My 10 most useful and inspiring gardening books

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: May 22nd, 2016 In: Shop

Are gardening books dead? Can’t we get all the info we need free off the internet?

The best gardening books are the ones you go back to again and again. You don’t need to recharge their batteries.

Their glorious photography isn’t shrunk down to the size of your mobile phone.

And you can put them back on the shelf, leave them for a couple of years and simply pull them out again. You won’t get an ‘error 404’ message because the link has gone somewhere else. You will simply have a beautiful, inspiring informative book in your hands.

My 10 best gardening books

So I’ve rounded up the books I’ve read again and again over the past 10 years. They’re still in print – which means lots of people agree with me.

We’ve also had a bit of a tweak here at Middlesized Garden. We’ve added a shop to make it easier to buy some of the things you read about in our posts (note: there are affiliate links which means we may receive a fee – possibly even the price of a cup of tea – if you buy something). So here are the books (click on either the title or image for prices or to buy):

Gardening books

Planting: A New Perspective

Piet Oudolf was one of the chief pioneers of naturalistic 'prairie style' planting, but I also learned a great deal about the general principles of planting from this book. So you don't have to be a fan of grasses to find this both inspiring and informative. Co-author Noel Kingsbury is a highly knowledgeable writer, too. And there are glorious pictures, planting plans and lots of reasons to re-read chapters over the years.

Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners

You should read any book you can find by the late, great Christopher Lloyd (some are out of print, but you can usually find used copies). Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners was one of the first gardening books I ever bought and I still re-read it 10 years later. The principle of making one big bed look glorious for as long as possible is of particular use to 'middle-sized gardens', as that's often what we have.

Gardening in Pyjamas: Horticultural enlightenment for obsessive dawn raiders

This is another of my first ever gardening books. And it's still in print over 10 years after I first bought it, which means that lots of other people love it too. It's a great, practical gardening guide by the immensely readable Helen Yemm. Gardening in your pyjamas is what marks the amateur gardener out from the professional - you're clearly at home, waking up on an early summer morning - and out you go to tackle everything from planting to pests.This book will help you.

Lunar and Biodynamic Gardening

Lunar and biodynamic gardening is probably something you've heard of. You may even think it means planting by the light of the moon (it doesn't.) Matt Jackson's book is very useful - even if you only want to pick up a few bio-dynamic or organic tips when growing your vegetables. It's a good practical gardening book with lots of excellent advice. Matt is also an enthusiastic 'no-dig' gardener and all his gardening trials are on small, domestic plots.

The New English Garden

This is a giant amongst coffee table books. With fabulous photography and high quality production values, this well-written and thoughtful book will immerse you in the 'new' wave of English country gardening. Many of the gardens are rarely open to the public, but they are major gardens absolutely at the top of their game. Your garden? No. Gardens to inspire? Yes. I read this once late at night, hoping that the beautiful images would soothe me into slumber. But it was so glorious, it had quite the opposite effect.

The Bold and Brilliant Garden

A wonderful guide to planting and using colour in your garden. Sarah Raven's style is clear and very readable and the pictures are inspirational. There are planting plans and plant names, too. Another one I've kept for years!

New Wild Garden

The author, Ian Hodgson, is a really good writer, and he knows his stuff. This has lovely photographs, plus lots of ideas and practical information for including wild gardening and wildlife in every garden from balconies upwards. It's new out in May 2016 (pub Frances Lincoln £25), but I reckon it's a keeper.

Beth Chatto's Shade Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest (Pimpernel Garden Classics)

First published as Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden, this is a must-have book for anyone who wants to make the most of the shady spots in their garden. A recommendation from garden consultant Posy Gentles, who has it constantly to hand.

Jekka's Complete Herb Book: In Association with the Royal Horticultural Society

Herbs are probably the best value grow-your-own plants. You can grow them on a balcony or windowsill, as well as in the smallest of gardens. You can cut herbs and they'll re-grow, saving you a quid or so over the supermarket bags each time. Jekka McVicar is the herb queen.

Garden Design: A Book of Ideas

This gorgeous garden book is suggested by readers of The Middlesized Garden. I love Marianne Majerus' garden photography and co-author Heidi Howcroft is a top garden designer. There are loads of ideas in this book - for planting, seating, fences, terraces...it really is a book of ideas, and beautifully photographed.

The Crafted Garden: Stylish Projects Inspired by Nature

Not strictly a gardening book, but lots of good expert info about which flowers to grow for decoration. I love this for its floral decorating ideas: how to make or adapt containers, floral wreaths and fascinators and craft tips, such as 'how to dry plants.'

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16 Comments

  • Anne Wareham says:

    So sad neither of mine made your list. Xxxx

  • Andy Garland says:

    Interesting post Alexandra, I have quite a large collection of gardening books, but a few have really grabbed me. Helen Yemm’s first book Gardening in your nightie was an early inspiration as was Andy Sturgeon’s Planted. The yellow jacked Reader’s Digest A year in the garden kept me going for a long while as a reference book, but my absolute fave is Christopher Lloyd’s last book Exotic planting for adventurous gardeners (not quite finished when he died and finished off with contributions by his friends). It’s just a book of joyful and exuberant planting with the mighty Dixter as a backdrop – simply brilliant.

    • I must hunt it down – I have ‘Colour for Adventurous Gardeners’ (could ‘Exotic Planting for Adventurous Gardeners’ have changed its name, too?) and I absolutely love it, but it’s no longer in print (although people can find used copies, and Great Dixter also seem to be able to supply some of Christopher Lloyd’s out of print books. Haven’t read Andy Sturgeon’s Planted, but will find a copy. And so glad you remember Helen Yemm’s Gardening in Your Nightie – when I looked it up and discovered it had changed to ‘Pyjamas’, I thought my memory was at fault, but indeed ‘Nightie’ is an earlier edition of ‘Pyjamas’.

  • I’m a relative newbie to gardening and have found the RHS The Urban Gardener by Matt James invaluable for design ideas and practical advice. Also Garden Design by Heidi Howcroft and Marianne Marjerus for inspiration.

  • Matt says:

    The first book to strike me was the Essential Garden Book by Terence Conran and Dan Pearson – it was some time ago now but opened my eyes to a world beyond the ‘Heritage garden’. I still have it, and still find it inspires me.

  • Kim says:

    Two types of books I always buy in print format: cookbooks and gardening books.

    • I so agree with you on cookery books – trying not to get flour or something wet over an iPad is a nightmare but books seem to put up with a remarkable amount of dropped bits of ingredient.

  • Julianne says:

    I LOVE gardening books and have a growing collection. I’m particularly fond of ‘vintage’ ones with beautiful illustrations and timeless advice! I reach equally for a book and for Google when I need advice – and I also glean a lot from reading various gardening magazines.

    Thanks for the book recommendations – I will add some of these to the wish list 🙂

    • The papers are fond of proclaiming that such-and-such a medium is ‘dead’ but I don’t think any of them ever die, they just evolve to occupy a niche, so there will always be gardening books and gardening magazines – I hope.

  • I do love gardening books though I have to admit I don’t buy many books. I read lots of gardening magazines and blogs, like yours. If I had to add a book to your list it would be Grow your own cut flowers by Sarah Raven. I am a Sarah Raven fan and I love flowers!

  • Elizabeth says:

    It was a really strange coincidence reading this today. Earlier I had been wondering whether to deadhead a particular plant and my initial reaction was, “I must google that” and then I paused and thought to myself, time was when I would have reached for a book! Note to self – remember to start using my gardening books again!

    • That’s reminded me – another advantage books have is that I go to the internet for specific information, like deadheading a particular plant. But I browse through books and often pick up information I didn’t know I needed. Thank you for commenting.

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