Gardening books are my kryptonite (or are they my superpower? ) – I think both. My students often ask me which landscape design and gardening books I recommend and which are the best for beginner gardeners or for other garden-specific interests. And more than anything, they ask if there are any books I’d recommend, particularly gardening books for beginners and earnest new landscape designers to learn the fundamentals of landscape design.
Yes, I can definitely give you some gardening book-buying advice. Herein lies a template for you to begin to fill out your own, ever-so-helpful and comforting on a rainy day, garden library. Aim to fill in the blanks with something for each of the categories below, and you will have yourself a robust garden-makers library that will carry you from your beginning gardener days through to wherever your garden-making takes you.
Gardening Books for Beginners – Books every Garden maker Should Own
Why Buy Garden Books when the internet is free?
In the world of gardening, books are not just collections of pages; they are gateways to a realm of horticultural wisdom and inspiration.
As a writer and publisher, I think it is in my DNA to collect and hoard books. But not all books are equal. And, not everyone wants to fill their home with endless volumes (though, as a bookish person, I really don’t understand why not?).
If you are looking to make a garden, books are a better source of information than the internet. I make my life providing value here on the internet – and I hope you find this site tremendously useful but….I think we can all acknowledge that this place (the internet) has some issues…
Stop the information Overwhelm!
Simply, the internet can overwhelm and misinform.
While google-land undoubtedly offers a wealth of information, it’s essential to acknowledge both its value and its limitations in the realm of gardening.
Just as there is fake news, urban legends, and massive piles of time-wasting useless online information on any subject, the same exists in the gardening world.
The digital world provides immediate access to a vast array of resources, making it an invaluable tool for quick tips and inspiration. But, the boundless nature of online information (and misinformation) can leave a garden maker stunned into inaction or just plain making a mess of things by acting on bad advice.
In contrast, printed gardening books are upstanding pillars of curated knowledge. The wisdom within their pages is carefully reviewed by editors for accuracy and relevance. As an author myself, I can attest firsthand to the countless revisions that not only made sure I made sense in my books – but that I wasn’t giving utter garbage advice.
While the internet may offer a forest of data, it’s the printed page that provides a well-pruned garden of reliable, time-tested guidance for the discerning gardener. It’s like looking online for weight loss advice – we all know what a load of crap that can be. There is good advice online – but there are also fads, trends, clickbait, and stuff that counts on or even profits from our gullibility and confusion. And it is all driven by crazy metrics like engagement time and click-through rates.
You won’t find all that in books and that is why they are the more reliable garden design and gardening resource. Follow this guide for gardening books for beginners, and you will have created a trustworthy library of information.
Good Garden Advice Hardly Ever Changes
Also, since most gardening advice is timeless, if you get a good book, you may never need to buy another. They tend to stand the test of time.
Do you need a giant garden book library? No.
Here are the basic gardening books every beginner needs to get started in DIY landscape design. If you get one of each – you might have 8-10 books that will serve you well. Also – it is a great framework for making sure you don’t just buy a bunch of books you don’t need (I mean, honestly, how many plant encyclopedias do you really need?… seriously – one is enough).
Books on Garden Design
Gardening Books For Beginners – The three types of books you need on Garden Design
Starting with a solid foundation of garden design knowledge is like having a blueprint before building a house—it’s essential.
Whether you’re nurturing a small urban oasis or sculpting a sprawling landscape, understanding the principles of garden design sets you on the path to success. It’s akin to knowing the rules before you break them. With this knowledge, you can make informed choices about layout, plant selection, and hardscape elements. You’ll grasp the importance of scale, proportion, and focal points, turning your garden into a harmonious masterpiece rather than a chaotic mishmash.
It’s the difference between a garden that feels like a cohesive work of art and one that’s just a random collection of plants. So, before you dig in the soil, dig into some garden design basics—it’ll be the compass that guides your green adventure.
Get A Book About basic Garden Design principles and construction.
Don’t mistake pretty books with lots of inspiration for books that will tell you how to lay out a garden. I recommend two: The Garden Maker’s Manual (details of construction) and The Essential Garden Design Workbook: Second Edition. (Psst – – I helped write both of these). Both of these are used by top garden design schools around the world, and if you want to learn without the tuition cost, they are an excellent place to start.
Also – I’d be an utterly stupid business woman if I didn’t also take this opportunity to tell you that I teach garden design classes online – you can learn more about them here. Both of the books I mentioned above are what my courses are based on – the writers of those books were my teachers (Richard Sneesby and Rosemary Alexander), and my courses aim to pass along the wisdom that they imparted to me over 20 years ago – but with the added insight I’ve gained through my own 20+ years of professional design practice. Buy the books, but also I’d love to help you in person.
Add a Book About Using Color in Landscape Design
I love the British version of the Garden Color Book (it’s called the Conran Octopus Garden Colour Palette in the UK). Even though I can’t find half the plants in the book, I still use the innovative flip format to imagine new combinations. It is like using a paint chip palette but with plants rather than little squares of color.
Also – Don’t limit yourself to just garden color books. There are many books about color in the interior design and graphic design realms that will get you thinking about how to mix and match things to suit your taste and style.
Get a Smattering of Garden Design Inspiration Books
This is where my personal library gets out of hand. My favorites are by my favorite designers (Arabella Lenox-Boyd, Diarmuid Gavin, Peter Fudge, Lucianno Giubbilei, Sarah Price, Jinny Blom)*.
*ok — some of these people don’t even have books – yet – but I can’t wait to buy it when they do!
I love The Modern Japanese Garden (published in 2002 but perfect still for the current Japandi trend in home design over 20 years later) and A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children (this is one of my favorite books for inspiring families and parents to stop thinking you have to give your child a boring patch of grass…).
I find that books about specific regional styles or design periods are also a great resource, and you should have at least one that matches your actual home’s architecture.
Rather than trying to create a garden that looks just like your neighbors’ (Tip – they probably don’t actually know what they are doing either), visit a used book store. Here, you will typically find a plethora of garden books where you can identify what uniquely appeals to you and get some inspiration. And used books are cheap.
I already mentioned that gardens are timeless – and so are the books.
If you still need inspiration, there is always pinterest. Mind yourself not to go too crazy with pinning ideas. That is a beginner mistake – and a one-way bullet train ticket to overwhelm and design indecision. Use it to see what kinds of images appeal to you, and then buy books based on what you have discovered about yourself.
Cultivating Garden Style (My Book!)
When I wrote my own book (Cultivating Garden Style), I was aiming to create a gardening for beginners book and resource for anyone interested in learning more about landscape design – and less about creating something that showcased my style or one particular viewpoint. It is an excellent resource because not only does it have over 1000 images – but it has all sorts of projects and practical advice. Organized similarly to my own book (i.e., by style), The Gardenista book is also great.
Plant-y Gardening Books for Beginners
Get A Plant Encyclopedia (or two, maybe)
Every gardener, from novices to seasoned pros, should have a trusty plant encyclopedia in their gardening toolkit. It’s the go-to reference that transcends trends and provides comprehensive knowledge about a vast array of plants. This invaluable resource aids in making informed decisions about what to plant, how to care for different species, and what to expect as your garden matures. It’s a treasure trove of inspiration, guiding you to discover new varieties and broaden your horticultural horizons. A well-curated plant encyclopedia is like a gardener’s best friend, always ready to offer insights, answer questions, and unveil the hidden gems of the plant kingdom.
I have a well-used copy of the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (DK RHS Encyclopedias). It is indispensable. I wish I had a copy of Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs— I know I would find it similarly valuable. When shopping for encyclopedias, look for books written by horticultural societies or educational institutions. They will always be better. Also – these tend to be the biggest, heaviest books you might ever buy – and the price tag will likely reflect that. They are the most timeless of the books a gardener needs, and you will forever find them useful.
Gardening for Beginners – Books about Your Ecoregion
Practical garden books every beginner needs about where they live.
For every budding gardener, a couple of books dedicated to the specific plants and climate of their gardening region are like having a local mentor at their fingertips. These books offer insights into the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the local environment, helping gardeners choose plants that thrive, conserve resources, and support local ecosystems.
They’re the key to understanding which varieties are best suited for your area, how to care for them effectively, and even how to navigate seasonal peculiarities.
When selecting such books, look for titles authored by local experts or horticultural societies. They provide the most relevant and region-specific information, ensuring your gardening journey is as successful as it is sustainable.
Buy A Book About Gardening in Your Region
When I was growing up in Denver, CO, the Sunset Magazine regional books were my parents’ garden bibles. I think that western US gardeners, still have a well-earned place in any gardeners library. I live in New England now and need different advice from local garden writers here.
The best books I’ve found for New England are by Charlie Nardozzi (he has a couple but start with New England Month by Month Gardening ). The best way to find a good guide for your area is to visit a local garden center and ask someone with dirty fingernails.
You need a Book about the Native Plants in your Region
I realize that while I still insist that you need at least one book about gardening in your region and you also must have at least one plant encyclopedia – there is another type of plant book you really ought to have. It is a hybrid of these two types of books.
A gardening book for your region will help you to understand the seasons and the culture of growing where you live. It will also give you advice on how to care for plants that are typically favored by gardeners in your area. An encyclopedia’s main purpose is to help you move beyond the typical – to help you stretch and find something special and different. It is for research, but most of all, encyclopedias are arguably the richest source of inspiration a person can find for discovering something they didn’t even know to look for.
As we increasingly understand that our private gardens profoundly impact the health of the ecosystem beyond the fence, it is important to think of our managed areas in the context of how they impact everything around us. Native plants help us reconnect the ornamental and utilitarian garden plants with what might have otherwise grown wild. These wilder plants support habitats for wildlife and insects, and they define the vernacular of a region. Native plants are often easier to grow – typically requiring less water resources, fertilizers, and pesticides to thrive.
Find a Native Plant Guide for your Bioregion or Ecoregion
So I propose you need a book about the native plants in your bioregion or ecoregion.
(What are bioregions and ecoregions? They are land and water territory whose area and shape is defined not by political boundaries but by the geographical limits of human communities and ecological systems. Bioregions are bigger and include many ecoregions. You can find out more about your own Bio and eco-regions here. (in North America).
While a book about all your regional natives is interesting – I’d suggest that you focus your choice on a book that aims to narrow the list a bit – and present just the natives that are good for gardens. It is true that many natives are not very showy, or they struggle to meet the exacting desires of most garden designers. It is worth seeking out the best varieties for your region and keep it easy by letting a knowledgeable author do all the research for you.
If you are in New England – Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe (of The New England Wildflower Society) have a new book called Native Plants for New England Gardeners with over 100 great native plants for New Englanders. I’ve already made a short list for some my spring projects. Additionally, I highly recommend Uli Lorimer’s book The Northeast Native Plant Primer: 235 Plants for an Earth Friendly Garden.
Books about Techniques and Practical Issues – Gardening Books for Beginners
Have A Book About Growing Food.
There are some classics in the category. Square Foot Gardening has been around for ages and it continues to be relevant.
One of my favorites is How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. Explore books on perennial vegetables, permaculture, cold climate production, and other special interests.
You will want a Book about Bugs, Pests & Diseases.
There are many to choose from, but I like to keep my library simple. (I find that buying lots of books about this part of gardening has a tendency to ruin all my optimism).
Start with Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically (All you need to know about the insects in your garden). If you need more, I suggest taking a sample of the damage and the critter to a good garden center for a diagnosis.
And Lastly – Indulge your unique interests with a couple of Speciality Books
What is drawing you into gardening? Is it grasses? Grasses are one of my favorite reasons to get in the garden. (Best book: Gardening with Grasses).
Whatever your passion — there is a book for you — buy a couple, go deep, and let your imagination go wild! The best way to continue to enjoy gardening for a lifetime is to understand that you will always be a beginner – and you can endlessly find new topics and books to enjoy and learn from.
These are my recommendations, but I am curious – what is your favorite gardening book (for beginners or otherwise)?
Need more information about how to design your own garden?
Books are a tremendous resource, and they will serve you well in your quest for a better garden and the skills to create it. But sometimes, it just isn’t enough. If you are looking for additional help, I offer courses that can vastly deepen your knowledge.
The Garden Design Lab is my signature course – the biggest course I offer, it is made for anyone whose garden needs a full renovation or if you are starting from scratch. It is also great for anyone who is looking to deepen their design skills as they pursue expanding business services or professional offerings in garden design.
I also offer the Planting Design Boot Camp – it is a subset of the Garden Design Lab. It does not include any of the master planning, materials, and space planning instructions, but it does cover all the planting design instructions you could need.
Both of these courses come with an option to join monthly live sessions with me where you can ask questions and an option to book a one-on-one session with me to work on your plans and answer individual questions. I love working one-on-one with students and helping you build something amazing.
Additionally, you can dig into detailed garden design topics through the PITH + VIGOR Skill sessions. I highly recommend the annual pass – it is a substantial savings since you get access to the entire archive of past presentations.
And lastly- if you are looking for an easy way to get started with both gardening and design – consider my container garden course. It is a design-forward mini-course that will help you create gorgeous container garden collections in just about any space.
Learning How to Design a Garden
All of these courses and books will train you to start seeing your landscape in new ways as you begin to understand and consider various factors such as space availability, climate, and personal preferences. The process always begins with assessing the available space and determining the garden’s purpose, local climate, site opportunities, and genius loci. You will learn to sketch layouts, select plants, and choose options that are compatible with the soil, light, seasonal, and cultural conditions of your garden. The Garden Design Lab will also show you how to choose and place art and other decorative elements, such as trellises or water features, and how to enhance the overall aesthetic appeal. I look forward to meeting you inside.