The best garden books

26 authors have picked their favorite books about gardens and why they recommend each book.

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The Garden of Evening Mists

By Tan Twan Eng,

Book cover of The Garden of Evening Mists

Maybe more hopeful about the redemptive power of re-engagement, this beautiful book employs eloquent language to evoke a passion and a way of interacting involving almost no words whatsoever. In Malaysia in 1949, a prosecutor of Japanese war criminals arrives at the gates of the Emperor’s former chief gardener, seeking reparation (and maybe revenge) for the death of her sister in a prisoner-of-war camp. The story itself is sweeping in scope, but the narration stays quiet, and the real core of the book is the spell cast by the building and walking of Japanese gardens on the understandably embittered protagonist and her enigmatic target/mentor. In immersing us in the lore of and techniques for the gentle framing of space, Eng provides his characters (and us) with new contexts for making sense of and coming to a sort of peace with human behavior, monstrous and otherwise.


Who am I?

All my life, I’ve been fascinated by interest-driven people and the subcultures they discover or form around themselves. Though my writing ranges from mainstream literary work to music criticism to speculative fiction in many different flavors, I’m best known for what one longtime reader referred to as my “oddly personable brand of horror.” Call them people-and-their-ghosts stories. I’ve written six novels and four collections, which have earned me the Shirley Jackson and International Horror Guild Awards, among other honors. I’ve also taught writing at the graduate, university, and secondary level for more than 25 years.


I wrote...

Infinity Dreams

By Glen Hirshberg,

Book cover of Infinity Dreams

What is my book about?

In my most recent book, a novel-in-stories called Infinity Dreams, two insatiably curious, instinctively solitary people, Nadine and Normal (aka the Collector), sustain a decades-long romance neither of them expected largely through a shared love of prowling the more arcane corners of the collecting universe. Far from antique shops or garage sales or flea markets, they help (or sometimes thwart) people who collect everything from maps of places that may not exist to lost tastes. They also keep bumping up against an elusive and increasingly dangerous sense of something fraying at the edges of what we insist on calling reality. And they keep rediscovering each other.

Here are five more books I love about obsessive people pursuing their interests and incidentally discovering possible bridges back toward others.

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Garden

Fictional narratives have just as much power to connect kids with nature as nonfiction. This book was given to me by my grandmother when I was eleven and my dog-eared copy has travelled around the world with me. I credit my first crush on the character Dickon with my sense of wonder for natural systems. It prompted a lifelong love of nature. The Secret Garden may contain old-fashioned language and a story of British imperialism, but for me, this is an oldie, but a goodie. When they turn the last page, buy your kids a trowel and a packet of seeds!


Who am I?

When I was on holiday in Borneo with my daughter, we met an inspirational conservationist who was basically single-handedly saving sun bears from extinction. I asked what I could do to help. “Do what you do best,” he said. Those five powerful words shaped my last decade, most recently prompting the growing series of Wildlife Wong nonfiction children’s books based on his true adventures with rainforest creatures. I feel strongly about the importance of connecting kids to nature. Not only is it good for their physical and mental health, but my generation hasn’t done a particularly good job of environmental stewardship, and we need all the help we can get. 


I wrote...

Wildlife Wong and the Bearded Pig

By Sarah R. Pye,

Book cover of Wildlife Wong and the Bearded Pig

What is my book about?

When he was a boy, Malaysian ecologist Wildlife Wong dreamed of working with animals, and eventually his dream came true. In this exciting story, Wildlife Wong spends three years living in the middle of the jungle trying to trap bearded pigs. Along the way, he meets some crazy characters like Michael, his mate Mary, and their three piglets Pork, Chop, and Bacon!

This unusual book for kids aged 8-12 includes an engaging nonfiction story about a real-life scientist, cool animal facts, and experiments that encourage your youngsters to connect with the world around them.

Derek Jarman's Garden

By Derek Jarman, Howard Sooley (photographer),

Book cover of Derek Jarman's Garden

Derek Jarmon was a British avant-garde filmmaker, theater designer, and life-long gardener. In the last decade of his life, he built a new garden at a tiny house by the sea in Kent. Prospect Cottage sits on the shingle expanse overlooking the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and the English Channel. It was an accidental garden, this arrangement of rocks and driftwood, flowers, and found objects. The book sings. Jarmon’s musings and poems wind through a small volume of 140 pages; there are 150 photographs. It is a book about why we garden, how to live, and how to die.


Who am I?

My husband sums up my biography as “I am, therefore I dig.” I live, garden, read and write in Chatham, New Jersey, and have had a long, open love affair with the gardening style “across the pond.” At the New York Botanical Garden I teach English garden history, and I’m a regular contributor to the British gardening journal, Hortus. In my writing, I follow the relationship between the pen and the trowel, that is authors and their gardens. I’ve written books about children’s authors Beatrix Potter and Frances Hodgson Burnett, and, as you might imagine, the research trips to the UK were a special bonus.


I wrote...

Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett

By Marta McDowell,

Book cover of Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett

What is my book about?

New York Times bestselling author Marta McDowell has revealed the way that plants have stirred some of our most cherished authors, including Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. In her latest, she shares a moving account of how gardening deeply inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of the beloved children's classic The Secret Garden.

In Unearthing The Secret Garden, best-selling author Marta McDowell delves into the professional and gardening life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Complementing her fascinating account with charming period photographs and illustrations, McDowell paints an unforgettable portrait of a great artist and reminds us why The Secret Garden continues to touch readers after more than a century. This deeply moving and gift-worthy book is a must-read for fans of The Secret Garden and anyone who loves the story behind the story.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

By Kate Messner, Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator),

Book cover of Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Year round, I find “wow” moments in gardens with every new blossom, bug and delicious bite discovered. This book takes a child and her grandmother through four seasons filled with such moments, both in the garden above and dirt below. The language is fun with wasps on the prowl and frantic ants storing food for the winter. When carrots sprout, the illustrator shows them both above and below ground. And the night shift is not forgotten, with a skunk ,and bats, and moths for a spider.   


Who am I?

As a writer of dozens of books for children, I always learn much more that can go into each effort. A “wow” moment gets me started. It could be a giant cactus that grows so slowly, frogs that don’t ribbet, maybe a moment with a sea turtle, or thoughts on geology and natural wonders. Each book comes into a hazy focus after tons of research but much gets left out. What goes in? The best “wow” details get woven into an incredible story full of surprise, joy, and admiration for this world of constant change and those struggling to survive.


I wrote...

Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

By Brenda Z. Guiberson, William Low (illustrator),

Book cover of Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

What is my book about?

Wow! Niagara Falls is a misty, glistening, roaring wonder of the world! But it hasn’t always existed. And eventually the powerful eroding flow of water will be no more. Illustrations show many views and moods as the waterfall shares intriguing stories of ancient history and geology, mastodon hunters and explorers, fractured rocks and artifacts, water power and electricity, daredevil challenges and carnivals, a survival route for migrating birds, and a part in the underground railroad. This is the waterfall that drenches visitors with the “mysteries of change across time.”  

Biscuit in the Garden

By Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Pat Schories (illustrator),

Book cover of Biscuit in the Garden

Biscuit is a curious little dog who loves the garden. He scampers about enjoying the butterflies and worms and especially the birds. But when Biscuit accidentally knocks over a bag of birdseed, his accident has a happy ending, for the seeds attract even more birds to the garden. Biscuit in the Garden offers simple words and a simple but engaging plot for young readers who are just beginning to read.


Who am I?

I belong to a family of dog lovers – Oscar, the black cocker spaniel; Buddy, the brown-and-white beagle; Riley, the buff cocker spaniel; Buffy, a black boxer mix, Milo and Max, Golden retrievers. In fact, cavorting with Riley at a San Francisco park was my inspiration for Bark Park. I also love children, especially my grandchildren Connor and Kasey. When Kasey, at five years of age, read my book Bark Park aloud for the first time, my heart swelled with joy! It took me back to my own young daughter Laura whose first all-by-herself read-aloud had been: Go, dog, go!  So it’s only natural for me to combine my two great loves – dogs and children – with these book recommendations.


I wrote...

Bark Park!

By Trudy Krisher, Brooke Boynton-Hughes (illustrator),

Book cover of Bark Park!

What is my book about?

Welcome to Bark Park! Come along and play with all of the dogs at Bark Park in this exuberant rhyming picture book that’s a treat for animal lovers of any age. There are dogs running and dogs sunning, dogs riding and dogs sliding, dogs with a buddy and dogs getting muddy—all before returning home to a bubble bath, a cozy dog bed, and sweet dreams of—what else?—being back at the park. The jaunty rhyming award-winning text is perfect for beginning readers.

Bark Park! is a “canine tour de force” guaranteed to captivate early readers who love their dogs!

Tom's Midnight Garden

By Philippa Pearce, Jaime Zollars (illustrator),

Book cover of Tom's Midnight Garden

A gentler book, exquisite in its handling of the relationship between quarantined Tom and Victorian girl Hatty, whom he meets in the garden of his aunt and uncle’s house when the clock strikes thirteen. This book came second in the all-time Carnegie vote in 2007 – which shows how this tale of friendship with its perfect ending has truly stood the test of time.


Who am I?

For me, portals have always been the ultimate analogy for the imagination, particularly the untrammeled imagination of youth. We can go anywhere in our minds and portals are a way we make it happen more ‘literally’ in books (in themselves a kind of portal, too). I’ve been hooked on portals ever since reading CS Lewis as a boy. As a grown-up, I discovered a fantastic garden of hedged rooms in Herefordshire and imagined each room holding a portal to a sacred place across the planet. Imagine if you only had to step outside your door to go somewhere amazing – but then found a killer was using the portals too…


I wrote...

The City of Light: The Secret of the Tirthas

By Steve Griffin,

Book cover of The City of Light: The Secret of the Tirthas

What is my book about?

Lizzie Jones expects nothing but boredom when she moves with her mum to the cottage she’s inherited, deep in the English countryside. But then, with the help of her little dog, she discovers a magical portal to Kashi, the Indian City of Light, hidden in the cottage's garden. But Lizzie’s disbelief and wonder at the portal soon vanish as she begins to suspect a mysterious intruder might be the notorious killer, Pisaca of Kashi, using the portal to evade capture.

Lizzie must act – but what can she do?

My Hair Is a Garden

By Cozbi A. Cabrera,

Book cover of My Hair Is a Garden

Every child should grow up with a neighbor like Miss Tillie to run to for support. She’s just the right mix of confidante and responsible adult. Starting with the art on the endpapers—nine gorgeous children, each with a different hairstyle, alternating with images of different plants—and ending with vibrant colors in the garden when the little girl sees the beauty in both short and long hair, this book reminds us to take a look inside & be happy with what we’ve got—and to take care of it along the way.


Who am I?

I love increasing the diversity seen on our family’s bookshelves but also on the TBR (to-be-read) piles of relatives, babysitters, educators—everyone who might come across my little list of five books. I’m a very visual person, which is why picture books have always been my thing, even back in college when my roommate and I used to spend our study breaks in the children’s area of the public library reading stacks and stacks of picture books. It’s only natural, then, that my list should mix books written and illustrated by people of color* with my love for picture books. *with the exception of Mary Jo Udry and Eleanor Mill


I wrote...

All Kinds of Kindness

By Judy Carey Nevin, Susie Hammer (illustrator),

Book cover of All Kinds of Kindness

What is my book about?

There is so much kindness in the world! My book celebrates the special ways that kind acts can be big and noticeable or small and secret—it doesn’t matter, they’re all kind! From optimistic ideas of hope to small acts of goodwill, each page shows the heart of the story: kindness makes our world a better place. Readers are reminded of the many ways they can show kindness--from hugging someone afraid of a bug to making a card for a sick friend.

And Then It's Spring

By Julie Fogliano, Erin E. Stead (illustrator),

Book cover of And Then It's Spring

Told in one long sentence, this is the story of a child and their dog who plant seeds after winter and wait and wait and wait for the brown ground to–finally–become green. The ongoing sentence resonates with waiting for hopeful signs that spring is on the way. 


Who am I?

I write children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, including One Duck Stuck, Big Momma Makes the World, Rattletrap Car, Plant a Pocket of Prairie, and, in collaboration with Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Liza Ketchum, Begin With A Bee, a picture book about the federally endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. Recently I have been putting my garden to bed for the winter, pulling tomato vines, harvesting beans that have dried on the vine, cutting herbs, and planting cloves of garlic to grow into heads in next year’s garden. In a couple of months snow will bury the garden beds, and the only gardens will be in the pages of books. Here are five of the children’s books that I love about growing things.


I wrote...

Anywhere Farm

By Phyllis Root, G. Brian Karas (illustrator),

Book cover of Anywhere Farm

What is my book about?

You might think a farm means fields, tractors, and a barnyard full of animals. But you can plant a farm anywhere you like! A box or a bucket, a boot or a pan — almost anything can be turned into a home for green, growing things. Windows, balconies, and front steps all make wonderful spots to start. Who knows what plants you may choose to grow and who will come to see your new garden?

Phyllis Root delivers a modern rhyming mantra for anyone hoping to put their green thumbs to good use, while G. Brian Karas’s cheerful urban illustrations sprout from every page. After all, anywhere can be a farm — all it takes is one small seed and someone to plant it.

The Last Garden in England

By Julia Kelly,

Book cover of The Last Garden in England

A delightful blending of strong female characters, lyrism of nature and gardens, historical background of the second world war, and five parallel perspectives over the fate and purpose of a beautiful place, going around a century of transitions. I enjoyed the author’s way of symbolically mirroring the lives of the characters into the garden that connects them unexpectedly and mysteriously, over time. This book is a gentle reminder of how our own destiny may be influenced by total strangers, who are neither aware, nor intentional, about the lasting effects of their actions.


Who am I?

I grew up overcoming odds and choosing the road less traveled by, which I walked many times, on my own, and sometimes, accompanied by a few others. Having developed a successful career, working with people, as a coach, trainer, entrepreneur, I am fascinated by the multifaceted power relationships exert on us, ranging from keeping us locked into toxicity and hopelessness, up to healing and transforming us into bright, joyful people. I believe our relationships define us, when optimally fueled by the quintessential element of time. I’m writing about this wonderful effect of relationships, both through non-fiction and fiction books. I also like reading about it.


I wrote...

Forward

By Iulia Dobre-Trifan,

Book cover of Forward

What is my book about?

Lia, a tenacious woman who has been working successfully on her own for many years, starts a new project, one that is very dear to her: A teahouse where tired people would be able to rest and to find their balance. Having faced several challenges that had tested her will and her confidence in her own path, Lia now wants to help other people who are in need of support. She surrounds herself with talented people, together with whom she turns her dreams into reality, and, day after day, the teahouse becomes a sanctuary for innocence. 

But not everything is as it seems… some visitors hide dark intentions. Attracted by the brightness and the beauty of the teahouse and giving in to their predatory nature, they attack in subtle and ferocious ways. How will Lia manage to defend the harmony of the present from these disturbing forces?

Lob

By Linda Newbery,

Book cover of Lob

Lob is a gentle, magical, and affirming chapter book. The story centres around Lucy, her relationship with her Grandad, and their belief in the mythical garden helper Lob. In Lucy's devotion to her grandad, and her love of nature, we come to see how grief can be slowly approached and lived with. The illustrations are beautifully observed by Smy, who is a master of showing emotion through posture and environment. I love this story for the way that it weaves grief, love, and magic together in an accessible and respectful way for children and grown-up readers.

Who am I?

I am an author and illustrator of children's picturebooks, having completed my MA at the Cambridge School of Art. I am endlessly fascinated with the picture book as a rich medium for children to safely and slowly approach topics that might be challenging for them. Picture books can be such a versatile, interesting place for curiosity and confidence to thrive, while also creating a lovely time for closeness between parent/carer and child. As we grapple with the long-term effects of the pandemic, I feel that children will need stories more than ever, to help them make sense of their experiences.


I wrote...

Big Dance

By Aoife Greenham,

Book cover of Big Dance

What is my book about?

As Pippa watches her friends express themselves through their special dance moves, she wonders if she will ever find the dance in herself. With gentle encouragement from the others, Pippa discovers that it's all about taking the first step. A story about the freedom to be yourself and the fun of joining in.

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