Best Gardening Books

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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It’s that time of year when all thoughts turn to gardening—at least if you’re the kind of person who likes to dig in the dirt. Like most gardeners, I have quite a few books on the subject, and like most gardeners, I have my favorites: the ones I turn to over and over again when I have a gardening question. Here are seven books at the top of my list for all-around best gardening books.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener 

This is my A-1, go-to, favorite gardening resource of all time. Like all books by Storey Publishers, it’s on high-quality paper, the photography is out-of-this-world gorgeous, and the writing quality is superb.

This beautiful book, written by Nova Scotia gardening maven Niki Jabbour, is divided into two parts. Part I explains how you can stretch your gardening seasons. Part II (my personal gardening bible) features a one-to-three-page-long look at each of more than forty vegetables from arugula to winter squash. For each plant, she provides an overview, tells you when and how to plant, and provides important growing and harvesting information.

She also lists a few of her favorite varieties of each vegetable, a guide I’ve found invaluable. She’s introduced me to all sorts of veggies I’d previously either never heard of or knew nothing about growing: Bright Lights chard, mache, claytonia, pak choi, celeriac. There’s also an informative section on herbs.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is both practical and a delight to read—Jabbour’s inimitable gardening enthusiasm shines through its pages. And it’s so inspiring! For one thing, the author manages to successfully grow food outdoors year-round in Canada’s Maritimes. That alone should encourage the rest of us.

My favorite thing about this book: the planting calendar that accompanies each variety. It provides an easy-to-use schedule for when to start your seeds (indoors, outdoors, or in a cold frame or tunnel) and when to transplant those that were started indoors for both spring and, when it’s appropriate, fall planting. 

Homegrown Pantry

The full title of Barbara Pleasant’s book (another by Storey) is Homegrown Pantry: A Gardener’s Guide to Selecting the Best Varieties & Planting the Perfect Amounts for What You Want to Eat Year-Round.It  provides the answer to my ever-present gardening question: how much of each crop do I need to plant to get us through the year.

This lovely book is broken into three major sections. The first provides a quick overview of the whys and hows of growing your own food. Part Two tells you enough about the five primary preservation methods to get you started. The starring attraction, though, is the discussion of specific vegetables, fruits, and herbs—more than fifty in all—some of the most likely ones to be found in a home garden which can be preserved in one way or another.

The vegetable section is the most in-depth, covering an overview, how-to-grow, best types to plant with preservation in mind, pests and diseases, harvesting, and food preservation options, as well as other tips unique to specific vegetables.

My favorite thing about this book: well there are two. First is the well placed how-much-to-plant reference. I’ve checked out resources before that purported to answer that question, but they were either too vague or too complicated (or both) to be of any use. This one is distinctly different. For each of the twenty-eight vegetable varieties covered, Pleasant tells you how much to grow per person. It’s the first thing you see under the heading for each of the vegetables presented.

The other is a real treat: in many cases, the author provides a “Harvest Day Recipe.” As she describes it, these tasty offerings are some of the “fastest and easiest ways to make use of a big harvest quickly.”

I consider Homegrown Pantry a must-have for a serious gardener who wants to feed a family on good garden food all year long even if you limit your actual gardening to the traditional growing months.

Epic Tomatoes

First you need to know a little something about the author. Craig LeHoullier, known as the NC Tomato Man, has trialed more than 1200 varieties of tomatoes and introduced more than 100 to the wider world, the most famous of which is probably the ever-popular Cherokee Purple. Clearly, he knows what he’s talking about.

The book’s full title isEpic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time which kind of says it all. LeHoullier tells you how to plant, grow from seed, maintain, and harvest tomatoes. In addition, he explains how to save heirloom seed for future use and how to breed new varieties yourself.

But wait! There’s more. The book includes a myth-busting Q and A section, a troubleshooting guide, a list of 250 tomato varieties he recommends for growing, a list of resources and sources for seed and supplies, and a helpful glossary.

This is yet another stellar publication by Storey. Its many color photographs are so luscious you’ll be tempted to eat them.

My favorite thing about this book: what I learned about LeHoullier’s preferred tomato-growing method—container gardening. His system accommodates growing many more tomatoes than you might otherwise be able to. Moreover, since you start with sterile containers and a fresh soilless mixture each year, this technique is the most viable for avoiding diseases. For those of us with relatively cool summers, there’s the added benefit that roots get more heat than if they were in the ground or even a raised bed.

Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales

This is another book by Craig Lehoullier. Growing food in straw bales may the easiest way ever to garden. For one thing, you barely have to bend over. Nor do you have to dig or build a garden space. You can move your garden from one year to the next. The bales become compost material at the end of the season. Still, straw bale gardening has its downside, and LeHoullier covers it all in this slim volume.

I don’t know how he manages to pack so much solid information in so few pages, but he does. The book is straightforward, detailed, and highly readable. He answers your questions before you’d think to ask them. Both the book and a straw bale experiment are well worth their cost, in my estimation.

My favorite thing about this book: its simplicity and clarity, while somehow managing to be so thorough.

Good Bug, Bad Bug

One of the best things about Jessica Walliser’s book is that she accompanies the description of each insect she covers with a clear color photograph. She provides information on prevention, organic control, and how to spot the damage done by each bad bug. For the good bugs, she offers advice on how to attract them to the garden. She discusses the twenty-four most damaging gardening insects, as well as a dozen beneficials.

My favorite thing about this book: its easy-to-identify bugs shown in full color photographs. The book has a concealed wire binding and is written on laminated stock so it’s perfect to take to the garden for easy identification. 

Grow a Living Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with Purpose

Shawna Coronado’s on a mission: to encourage gardeners to plant enough to donate some for those who are hungry and, in the process, to produce more flowering plants to encourage the future of pollinators. She truly wants to make a difference and to help you do it, too.

To this end, she advocates growing vertically, a way to grow more in less space. The author further promotes living walls as a way to save water and energy, lower utility bills, and solve unique design problems. She discusses types of living walls, how to get started (including issues such as soil and compost when growing vertically). The gorgeous photographs of various vertical growing methods will inspire any gardener to try at least one of them, whether on a fence bordering your property, a wall of your home, hanging boxes on a balcony. It’s a perfect gardening method for those with limited space.

Grow a Living Wall is show-and-tell at its best. Some wall-garden systems can be purchased and merely put in place—Coronado explains how; but others are DIY from start to finish, a great way to keep costs down. The author lays it out for you with a list of materials and supplies for each project and photographs that clearly explain the process.

What I love about this book: the inspiring photographs along with Coronado’s passion and enthusiasm which shine in every word and picture.

Backyard Foraging

For a different type of gardening experience, follow author Ellen Zachos’ lead: instead of going to all the trouble of growing a garden, seek out good things to eat from the plants already growing in your yard and neighborhood. The easiest gardening system ever!

Yet another Storey Publishing book, this one does not disappoint. Zachos takes you on a tasty romp of sixty-five common plants you’re likely to find in your own yard that are not only edible, but delicious. For each plant, you’ll find at least one full-color photo (usually more) and guidance on harvesting and eating. Even better, she gives you basic recipes and advice on how to preserve some of these wild delicacies.

What I love about this book: it’s all in the details. With Backyard Foraging in hand, you’ll have complete confidence in your food finds. Bonus: Zachos doesn’t lead you on a wild goose chase. The plants she describes are common ones and easy to identify.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link.You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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