Picking off a gardener from your holiday shopping list can be tricky. Do you buy them plants, gift certificates, tools, or gloves? What if they don’t like what you buy because it doesn’t appeal to their gardening styles? Well, garden books, for the most part, can help you avoid all of that because gardeners are always looking for information and entertainment. What if the only thing you have to go by in choosing a gift is what you see them share on social media sites or what they talk about at work? Below is a listing of 11 garden books I read this year that I think the gardener on your list may like; along with archetypes of gardeners you'll find online to help you make a buying decision. These books span interests ranging from art, travel, urban agriculture, to seeds and garden history.
Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden: George McKay’s exploration into the history of gardening, its impact on (and use by) political movements, the use of open green spaces, community gardening, garden design, and underrepresented people and cultures. Can a garden-related book change you life? This one has changed mine and how I see the garden and how I relate to it. Published by Frances Lincoln Limited. Gardener to buy it for: The gardener who hasn’t stopped talking about Occupy Wall Street from the comfort of his computer.
The Art of Instruction: Katrien Van der Schueren has collected educational wall charts from the 19th and 20th centuries since childhood. In this coffee table book she presents some of the most beautiful examples of these charts that were used to teach kids in Europe about botany, biology and zoology in the days before one textbook per child was common. The botanical illustrations are beautiful and their attention to scientific detail makes still useful this day. Published by Chronicle Books. Gardener to buy it for: Your friend who won’t shut up about Etsy listings, spends her day sharing Etsy Treasuries on Facebook, or complaining why nobody is buying her prints.
How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Rebecca Rupp’s fascinating collection of true stories about twenty three popularly grown vegetables. It examines their history, lore and cultural associations. Did you know celery, my least favorite vegetable, was associated by the ancient Greek’s with death? And they didn’t even know about the photocarcinogen compounds in their yucky stalks. That’s the kind of flavorful history of vegetables this book is packed with. Published by Storey Publishing. Gardener to buy it for: Your friend who is always talking about knowing your farmer, where you food comes from, heirloom vegetables, and who you just know secretly judges you when they see you check-in at McDonald’s on Foursquare.
Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants: Richard Mabey’s thought-provoking look at the plants gardeners love to hate and evict from our gardens. For those of us who have a live and let live philosophy to weeds the book is confirmation of our Zen approach in the garden. His sympathetic-downright affectionate-exploration of their usefulness as crops, medicines, and healers of the planet can reform even the most jaded of gardeners. Published by Harper Collins. Gardener to buy it for: The gardener in your life who is always railing against Roundup and retweets and “Likes” the quote, “A weed is just a plant a plant in the wrong place.” Also, maybe the weekend lawn warrior who spends his free time battling dandelions.
A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens: Carole Ottesen’s book is like taking a guided tour of the Smithsonian with a docent who not only has a passion for history, but for gardens, plants and garden design. Visiting the Smithsonian has been on my bucket list for a while and after reading about the history of the gardens and conservation efforts there (like the painstaking efforts to protect the European linden tree in the northeast corner of the South Yard during a construction project in the 80s) I have to move it up my list and see these diverse urban garden for myself. Published by Smithsonian Books. Gardener to buy it for: The history nerd decked out in thrift store chic who sits at her computer constantly refreshing the My Daguerreotype Boyfriend tumblr.
The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: Robert and Cheryl Moor-Gough’s book is an impressive, comprehensive, easy to understand guide to saving seeds from 322 Vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees and shrubs. Covering pollination, seed biology, seed harvesting, cleaning and seed storage and more. There’s enough information here for the beginner and advanced gardener who is interested in saving their own seed to share with friends or to protect heirloom and regionally adapted plants. As a seed saver myself I can’t recommend this book enough. Published by Storey Publishing. Gardener to buy it for: Your significant other who clutters the dinning room table with seed catalogs every winter and your windows with seedlings every spring.
Your Farm in the City: Lisa Taylor and the Gardeners of Seattle Tilth wrote produced this neat little primer on urban farming and urban homesteading. If you’re interested in growing food, composting and raising chickens, bees and livestock in an urban setting give this book a try and test the waters before fully committing to project like this. Published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. Gardener to buy it for: Your gardening friends with dreams of leaving their cubicle live to become urban farmers.
Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver: Diane Ott Wheatly’s account of how she co-founded Seed Savers Exchange. What is now the largest, and arguably the most popular, seed saving organization got its start with seeds Diane inherited from her grandparents. A wholesome story of how the humblest of inheritances went on to become a pioneer in the movement to preserve genetic diversity and inspire gardeners the world over to save seeds from extinction. Published by Seed Savers Exchange. Gardener to buy it for: The gardener who is always talking to you about the consolidation of seed companies and tossing around terms like “GMO,” “genetic diversity,” and “Monsanto.”
Wildflower Wonders. Bob Gibbons’ recommendation of the 50 best wildflower sites in the world will have you wishing you had spent your semester abroad backpacking to some of these stunning locations that seem waaaaay off the beaten path to see the wildflowers bloom instead of drunk in a co-ed dorm. Fortunately, eight of the recommended sites are here in the U.S. and don’t require a passport. Among the things I like about this book is the justifications given for why you should visit the locations and the best time to be there to catch the show. Published by Princeton University Press. Gardener to buy it for: Your globe-trotting friends who posts pictures of themselves in the same tourist spots everyone goes to, holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and on the beach with old, hairy European men in skimpy bathing suits.
The Polytunnel Book: Joyce Russell’s month by month guide to year-round fruit and vegetable gardening a breeze for the disorganized. Simply turn to the current month and plan out your to-do list in the Polytunnel. What is a Polytunnel? Think of it as the poor man’s greenhouse. It’s made of a series of hoops inserted into the ground; they’re draped with thick plastic sheeting over raised or mounded beds. Yes, you can vegetable garden in December, January and February in locations that get snow. Published by Frances Lincoln Limited. Gardener to buy it for: Your friend who complains about the cost of basil at Whole Foods in January and the carbon footprint of vegetables, especially in winter. The friend who believes urban farming can feed the world and tosses around the term “food justice.”
The Heirloom Life Gardener: Jere and Emilee Gettle guide to the Baker Creek way of growing your own food. Everything you'd expect from a book that promises to teach you about growing your own food "naturally." The language is conversational and feels like you're talking with friends about gardening. It isn't an act or literary device, that's been my experience with how Jere actually is the handful of times I've met him. Maybe the word naturally in the subtitle should have been replaced with humbly because that’s the kind of lifestyle this garden book promotes. Published by Hyperion. Gardener to buy it for: The foodie and adventurous eater, who would appreciate learning to grow the rare and exotic fruits and vegetables the Baker Creek Seed Co., are known for.
For your convenience the titles of these garden books are links to their Amazon page. All of these books were given to me by publishers this year for free to review, and, unless I made an error, are all titles published in 2011 so should also be available at brick and mortar stores too. While they were free to me they're books that I thoroughly enjoyed and I'd be happy to buy or receive as gifts during the holiday season. Did you read a book not on this list that you want to recommend? Sign into ChicagoNow with your Facebook account to comment below.