Over the past 3 decades of growing food & flowers THESE are the gardening books I learned the most from. PLUS the best tip I got from each book.
Like most hobbies, getting good at gardening, whether it's flowers or vegetables, takes practice. Trying, crying, and periodically contemplating a less stressful hobby, like playing double dutch with live hydro wires, are all part of the experience.
A LOT of what you'll learn about gardening will come from actual hands on experience, but you can speed the trial and error process up by being prepared. With information. That's accurate.
Some new to the land of seeds and soil think gardening is sticking a seed in dirt. It is not.
🌱 Gardening is everything that comes before & after you plant the seed. 🌱
You need to learn about it. And while the Internet is where I share my own experience, I had to learn it all somewhere. And a lot of it - was from books or from people who had read these books.
Today I'm going to introduce you to the gardening books that really taught me the Art of Gardening over the past 25 years.
Table of Contents
The (best) Gardening Books
The very first gardening book I bought was The New Seed Starter's Handbook, in around 1990. I still refer to it.
👨🏻🌾 If you poll any random handful of serious gardeners at least one of them will own The New Seed-Starters handbook. 👩🏾🌾
1. The New Seed Starters Handbook
Don't be misled by the name of the book. It includes an incredible amount of useful information on everything from seed saving to making potting soil.
Information on: SEED STARTING - SOIL BUILDING - PLANTING GUIDES
(I know this was my favourite tip at the time of getting the book because it's highlighted with yellow marker)
SEEDLINGS DO BEST WITH 16 HOURS OF ARTIFICIAL LIGHT.
I believe this book by Nancy Bubel is what really got me interested in gardening. Not just planting things - but gardening.
I was AMAZED that you could save seeds from things you'd grown or propagate plants by just ripping off a stem and sticking it in water or soil. It is THIS book that led me to buy my first set of grow lights and stand.
The floor model, deeply discounted, 3 tier stand with MASSIVE fluorescent grow lights from Home Depot that I bought close to 25 years ago is still what I use to start seeds to this day.
If you want to get more information on growing indoors than I gave you in the beginner's guide to grow lights this is the book you should get.
The first half is dedicated to everything about light: how to measure it, the components of light, and the science behind it.
The last half is dedicated to planting, propagating and growing ornamentals and vegetables indoors.
Information on: PROPERTIES OF LIGHT - GROW LIGHT OPTIONS - GROWING VEG INDOORS
With the right lights and setup you can grow tomatoes, beans, strawberries and more indoors.
Niki Jabbour has written 4, maybe even 5? books on gardening. Her most popular, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener gets a 4.7/5 rating on Amazon out of 1,500 ratings.
But my favourite is Gardening Under Cover. She's a cold weather, Nova Scotian gardener which means her book Gardening Under Cover is an EXCELLENT resource for learning how to greatly extend your growing season.
Information on: COLD FRAMES - ROW COVERS - HOOP HOUSES - POLYTUNNELS
Wash your row covers in spring so they stay clean & can let the most amount of light in. Either blast with the garden hose or put them in the washing machine.
5. The French Garden
This little book, first published in 1908, is such an important work in vegetable gardening that it's archived and available to read in the free archives. I got my copy at an antique sale, not knowing anything about the importance of it.
The French Garden was actually written for people in England a few years after France had HUGE success with their french market gardens. They were using techniques for growing more food by planting intensely and extending the season various ways.
People in England people figured they could possibly use the same techniques - and they did.
Information on: SEASON EXTENDING - MARKET GARDENING (INTENSIVE) -
How to force Asparagus crowns for an early harvest. It involves a 3' high pile of manure and probably more energy than I'm willing to invest. 😆
Buy The French Garden on AMAZON
The information in The French Garden is really geared towards "market gardeners", meaning people who are growing food to sell.
Author Eliot Coleman is a vegetable gardening pioneer who researched those same successful French techniques and brought them back to his home in Maine, U.S.A.
This book is what taught me how to be more of a gardener.
Carrots are sweeter if you leave them in the ground and let the frost touch them. Cold weather triggers the carrot to converts starches to sugars.
Information on: SEED STARTING - SOIL BUILDING - PLANTING GUIDES
You have to love Charles Dowding!
He's the epitome of an Englishman gentleman gardener right down to the tweed.
This is a bit of a cheat, because even though I love my little Charles Dowding Journal, it's really Charles Dowding's Youtube channel that changed my gardening life.
Charles, is a No Dig gardening advocate. No dig means NO tilling, digging or turning over your soil beds ever.
It is how I have gardened for the past 8 years or so.
Digging soil disturbs its natural biochemistry and ecosystem making it less healthy. Not digging preserves the natural bacteria, bugs, worms etc. creating a much healthier, living, active soil.
Information on: SEASONAL GARDEN GUIDE - MONTH BY MONTH
Buy Veg Journal on AMAZON* Only the soft cover of the book is available now and it will have a different cover photo than mine does. Same book, just different covers.
A reader recommended this book when I got the espalier apple trees that frame my front porch.
The information in this book is almost completely contrary to most information you get about pruning apple trees which is what makes it so interesting.
Growing small apple trees is different than growing large orchard trees and this is the book you want for growing small fruit trees.
Information on: GROWING SMALL FRUIT TREES (that you can pick from without a ladder or stool)
To keep them small, prune fruit trees around the summer solstice (June 20th) With easy to follow diagrams and photos for how to prune trees.
Another reader recommended book, which I got when I first started thinking about growing wheat on a small scale.
I couldn't have done it without this book.
Information on: Growing all grains, WHEAT - RYE - CORN - ETC.
To know if your grain is dry enough to store, whack it with a hammer. If it turns to powder, it's dry enough
10. Floret's Cut Flower Garden
I think I can honestly say you only need one book to learn how to grow flowers. Allll the flowers.
This is the book.
YOU WILL LEARN: How to start, plant, pinch back, and recognize when and where to harvest stems. Plus - because Erin is also a very successful floral designer - how to arrange them.
Written by Erin Benzakein of Floret, The Cut Flower Garden contains all of the important information you need to successfully grow and display flowers.
Plus, Erin is just genuinely nice and incredibly generous with her knowledge.
Information on: SEED STARTING/PLANTING/GROWING ON/ - TIPS - FLOWER ARRANGING
You'll get the best growth if you plant Sweet Peas not only in good soil, but in 1' trench of compost.
Buy Cut Flower Garden on AMAZON
11. Window Boxes & Hanging Baskets
12. Practical Guide to Gardening in Canada
I got this book when I FIRST moved into my house. Up until then I'd really only been excited about vegetable gardening.
But once I got this book it inspired a love of massive, spilling window boxes filled with colourful flowers.
I don't think I even learned anything practical from the book but it sparked something in me.
You may be able to find this in a used book store or.
This really is a practical guide. And at over 6 pounds you won't find more information per pound anywhere else.
This is one of the first gardening books I bought (some time after The Seed Starters Handbook)
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Thanks for sharing your list! I added several to my wishlist. I’m always happy to add gardening books to my collection.
Gardening books and cook books here. ~ karen!
Should I ever take up the hobby, I promise I will never confuse my Google searching with your gardening expertise. Hey, that would make for a great coffee cup....... currently unavailable at Amazon (USA or CA)
LOL. I'll make a note of that in my don't confuse your google search with my gardening experience notebook. ~ karen!
Hi, love your blog. I have the tree book (it's so helpful), follow Dowding online, downloaded the French book, will buy the grains book. So many great books! I like Garden Therapy by Stephanie Rose, although out of my zone, great info. The Sunset publications are helpful for me in SoCal..I really like the Edible Landscaping books by Creasy. There's even one for us Italians.
Keep us readers laughing!
Rosalind Creasy's "Cooking from the Garden" is wonderful. A huge hardcover book filled with photographs and recipes. I think published in 1989, out of print but very easy to find on Amazon, and not expensive.
You're right the Sunset publications are really good! ~ karen
Where's book #2? Did you skip it to see if people were paying attention?
LOL! You're right. I was the one not paying attention. I'll fix that. ~ karen!
This was so helpful...thank you. I have Growing Under Cover...it was on a give-away table at my garden club one evening...imagine! I will definitely keep my eye out for some of the others and I loved the Best Tips.
Thanks Jennifer! Look into Charles Dowding if you haven't. He very knowledgeable, very relaxed about gardening, is never mixing up buckets of fish emulsion and worm castings for instance. and is just pleasant to watch and learn from. ~ karen!
Lovely to see Charles get a mention and so glad you support No Dig. All his books are great. Did you know he has started a No Dig Day on the 3rd November.
I did not, lol. I promise not to dig anything on November 3rd. ~ karen!
Kudos on the choices and the Amazon.ca click-thrus. Bought the flower one! My bad, we still rototill to loosen our heavy clay soil but have increased amendments of late. I still return to your seed starting article, so many great tips! Thank you
Thanks Terry! Yes, clay is a pain. The house I grew up in had clay and my father was always rototilling it. ~ karen!
Any books by Larry Hodgson is a must as well. This Torontonian gardener moved to Quebec City in his 20s and was passionate about sharing his knowledge. Granted he wrote more French books than English, but he was a prolific garden writer. His books are great because they are a no non-sense approach. He also had blogs (The Laidback Gardener / Le jardinier paresseux) that are still running with other contributors even though he passed away recently.
Aw. :( I'll have to look into him. ~ karen!
All good books, but you simply must read one more....Gardening When It Counts by Steve Soloman. Steve was the original owner and founder of Territorial Seeds which is still one of the best seed supplier in the US. Steve wrote this book after he and his wife retired to her home island of Tasmania, a place that is not easy to garden in. With limited ability to buy anything needed to set up a garden, enrich a garden, get pre-started plants, he and his wife still managed to grow an amazing amount of their own food.
Steve and his wife spent a good deal of time preparing for the writing of this book. His wife, an illustrator by trade, studied the root systems of plants and did some great drawings to show how the roots often need way more room than the tops of plants to show just how really close spacing doesn't always make for a better harvest.
Steve walks you thru an easy to understand soil science chapter. And how to improve your soil without spending a fortune but how very important it is to do so. He talks about helping your garden be ready for hard times, such as extended dry spells, high temperatures, ect. He breaks down different types of plants and what they need that might be different from other types of plants. He talks about planting times based on soil temperatures and many more things that mean you are much more likely to have success come harvest time.
This is one book I highly suggest for all gardeners. It has something for everyone, beginner to experienced gardener. I reread this book at least once every single winter.
Steve is a wonderful writer, easy to understand without being droll. He is a person with a love of gardening that started in childhood and became his life's passion. He started Territorial seeds and built it up into a thriving business and then sold it to his employees. The company still has a strong push towards sustainable gardening and farming, with many organic seed options available.
Yes, this is a great book! It really opened my eyes to the needs of the root system of the plants we grow for food.
Steve encourages the opposite of how I used to grow- veggies spaced very close together (ala Jeavons & Bartholomew)- which was a bit mind blowing at first.
But I follow his increased spacing advice more and more every season as I see how huge (and productive and healthy) a plant can grow if it is given enough room for the roots to do their job easily. His fertilizer recipe is our go to here on the farm.
I do indeed order from Territorial. :) I'll look for his book, thanks! ~ karen
My original go-to gardening book is Crocket's Victory Garden by
James Crockett. Jim hosted Crockett's Victory Garden, later just The Victory Garden, for twelve years, from 1979 to 1991. The book is arranged in a month-by-month format with sections in each month devoted to tasks and individual plants. I have purchased several copies at thrift stores and passed them on to friends.
Me as well! I used to read my second hand copy while traveling the length of Kitchener Waterloo on the bus, dreaming about having my own garden one day.
This is such a helpful list! And the author of _Grow a Little Fruit Tree_ also has a compelling writer's voice, I seem to recall (got it from the library).
The book that converted me to gardening as a teenager was _The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden_ by Patrick Lima. Such a great writer, and gardening story, and the pictures.... That book got me spending my babysitting money ordering bulbs from Cruickshanks. I don't know why it never occurred to me over the years to actually *visit* their garden Larkwhistle, but by the time it did, they'd closed up shop. And last, another gardening book for reading pleasure is the collected Katherine White articles from the New Yorker, _Onward and Upward in the Garden_.
Some of my row covers have algae on them that didn't wash out. Any suggestions on how to get it out without destroying the row covers?
I just ordered 2 of your suggestions. Do you have a bokk you reference for pest control or do you reference chapters within the books you have?
For those of us on the west coast, especially those of us on the Gulf Islands and the lower part of Vancouver Island, the very best gardening books out there are those by Linda Gilkeson. The bible is "Backyard Bounty". She is an entymologist so her book on pests is also very informative. Thanks for this list, Karen. Although I have FAR too many gardening books already there are one or two on this list that just might be must haves.
I love a good bug book. ~ karen!
I love your blog, but just wanted to let you know this (and latest posts) are impossible to read on mobile, the formatting gets super wacky.
Thanks Phoebe! I actually just noticed yesterday that something was acting up. I'm looking into it, but I appreciate you letting me know whenever anything is weird or wrong. ~ karen!