Curl up with a good gardening book

stack of garden books
Books for gardeners. Photo: C. Carignan

The holidays are over. The temperatures have plummeted. Now is the perfect time to curl up with a mug of tea and a good gardening book.   

Yes, I have go-to reference books when I have a gardening question. But I treasure a handful of gardening books for sheer reading pleasure. Yes, you will learn. But, oh the beauty of the language.

I just finished reading Diane Ackerman’s Cultivating Delight, a lyrical ode to her garden. You sit beside her in her window seat to watch birds building nests. You hear a garden center’s siren song. You can smell her roses.  

She tells more, more deeply, and with intrigue. She weaves tales of intrepid plant collectors risking life and limb, Greek gods becoming flowers, the glory of a summer storm, and cricket sex.  

Along the way, Ackerman quotes Kipling and Longfellow, Muir, and Blake and gives us lessons on botany, biology, ecology, history, and garden design. You’re not aware you’re being taught, only lulled with lush language. 

Spring hits with a “visual thunderclap.” Summer is a “new song everyone is humming.” Fall apples ferment, becoming “ripe as a gin mill.” Winter’s “spider spins its white web.” Seasons pass with pleasure.  

Other favorite gardening books are collections of gardening columns. The late, great Washington Post garden writer Henry Mitchell’s Essential Earthman and One Man’s Garden are classics for good reason. His biting wit and artful turn of phrase are delicious. 

I love garden writers who are willing to share their mistakes and broken rules. Mitchell talks of planting fall bulbs in January and of the time a large overwintering houseplant went thumping and bumping down a flight of stairs.  

Anne Raver takes us Deep in the Green in her collection of favorite New York Times columns. From her we learn of trees once home to the gods, the songs of sprinklers, and giant house-eating squash.  

She celebrates the pleasures of digging vegetables, planting forbidden poppies, and the miracle of Easter lilies blooming in October.  

Raver tells us that as a child she thought grandmothers grew in gardens since they were always out there in their cardigans, watering. It’s that sense of wonder – of noticing and musing – that makes this book such a gift.  

Sharon Lovejoy’s A Blessing of Toads is a perennial favorite. Culled from her charming essays in Country Living Gardener magazine, each story reflects her joy in being in her garden and observing nature.  

She tells of chickadees feeding on seeds she sprinkled on her hat, bumblebees dancing the rumba, sheltering an injured thrush in her picnic basket, and warming a lapful of monarchs. 

In addition to touching the heart, each story has a sidebar with helpful tips on feeding birds, attracting beneficial insects, welcoming bats, composting with worms, or building a scarecrow.  

These are not new books, but old friends. And like old friends, they beg to be savored and revisited. I hope you’ll seek out at least one and discover its charms. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

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