The best gardening books to help you grow your own

The Books I Picked & Why

The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year Round Mulch Method

By Ruth Stout, Richard Clemence

Book cover of The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year Round Mulch Method

Why this book?

Ruth’s wisdom came from a long experience of gardening in Connecticut, where her husband was farming cattle, and he gave any spoiled hay to the vegetable garden. Ruth worked out that mulching with old hay was both feeding her soil (and therefore plants) while also maintaining its structure, with no need for tilling/digging. Ruth was an inspiration to me but I quickly realised that in our damp UK climate, slugs love a hay mulch! This led me to use a compost mulch and work out the best ways to do that.


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Common-Sense Compost Making: By The Quick Return Method

By M.E. Bruce

Book cover of Common-Sense Compost Making: By The Quick Return Method

Why this book?

I love how Maye thought deeply about nature and this had originally led her to the pioneers of biodynamic gardening in 1920s Austria. Then she became disillusioned with what she felt was too strict of adherence to every word of Rudolf Steiner’s writing. Like me, she wanted to try new approaches. After moving back to the UK in the 1930s, she developed her own methods of organic gardening which centred on making top quality compost, using herbal stimulants which she worked out herself.
She was a true scientist and helped me to understand not to trust “accepted views” which can become authoritarian. Plus I learnt about making great compost, in particular the roof she used to keep rain off her heaps.


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The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture

By Albert Howard

Book cover of The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture

Why this book?

Howard helped me to understand and appreciate the life in soil. How soil is more than an assemblage of chemical nutrients for plants, which was a predominant view when I started farming. 

He wrote: "The agriculturalist must obey Nature's rules,” which was radical in the 1940s! He started as an agricultural chemist but came to distrust synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. He valued and explains the importance of compost and mycorrhizal fungi, and coined a phrase that has become a mantra: ”Feed the soil not the plant”. I value his sincerity which shines throughout his books – they read as well now as when published, because these truths are universal.


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The Secret Life of Plants: A Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man

By Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird

Book cover of The Secret Life of Plants: A Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man

Why this book?

Plants feel things. Cleve Backster, an American detective who used lie detectors when interviewing suspects, discovered that plants made his detector needle swing wildly in response to thoughts he was having. Especially bad ones like that he might put boiling water on their leaves. He ran many experiments and found that plants also have memory, and react if people are lying about something in their presence!

Plants grow better for us when we treat them with love and respect. In return, they grow a warm and healthy look to their leaves which looks pleasing. We then appreciate each other in a loop of positive feedback. This book opened my eyes to what is possible when working with clients, and the fun we can have in helping them to express themselves.


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Back Garden Seed Saving: Keeping Our Vegetable Heritage Alive

By Sue Stickland

Book cover of Back Garden Seed Saving: Keeping Our Vegetable Heritage Alive

Why this book?

I worked with Sue in the 1980s and came to appreciate her dedication to organic gardening and understanding plants. We then lost touch and it was a great pleasure to come across this book 15 years ago. Although it's over 30 years old, nature does not change and she gives beautiful clear descriptions of how to go about saving seeds from all different types of vegetables. It's neither straightforward nor is it difficult, and you are in good hands with Sue who will help you to succeed in this vital task, more valuable now than ever before. We all need the seeds of health!


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