Every gardener has a tome to which they turn. It’s the most dog-eared, mud-smudged book on the shelf, the one that through the years has answered every garden puzzle, every curiosity, or perhaps provided the pick-me-up, the inspiration, that’s so essential on the days when the peonies go kerplop.
We asked some of the best horticultural minds at some of America’s finest botanic gardens to tell us which titles they pluck when the garden sends them scurrying to the bookshelf.
MANUAL OF WOODY LANDSCAPE PLANTS: THEIR IDENTIFICATION, ORNAMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS, PROPAGATION AND USES by Michael Dirr, Stipes Publishing LLC
Who: Leigh Anne Lomax, botanical garden and horticulture manager, Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, Nashville, Tenn.
Why: This “is one of our go-to books because it is a comprehensive guide to woody ornamentals used in the landscape. As a public garden, we find the information on plant usage, plant characteristics and cultural information to be an invaluable resource.
“This is a great book for the plant geek who really wants to know specifics on individual species and varieties. Great gardens start with putting the right plant in the right place, and this book can help a gardener make great plant selections.”
HENRY MITCHELL ON GARDENING, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-Mariner Books
What: Essays from the late, great American garden writer
Who: Eric Larson, manager, Marsh Botanical Gardens, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Why: “My appreciation for Henry Mitchell’s writing goes beyond the attention to the details involving the ‘art of gardening,’ which abound in his work. It is about his Zen-like acceptance of the natural processes, including the many failures involved in a life of gardening, his self-effacing, not self-deprecating attitude regarding our sometimes feeble attempts to understand and manipulate the natural world for our own enjoyment, and his simple yet elegant writing style. … For the garden designer, one can’t overestimate the years of observation, trials, tribulations and triumphs expressed within.”
TROPICAL FLOWERING PLANTS: A GUIDE TO IDENTIFICATION AND CULTIVATION by Kirsten Albrecht Llamas, Timber Press
Who: Mike McLaughlin, horticulturist, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota, Fla.
Why: “One of our favorites as a reference for the species we deal with. The book is comprehensive, it’s packed with pertinent information and it’s accurate. Especially important, it has up-to-date nomenclature and it is well illustrated. We use it mostly for identification purposes.”
THE ORGANIC LAWN CARE MANUAL: A NATURAL, LOW-MAINTENANCE SYSTEM FOR A BEAUTIFUL, SAFE LAWN by Paul Tukey, Storey Publishing
Who: Margie Radebaugh, director of horticulture and education, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Why: “This excellent book explains how to grow an organic, beautiful lawn. I referenced this book as Phipps transitioned its historic front green to organic practices, but it is also a practical guide for the homeowner. [Tukey] provides a step-by-step guide for going organic, whether that means simply doing nothing but mowing or aiming for the perfect lawn without the hazards. … [It] guides you systematically through the process of shifting to an organic lawn.”