Regardless of whether you are in the depths of your Winter gardening doldrums or at the height of your vegetable harvest, gardening books can be a friendly companion to your planning, a supportive friend to help you diagnose issues and a safe place where you can dream of the garden you would love to have. They can show you beautiful example gardens or help to identify that Clytostoma calistagoides vine in the backyard. They can take you on a guided photographic tour of Sissinghurst or give you the cold, hard facts of curing the scale on your apple trees. So, what are the best gardening books for you to include in your library? It all depends on where you garden and what you want to do.
First, you need to find gardening books that speak to your geographic area, your urban vs rural balance, your wildlife — basically everything that defines the natural and relatively unchangeable aspects of your garden. It does little good to read about “banking” your roses for Winter if the temperature never drops below 60 degrees. Conversely, reading about harvesting tropical fruits like bananas and papayas when you are snowed in can only lead to frustration.
For my own gardening needs, I quickly related to the “bible” of gardening books for the American West, the Sunset Western Garden book, when I inherited my current garden. It has served me well, as it concentrates on plants that grow in the West (which of course includes California) and the problems that might arise from this climate. Even then, though it has to cover many different elevations and growing zones, so I have to read with my own zone in mind. Even here in California, it can still snow, even in the desert.
Look in your local bookstores and, more importantly, consult your fellow gardeners about the books they rely on most. It is a rare location that doesn’t have a few books on the unique challenges of gardening there. You just need to go out and find them. Sure, the Internet is a great resource, too, but there are times I am less than keen to take my laptop into the garden.
Balance between information and design
The next item to consider for your gardening library is establishing a balance between books filled with information — latin names, identifying marks, propagation tips –and books that focus on theory and design. You want a few of each as you will need both sides of the equation. Informational books can help you in plant selection, placement and care, but theory books give your mind a place to dream and plan. Do you want a “white garden” or are you growing vegetables, or perhaps a bit of both. Once you sketch out that grand plan for your beautiful garden, you are going to need some in-depth information about each plant so you can design irrigation installations and balance between the sun and shade parts of your garden.
No one book will fit all your needs, nor should it try. Each book has its strengths and focus. You should gather a small collection that serves all your needs by working in comparison and contrast. In this way, you will be able to create your best garden.