The best books about flowers

Teri Dunn Chace Author Of Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers
By Teri Dunn Chace

Who am I?

Hiking in the flower-covered hillsides of Central California as a nature-loving kid, I couldn’t help but wonder about my companions. One of my first purchases (with babysitting money!) was a wildflower guide. I’ve moved around the country many times and every time I’ve had to start over, make new plant acquaintances and discoveries—always an orienting process. Of course, I’ve also studied plants formally, in college and in my career, and (honestly, best of all) via mentors and independent study. All this has shown me that flowers are more than just beautiful! They’re amazingly diverse, and full of fascinating behaviors and quirks. In fact, they are essential parts of the complex habitats we share.

I wrote...

Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

By Teri Dunn Chace, Robert Llewellyn (photographer),

Book cover of Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

What is my book about?

Seeing Flowers is a visual feast that gloriously highlights 343 popular gardens and wildflowers. My collaborator Robert Llewellyn’s photographs are undeniably magnificent, but my job was the words. So I strove to really “see” each flower. His daring and unique images gave me the will to try!

My broad approach to “seeing” is what makes this book unique. Yes, I included the botany (distinguishing characteristics), biology (a flower’s relationships with other creatures, insects and more), and useful gardening info—and I made sure to use clear language that anyone could follow and enjoy. 

But the reader will also encounter fascinating tidbits, tales, and lore. Every living thing including flowers has context, history and stories, which I believe are rightfully part of the wide net of exploration and learning.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-Hunting Writings of Frank Kingdon Ward

Why did I love this book?

Once upon a time, “plant explorers,” intrepid botanists (mainly from the UK) fanned out over the lesser-known world looking for interesting plants to bring into wider appreciation and cultivation. Frank Kingdon Ward (1885-1958) is best known for introducing the breathtakingly beautiful Tibetan blue poppy. There’s an internet meme featuring his grizzled face with the caption “Make sure you want it enough,” a clear reference to what he went through to bring his prizes back. (Imagine: you spot the fabulous blue poppy in some remote place, but, you have to find a way to return in a few months to get seeds.) This book, edited by Thomas Christopher and with a preface by Jamaica Kincaid (both super-credentialed horticulturists and authors), features highly readable, awe-inspiring selections from the great man’s journals.

By Frank Kingdon Ward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Land of the Blue Poppies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Modern Library Paperback Original

During the first years of the twentieth century, the British plant collector and explorer Frank Kingdon Ward went on twenty-four impossibly daring expeditions throughout Tibet, China, and Southeast Asia, in search of rare and elusive species of plants. He was responsible for the discovery of numerous varieties previously unknown in Europe and America, including the legendary Tibetan blue poppy, and the introduction of their seeds into the world’s gardens. Kingdon Ward’s accounts capture all the romance of his wildly adventurous expeditions, whether he was swinging across a bottomless gorge on a cable of twisted bamboo…

Book cover of Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds, and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving

Why did I love this book?

This author’s thesis sounds radical, but it shouldn’t be. She argues persuasively for us to leave bugs in our yards and gardens be, or even to encourage them. Why? Because for every pest, there is a natural enemy. Tolerate a couple of tomato hornworms and they’ll become beautiful sphinx moths, zipping around your flowerbeds, pollinating “more than 200 plants in less than 7 minutes!” Leave nibbling aphids in your garden, and hungry ladybugs will show up and dispatch them. Stop damaging the food web by using pesticides and herbicides/weedkillers. Learn how closely plants and animals are related; indeed, they co-evolved. Such an interesting and important book!

By Frederique Lavoipierre,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Garden Allies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An engaging, illustrated introduction to the beneficial insects, birds, and other animals that help a garden thrive. The birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects that inhabit our yards and gardens are overwhelmingly on our side - they are not our enemies, but instead our allies. They pollinate our flowers and vegetable crops, and they keep pests in check. In Garden Allies, Frederique Lavoipierre shares fascinating portraits of these creatures, describing their life cycles and showing how they keep the garden's ecology in balance. Also included is helpful information on how to nurture and welcome these valuable creatures into your garden. With…

Book cover of How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do

Why did I love this book?

Most books about plant biology—trust me, I know, I have many!—are thick and complicated, decidedly not easy reading. This book, on the other hand, is a slim and accessible paperback. The author, a horticulture professor, has a wonderful and welcome knack for explaining things like how far roots spread, plant-cell biology, powerful and eccentric plant hormones, why and how sunflowers follow the sun, even when to prune your trees and shrubs. She’s smart, up-to-date, and entertaining.

By Linda Chalker-Scott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Plants Work as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do slugs prefer your lettuces to eating weeds which are just as tasty? Why do container plants wilt even though they have plenty of water? Linda Chalker-Scott tackles these and other questions gardeners ask and explains the plant physiology that is behind these everyday gardening challenges.

A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers

By Donald, Lillian Stokes Stokes,

Book cover of A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers

Why did I love this book?

I get emotional every time I consult this book, which in my heart is a classic, never equaled in the world of flower guides before or since its publication back in 1985. Short chapters profile dozens of familiar meadow, forest, and roadside plants, from beloved wildflowers to those we consider weeds. In a confiding, chatty tone, we are introduced to each plant’s history and folklore, uses, habitat, and wild and garden relatives. Then, best of all, with “what you can observe,” the authors take a deeper dive. I learned how daisy-family flowers prevent inbreeding, how milkweed blooms kidnap their pollinators, and how emerging skunk cabbage plants generate enough heat to melt snow in their vicinity.

By Donald, Lillian Stokes Stokes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Describes the history, plant lore, uses, anatomy, and stages of growth of fifty common wild flowers from asters and bluets to violets and yarrow

The Immense Journey

By Loren Eiseley,

Book cover of The Immense Journey

Why did I love this book?

This book is a revelation! The author (1907-1977) was a scientist (a naturalist, anthropologist, and paleontologist), and, boy, could he write. The title refers to the arc of time on this planet. There are chapters that describe and ponder fossils, evolution, so-called missing links, “the great deeps,” and so forth in the most captivating, poetic language. But the chapter to read is “How Flowers Changed the World.” I consider it the most important and insightful essay ever written on the dramatic arrival of angiosperms (flowering plants)—because he takes into account all context, and because he marvels. As we should.

By Loren Eiseley,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Immense Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anthropologist and naturalist Loren Eiseley blends scientific knowledge and imaginative vision in this story of man.

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