Exploring Books

A Gardening Library

By Karen Ott Mayer  |  Photo courtesy of Floret Farm, Karen Ott Mayer and Tony DeSantis

   These classic gardening books make the perfect Christmas gifts for the gardeners on your list.

    As a young gardener, I lived in several pre-internet rural areas during which gardening and horticultural books served as my lifeline. One day, I opened my mailbox to find a gift. Mom, knowing I had an interest in herbs, sent me “The Complete Book of Herbs” by Lesley Bremmes. As I thumbed through it, I felt like a window opened onto a new world of resources, designs and plants. It’s still in my book collection 30 years later.

    Many of us who spend hours outdoors during the high season come to relish winter, a time to slow down, regroup and simply daydream about new gardens.

    December is an ideal time to think about what’s on the shelf, or needs to be on the shelf, for the gardener in your life. Finding a book isn’t a problem these days; discerning which ones truly hold valuable and practical knowledge can be a challenge. After querying garden friends with specific horticultural specialties and scanning my own shelf, we’ve put together a solid list of favorites as a starting place.

Seed Collection 101
“Seed to Seed”
Author: Suzanne Ashworth

    When I wanted to start saving seeds a few years ago, I reached out to Martin Walsh at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

    Working with dozens of contracted growers, seed expert Walsh knows a thing or two about seed collection and preservation. His words to me, “Go find and read “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth.” Filled with practical advice, the book covers major vegetables and flowers, giving specific guidance as to how to preserve seeds. Entirely in black and white with dense text on every page, the book details everything from botanical classifications to pollination. Photos focus on showing readers specific information rather than just entertaining with glossy images. The only downside for newcomers is the book may feel more like a technical read rather than a standard coffee table book.

A Literary Plot of Land
“One Writer’s Garden”
Authors: Susan Halton and Jane Roy Brown

    In Mississippi writer Eudora Welty’s world, writing and gardening filled her days. Working alongside her mother, she learned the art of gardening. Today, the family’s three-quarter acre garden has been restored to the original plan designed by her mother Chestina Welty.

    Authors Susan Halton and Jane Roy Brown’s “One Writer’s Garden” leads readers on a cultured and sentimental journey to this beloved garden place. Historical photographs by Welty are combined with current-day photos by noted photographer Langdon Clay to make this a gorgeous addition to any gardener’s library. The original handwritten notes by Welty and her mother add an intensely personal feel throughout the pages.

    More a gardener’s memoir, the book nonetheless contains solid information about the native plants chosen for the Welty garden.

Inspirational Floral Crops
“Cut Flower Garden”
Author: Erin Benzakein

    Anyone who’s been growing specialty cut flowers in the last decade most likely knows Erin Benzakein. Her seminal book “Cut Flower Garden” has inspired and galvanized a new generation of growers focused on producing high-quality local floral crops.

    With photography as alluring as the information is practical, this book is a proven must-have for flower growers. Benzakein explains in detail how to plan, execute and produce cut flowers throughout the year.

    This book is particularly important for any grower interested in high tunnels, large fields and learning Benzakein’s own production model.

Wild Things
“Tough Plants for Southern Gardens”
Author: Felder Rushing

    Not many gardeners grow their garden in the bed of a truck or have a wild area as a front yard. But any Mississippian who knows Felder Rushing understands anything goes for this laid-back gardener, who is now retired from a formal career with the Mississippi State Extension service.

    Rushing’s bestselling book, “Tough Plants for Southern Gardens,” was first published in 2003, and has remained one of the best reference books for growing plants tough enough for the South. An iconic figure across Mississippi, Felder himself is known for his quirky nature and offbeat inspiration. His original book grew to include other tough plants books for Florida, California, and northern gardens.

    Rushing’s travels, especially to England, have added another colorful layer of knowledge and his own unique brand of humor.

Woody Ornamentals
“Manual of Woody Landscape Plants”
Author: Michael Dirr

    Used extensively in education, “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture and Propagation and Uses” by Michael Dirr has been in circulation for more than 20 years.

    An award-winning professor and researcher, Dirr earned a doctorate in plant physiology and taught in both northern and southern universities, including University of Georgia. With more than 1,000 pages of highly detailed information about woody landscape plants, this book weighs in at nearly five pounds. Dirr has also written other books focused on ornamentals and trees.

On the Horizon
“A Year in Flowers”
Author: Erin Benzakein

    Although “A Year in Flowers” by Erin Benzakein will not be released in time for Christmas gift-giving, it should be added to your springtime reading list. Coming in February 2020, the book will explore creative ways to incorporate homegrown and seasonal flowers into everyday life.

    From her Floret Farm in Washington State’s Skagit Valley, Benzakein supplies cut flowers to florists across the Pacific Northwest. She also has created an award-winning blog and a mail-order seed business.

    And in case you’re wondering what’s on her shelf? “In Bloom” by Clare Nolan, “The Complete Gardener” by Monty Don and “On Flowers” by Amy Merrick.

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