The best gardening books to help you grow your own

Who am I?

Since 1979 the life of soil and plants, and how they link to our own lives and health, has fascinated me. In the 1980s I was a maverick because as an organic market gardener, my work was mostly seen as irrelevant to society, producing food that was expensive and for only a few people. That changed from 1988 when the BBC filmed my garden, and green consciousness developed. Since then I have gone from being zero to hero and especially with regard to soil because since 1982 I've been gardening with the no dig method. My experience allows me to direct you towards these gems, which I'm sure you will find useful and enjoyable.

I wrote...

No Dig: Nurture Your Soil to Grow Better Veg with Less Effort

By Charles Dowding,

Book cover of No Dig: Nurture Your Soil to Grow Better Veg with Less Effort

What is my book about?

Charles has brought the value of no dig to a worldwide audience. In this book, he brings you the knowledge and techniques you need for successful vegetable growing, based on his decades of experience. 

Charles’ desire is to save you time and that you succeed all the time. He advises on how to create planting plans, succeeding with succession and reducing rotation, saving seed, propagation, multisowing, spacing for all common vegetables, methods of harvesting and how they influence growth, watering both when and how much, and using covers for warmth as well as pest protection. He also describes winter gardening, growing perennial vegetables, and new ways to increase growth quickly and cheaply. 

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Ruth Stout, Richard Clemence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can you really have a productive garden without plowing, hoeing, weeding, cultivating, and all the other bothersome rituals that most gardeners suffer through every growing season? "Sure," says Ruth Stout, a prolific author and writer at 80 years young. The reason that Ruth can throw away her spade and hoe and do her gardening from a couch is a year-round mulch covering, 6 to 8 inches thick, that covers her garden like a blanket. Thousands of curious gardeners have visited her Redding, Connecticut garden, including university scientists and horticulture experts. The experts have been dazzled by the technique used by…

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

Why did I love 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.

By M.E. Bruce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Common-Sense Compost Making as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Albert Howard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Soil and Health as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Soil and Health, a classic of organic farming, is an essential introduction to organic gardening and farming.

"The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible." - Albert Howard.

At the turn of the twentieth century, chemical fertilizers seemed to offer limitless potential in agriculture. However, when British agriculturalist Albert Howard travelled to India as Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India, he observed Vedic agriculture as practiced by India peasant farmers, and noted the health benefits to plants, animals and humans from what we now call organic agriculture. Albert Howard, Rudolph Steiner and Lady…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret Life of Plants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Explore the inner world of plants and its fascinating relation to mankind, as uncovered by the latest discoveries of science. A perennial bestseller.

In this truly revolutionary and beloved work, drawn from remarkable research, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird cast light on the rich psychic universe of plants. Now available in a new edition, The Secret Life of Plants explores plants' response to human care and nurturing, their ability to communicate with man, plants' surprising reaction to music, their lie-detection abilities, their creative powers, and much more. Tompkins and Bird's classic book affirms the depth of humanity's relationship with nature…

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

Why did I love 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!

By Sue Stickland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The latest strains of tomato may look perfect, but they often have thick skins and tasteless flesh. Dwarf peas may be the easiest to grow commercially, but many gardeners still grow attractive six-foot types that taste "like peas used to taste." Whatever the benefits of modern hybrids, old varieties still have much to offer, and they are becoming hard to find.
Seed saving is a surprisingly simple and hugely satisfying way to propogate your favorite varieties. In this book you will find easy-to-follow, crop by crop guidelines to help you save your own seed.
Relevant to the beginner as well…

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