The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Books for Gardeners

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Gardeners have fertile minds. We probably spend as much time gardening in our heads as we spend gardening in our gardens. Need a little fertilizer for the garden in your mind? Garden books abound to ensure a bountiful brain. After all, as philosopher Cicero declared, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

If you are a head gardener or have one on your gift list, here are a few of my favorite books.

Trowel and Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener by Sharon Lovejoy is an amusing and informative book. Her Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, is a classic book for gardening with human sprouts.

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is the updated version of how to fit more garden into less space which, of course, translates into less space for weeds.

The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener by Eliot Coleman is a bountiful read. He also wrote Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. Coleman gardens in Maine so the phrase "all year long" has added meaning.

U of I publication Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voigt and J.S. Vandemark is a "must have" for people who prefer to eat their landscapes. Cruise the website for many other garden books.

Month-by-Month Gardening in Illinois by James A. Fizzell lists what-to-do-when to have a beautiful garden all year. As a retired UI Extension horticulture educator Fizzell knows what concerns Illinois gardeners.

For the perennial flower gardener helpful authors include Tracy DiSabato-Aust, Janet Macunovich, Allan Armitage and Colston Burrell.

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is required reading for the flower lover. She details how to care for specific plants for their optimum performance. The revised edition has a few more lists and forms for journals; however, the original version is well worth assimilating into our garden philosophy. Her book, The Well-Designed Mixed Border, guides novice or seasoned gardener on the mechanics of combining all those well-tended plants into effective designs.

Janet Macunovich has an easy to understand style in both her books: Caring for Perennials and Design your Gardens and Landscapes.

Allan Armitage is a plant guru with a southern accent. His books include Herbaceous Perennial Plants, Armitage's Annuals, Biennials, and Half-Hardy Perennials, Armitage's Garden Annuals, and Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens.

New to garden design? Colston Burrell gives specific information in his book Perennial


For tree lovers, look for books by Michael A. Dirr, a former UI professor. We still love him even though he jumped ship for University of Georgia. His books include Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (literally the textbook for identification of woody plants), Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, and Hydrangeas For American Gardens. His most recent book, Viburnums: Flowering Shrubs for Every Season, is a must for any landscaper or garden designer.

SeedFolks by Paul Fleischman, listed as young adult fiction, is inspiring for any one of any age. It's an uplifting story about an urban garden and the people who are touched by it.

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden by William Alexander is hilarious. It's more on what-not-to-do than what-to-do, but any gardener will see a bit of themselves as they travel with Alexander on his journey into garden mania.

Here's to the gardener! To paraphrase Beard and McKie from their Gardener's Dictionary: "Gardeners are charity minded individuals who nurture vast numbers of free outdoor restaurants in an effort to provide healthful, well-balanced meals for insects, birds, and animals."

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