The best gardening books

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

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The Gardener's Year

By Karel Capek, Josef Capek,

Book cover of The Gardener's Year

The Czech playwright and polymath (who invented the word “robot”) proves that the lot of the gardener has not improved since this gem was published in 1929. Čapek sets the tone for this charming, often comic view of gardening from the opening sentence: “There are several different ways in which to lay out a garden; the best way is to get a gardener.” He wonders whether “three-year-old cow dung” means dung aged for three years, or from a three-year-old cow; finds reason to question the memories of old-timers; and is convinced that if a gardener entered the Garden of Eden, “he would sniff excitedly and say: ‘Good Lord, what humus!’ ”


Who am I?

William Alexander’s best-selling gardening memoir, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden has been praised for its fresh, humorous, and honest take on home gardening. The books he’s selected similarly break the mould for garden books, featuring rabid rose gardeners, an obsessive breeder, and a Czech playwright.


I wrote...

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden

By William Alexander,

Book cover of The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden

What is my book about?

Bill Alexander had no idea that his simple dream of having a vegetable garden and small orchard in his backyard would lead him into life-and-death battles with groundhogs, webworms, weeds, and weather; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; and skirmishes with neighbors who feed the vermin (i.e., deer). Not to mention the vacations that had to be planned around the harvest, the near electrocution of the tree man, the limitations of his own middle-aged body, and the pity of his wife and kids. When Alexander runs (just for fun!) a cost-benefit analysis, adding up everything from the live animal trap to the Velcro tomato wraps and then amortizing it over the life of his garden, it comes as quite a shock to learn that it cost him a staggering $64 to grow each one of his beloved Brandywine tomatoes. But as any gardener will tell you, you can't put a price on the unparalleled pleasures of providing fresh food for your family.

The Garden of Invention

By Jane S. Smith,

Book cover of The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

Gardening, whether in a backyard or a hundred-acre orchard, is an audacious attempt to improve on nature, and Smith’s fascinating hybrid of biography, history, and botany brings to life the most audacious of them all. The only biography on my list, I’ve included it because, in an age where we might be forgiven for thinking it takes millions of corporate dollars and genetic engineers to produce a new plant, The Garden of Invention reminds us how one man’s singular determination, patience, and brilliance can change the world. And produce the perfect potato for McDonald’s French fries.


Who am I?

William Alexander’s best-selling gardening memoir, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden has been praised for its fresh, humorous, and honest take on home gardening. The books he’s selected similarly break the mould for garden books, featuring rabid rose gardeners, an obsessive breeder, and a Czech playwright.


I wrote...

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden

By William Alexander,

Book cover of The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for a Perfect Garden

What is my book about?

Bill Alexander had no idea that his simple dream of having a vegetable garden and small orchard in his backyard would lead him into life-and-death battles with groundhogs, webworms, weeds, and weather; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; and skirmishes with neighbors who feed the vermin (i.e., deer). Not to mention the vacations that had to be planned around the harvest, the near electrocution of the tree man, the limitations of his own middle-aged body, and the pity of his wife and kids. When Alexander runs (just for fun!) a cost-benefit analysis, adding up everything from the live animal trap to the Velcro tomato wraps and then amortizing it over the life of his garden, it comes as quite a shock to learn that it cost him a staggering $64 to grow each one of his beloved Brandywine tomatoes. But as any gardener will tell you, you can't put a price on the unparalleled pleasures of providing fresh food for your family.

Second Nature

By Michael Pollan,

Book cover of Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

A self-critical and often hysterically funny account of what happens when you plant a garden to be “one with nature” and nature has other ideas. Still my favorite Pollan book (his first!), which is saying a lot. Favorite bit: his journey from “living in harmony” with a resident groundhog to an albeit ill-considered act of firebombing.


Who am I?

I’m a writer, artist, and historian, and I’ve spent much of my career trying to blow up the powerful American definition of environment as a non-human world “out there”, and to ask how it’s allowed environmentalists, Exxon, and the EPA alike to refuse to take responsibility for how we inhabit environments. Along the way, I’ve written Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America and "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA"; co-founded the LA Urban Rangers public art collective; and co-created the “Our Malibu Beaches” phone app. I currently live in St. Louis, where I’m a Research Fellow at the Sam Fox School at Washington University-St. Louis. 


I wrote...

Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto

By Jenny Price,

Book cover of Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto

What is my book about?

We’ve been ​“saving the planet” for decades…and environmental crises just get worse. All this Tesla driving & LEED building & carbon trading seems to accomplish little to nothing—all while low-income communities continue to suffer the most devastating consequences. So why aren’t we cleaning up the toxic messes & rolling back climate change? Also, why do so many Americans hate environmentalists?

Jenny Price says, enough already! — with this short, fun, fierce manifesto for an approach that is hugely more effective, tons fairer, and a great deal less righteous. She challenges you, Exxon, & the EPA alike to think and act completely anew—and to do it now.

The Findhorn Garden

By The Findhorn Community,

Book cover of The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation

Any reading on nature spirits has to include a book or two from the Findhorn community or Dorothy Maclean - one of its founders and plant spirit communicator. I recommend this one as it contains not only insights from many plant devas and landscape devas, but a broad overview of the formation of the Findhorn Community itself - which occurred in direct communication and cocreation with the plant devas themselves. A fascinating and eye-opening read. 


Who am I?

Following a herbal and homeopathic pathway for 20 years has taken me on many insightful and inspiring tangents. One of those being the passion to commune with nature spirits and learn directly from herbs.  This practice has led me on many a fine adventure (one of which Wild Flower Walker contains) and continues to be a rich source of teachings and growth. I have been teaching these practices for the last 11 years and offer courses in Shamanic Herbalism; Herbal Alchemy; & Plant Spirit Communication. These books have been treasures and catalysts for me and I hope they will open your heart further to the rich world of nature spirits.


I wrote...

Wild Flower Walker: A Pilgrimage to Nature on the Bibbulmun Track

By Heidi Wedd,

Book cover of Wild Flower Walker: A Pilgrimage to Nature on the Bibbulmun Track

What is my book about?

It sounded like heaven! A 967km walking track traversing nature reserves in Western Australia. To wander alone through a beauty-filled, wildflower-abundant, and varied landscape of forest, plains, and ocean. Imagine the bliss of walking for weeks on end, deepening into the silence, communing with the nature spirits - a pilgrimage into the heart of nature.  

But dreams are never quite like reality.  Yet even with endurance challenges, freezing conditions, food shortages, plenty of snakes, and a few pairs of walking boots, the indescribable beauty and magic of the heart’s path shines through. Sprinkled with communications with the nature spirits, this is the story of a gentle reweaving and reconnection of a woman within the tapestry of Nature itself.

A Little History of British Gardening

By Jenny Uglow,

Book cover of A Little History of British Gardening

To understand the British love of gardening, I put Jenny Uglow’s chatty book top of the list. Reading her prose is like listening to a favorite teacher, one who tells a good story while slipping in the pertinent facts.  "If I were a crow, flying across Britain in the 10th century,” she writes, “I would see forest and fields, iron forges and salt pans, small towns and settlements - occasionally I could circle over a deep park, or swoop down and feed on an orchard of ripe fruit, or pull worms from the newly turned earth in a small allotment."  She takes us from Roman villas and monastery herbers to palace gardens, Sissinghurst’s herbaceous borders, and the futuristic Eden Project.  She loves her subject, and so will you.


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.

A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

By James Fenton,

Book cover of A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

If you love flowers and love to garden, do not miss this book by British poet James Fenton.  Grab your seed catalogs and make a list of the hundred flowers you would grow, then compare your choices to James Fenton’s. I found it the perfect book to read during those gray days of winter, his bright prose radiating like an injection of sunshine. Fenton romps through the world of flower color: the orange of nasturtiums and Mexican sunflower, the lemon yellow evening primroses, and California bluebells “the colour of blue poster paint.” He captures his century of blooms with a poet’s pen. I didn’t want it to end.


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.

The Carrot Seed

By Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Carrot Seed

This book has been continuously in print since 1945. That date is not a typo! The fact is that this book speaks across genders, races, and generations with the message of belief in oneself—even when everyone else tells you that you’re wrong. Children accustomed to the brightly colored illustrations in contemporary books may take a while to warm up to this gem, but this classic exploration of patience and the power of positive thinking deserves a shout-out. The garden theme works well for spring reading.


Who am I?

A former microbiologist and attorney turned children’s book author, I’m delighted to advocate for children’s self-confidence and critical thinking skills in literature. I like to write about things that I know, to share my passion, and about things I don’t know—to learn more. Stories have been an escape and a learning tool for me and I want to share stories that do the same for children today.


I wrote...

Lola Shapes the Sky

By Wendy Greenley, Paolo Domeniconi (illustrator),

Book cover of Lola Shapes the Sky

What is my book about?

Lola Shapes the Sky tells the story of a playful cloud named Lola. She isn’t like the other clouds in the sky. She would rather make shapes than weather. Rain? Nope. Shade? Nope. Snow? Nope. The other clouds bully and then abandon Lola. But the people on the ground remind Lola that there’s value in what feels right to her. Standing up for herself, Lola shows that clouds that make beautiful shapes and clouds that make weather can co-exist.

The Curious Garden

By Peter Brown,

Book cover of The Curious Garden

Out for a walk one day in his dreary urban neighbourhood, Liam stumbles upon a patch of dying plants growing around an abandoned railway track. Although he knows nothing about growing things, he can see the plants need a gardener, so he decides to help them. 

The story of what happens to the garden is charming, but what makes this book a favourite of mine is Liam—a little master of equanimity and confidence. Instead of feeling insecure about his lack of gardening experience and knowledge, he sees a need and gets to work. Rather than fretting about his failed attempts, he keeps trying and finds better ways. Liam embodies the power of starting small and caring for one thing at a time.


Who am I?

Although I am no gardening expert, I’ve always been intrigued by seeds. It amazes me that such tiny things hold so much: colour, scent, flavour, food, and the community that grows in the tending and sharing of it. Every winter since I published What Grew in Larry’s Garden, the real Larry sends me an envelope filled with tomato seeds and reminds me to give some to my neighbours. It makes me smile to think that my story has become its own kind of seed, growing friendship, and connecting people. I hope the book does that for you too.  


I wrote...

What Grew in Larry's Garden

By Laura Alary, Kass Reich (illustrator),

Book cover of What Grew in Larry's Garden

What is my book about?

Grace thinks Larry's garden is one of the wonders of the world. In his tiny backyard next door to hers, Larry grows the most extraordinary vegetables. Grace loves helping him—watering and weeding, planting and pruning, hoeing, and harvesting. And whenever there's a problem—like bugs burrowing into the carrots or slugs chewing the lettuce—Grace and Larry solve it together. 

Larry has big plans for his garden, and hints to Grace that they are growing more than just vegetables. When she figures out what that means, she is more determined than ever to find a solution when the garden faces its biggest problem yet.

Lola Plants a Garden

By Anna McQuinn, Rosalind Beardshaw (illustrator),

Book cover of Lola Plants a Garden

This is the third book about Lola, who loves to read. When her mother reads her a book of gardening poems, Lola decides to plant a garden. Note that Lola is quite young, and this book is for 2- to 5-year-olds. Lola begins her project by getting books at the library and deciding which flowers to plant. Then her mother helps her buy seeds and plant them. Lola makes a flower book while she’s waiting for the seeds to grow. When they do, she has a party to share her sunflowers and a story with friends. A sweet book that celebrates both reading and gardening. 


Who am I?

I love nature and feature it in many of my books, including a poetry collection about the ocean and a board book series about famous naturalists. As a gardener, I have trouble with outside plants thanks to the deer that live in the canyon out back. However, I have 50 houseplants and an herb garden in pots on the balcony. Our house is surrounded by trees, and one of my favorite places in the world is Sequoia National Park, with its green meadows and giant sequoia trees. We spent several summers there when I was a child.


I wrote...

Little Naturalists: The Adventures of John Muir

By Kate Coombs, Seth Lucas (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Naturalists: The Adventures of John Muir

What is my book about?

Even toddlers can learn about great naturalists like John Muir! The first of some dozen books in the BabyLit series about naturalists, this board book celebrates the life and contributions of the Father of the National Parks. In spare lines of rhymed poetry, we follow John Muir as he explores the mountains and forests that will become Yosemite National Park and other natural treasures.

In the Garden

By Emma Giuliani,

Book cover of In the Garden

The lift-the-flap format is often aimed at the board book crowd, but not in this beautiful book. Information under its flaps acts more like visual sidebars, uncovering secrets such as what’s inside a garden shed or what the inside of an onion looks like. The book shows us the passage of seasons and the activities of a gardening sister and her little brother at different times of the year, such as planting, composting, and raking. Children and adults will both like this one.


Who am I?

I love nature and feature it in many of my books, including a poetry collection about the ocean and a board book series about famous naturalists. As a gardener, I have trouble with outside plants thanks to the deer that live in the canyon out back. However, I have 50 houseplants and an herb garden in pots on the balcony. Our house is surrounded by trees, and one of my favorite places in the world is Sequoia National Park, with its green meadows and giant sequoia trees. We spent several summers there when I was a child.


I wrote...

Little Naturalists: The Adventures of John Muir

By Kate Coombs, Seth Lucas (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Naturalists: The Adventures of John Muir

What is my book about?

Even toddlers can learn about great naturalists like John Muir! The first of some dozen books in the BabyLit series about naturalists, this board book celebrates the life and contributions of the Father of the National Parks. In spare lines of rhymed poetry, we follow John Muir as he explores the mountains and forests that will become Yosemite National Park and other natural treasures.

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