and savor.
Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels: This book teaches you how to learn the history of the land by looking at natural features. While not in our region, it still is a fascinating read.
Let’s get technical
The New Plant Parent by Darryl Cheng: This is a good reference book for people who like house plants and would like to do a better job of taking care of them. There are chapters on soil, light, watering, pruning, and propagation. Plus, there is a description of 19 common house plants with photos and how to care for them.
How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method by J. I. Rodale, Rodale Press, Emmas, Pa.: This book includes a lot of information and tips on how to grow most every vegetable organically.
Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening by Lacy Bullard & Art Cheek, Seritype, INC, Tallahassee: (Revised edition, 2009): The authors are from Tallahassee, including Lacy Bullard, the former Garden Writer for the Tallahassee Democrat. It has an easy-to-read style and an excellent resource for those new to Tallahassee or new to gardening.
Trees of North America by the National Audubon Society: This is a beautiful and extensive reference book for those who like to identify trees. Each type of tree has its own page with photos of the leaves, fruit, branches, and trunk. It also has maps indicating where its territory is in the United States (assuming it is native and not imported, if nonnative, it tells you that too).
The New Southern Living Garden Book, The Ultimate Guide to Gardening: This is a fairly comprehensive book on gardening, with 1,700 colorful photos. It includes a monthly checklist and answers questions on everyday gardening problems and offers garden design solutions.
Weeds of Southern Turf Grass edited by Tim Murphy, published by UF/IFAS Extension: This is a great book because everyone needs a good weed ID handbook and knowledge of how to combat them.
The Home Gardener’s Journal by National Home Gardening Club: This is more of a gardening tool than a reference book. It teaches you how to make notes on a weekly basis on what is growing in your garden. This information helps to plan when to plant, where to plant if something is not working, when to fertilize, and when to apply pre-emergent herbicide.
Amazing Annuals by Marjorie Mason Hogue: This book describes the characteristics of 300 annuals and provides information on how to grow them.
Florida Fruit and Vegetable Growing by Robert Bowden: This book is a guide to the fruits and vegetables commonly grown in Florida. The first few chapters cover general information on getting started with several types of planting sites, ground, containers, etc. The central portion of the book covers planting and care of specific plants, listed in alphabetical order. One gardener told me they had met Robert Bowden when he spoke at a conference near Orlando, and they toured Leu Gardens. She asked how he kept the weeds out of the growing patch. He told her to put one layer of newspaper down around the new plants. If planting bulbs, lay the paper, wet it, and make a hole in it to plant the bulb (like onions). Then add mulch after the plants are all in. She has done that ever since, and it works.
Latin for Gardeners (Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored) by Lorraine Harrison, The University of Chicago Press, 2012: This is much more than a dictionary describing the meaning of botanical names. Sections on color, fragrance, and origin round out the contents of this beautiful reference book.
Planting in a Post-Wild World, Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, Timber Press, 2015: This book serves as inspiration and how-to for gardeners wanting to turn their landscapes into a balance of local ecology that relates to people and the context of the location.
Native Florida Plants, Low-Maintenance Landscaping and Gardening by Robert G. Haehle and Joan Brookwell, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004: The opening chapters tell us about gardening in Florida, but the best part of this book is the photographs and detail on over 300 native plants to consider for your landscape.
Brenda Buchan is a Master Gardener Volunteer with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.
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