10 best gardening books
From making the most of your allotment to building a fruit cage, here are the tomes to get your plot in tip-top condition
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No matter what plants you want to grow, or style of garden you want to maintain, you’ll find at least one specialist book that can tell you everything you need to know. Are you considering basing your planting scheme around ornamental grasses? Then the book for you is Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas; are you a chilli addict who wants to turn up the heat in the garden? Then Kay Maguire’s excellent RHS Red Hot Chilli Grower is the book for you; or perhaps you want to turn your rhubarb into fine wine, or grow apples for cider making, in which case may we dare to suggest that our own book Brew it Yourself contains all you need.
Some gardeners have shelves creaking with books and manuals, placing the answer to every question they might encounter at their fingertips, while others might rely on just one or two guides – their personal gardening bibles – never straying from the advice within.
To help you find your own gardening bible, or simply fill a gap at the end of the shelf, we’ve perused the book shops and come up with this list of ten top tomes. Most on the list are recent releases but there are also a few classics in the mix – there should be something to suit most types of gardener.
1. RHS Great British Village Show by Matthew Biggs and Thane Prince: £20, DK
For many gardeners the village show represents the pinnacle of their sowing and growing year. This book takes you behind the scenes of a very British institution, with an insight into the worlds of both contestants and judges. Garden journalist Matthew Biggs hands out insider knowledge on how to cultivate some of the most popular veg and flower exhibits, while the jam-tastic Thane Prince shares her recipes for prize-winning cakes and preserves. Whether you’re after a best-in-show rosette, or just want to know how to grow a marrow, you’ll find this book both fun and informative.
2. Small Garden by John Brookes: £16.99, DK
Long before TV makeover shows had home-owners seeing their garden as an outside room, rather than a patch of earth to fill, John Brookes was helping the nation to transform its outdoor spaces into gardens of distinction. This book, and follow-up The New Small Garden, is full of practical ideas, clear photography and instructive diagrams that help you to design your plot with ease and fill it with appropriate flora. From rooftops to basements, you’ll be able to plan, pave or plant up any small space with confidence.
3. Vegetable Growing Month by Month by John Harrison: £5.99, Right Way
John Harrison’s website is one of the most visited sites for folk with an allotment or veg patch, and this book is similarly popular for those who prefer their information in print. It’s an excellent veg growing guide, expertly explaining how to prepare soil, look after plants and keep the pests at bay. Harrison covers all the basics in a way that anyone with a plot of soil can follow and shares plenty of tips that will make your harvests the envy of your allotment neighbours.
4. The Ultimate Guide to Roses by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix: £20, Pan Macmillan
Phillips and Rix are arguably the best double act in garden reference books. We’ve picked out their classic guide to roses but you’ll find equally impressive volumes on shrubs, perennials, bulbs, herbs and more – although many are frustratingly out of print. Phillips’ photographs are presented with a designer’s eye for detail, while Rix brings some expert botanical nous to the partnership. This book contains 1,400 images, referencing roses of all types and colour with many of them in various stages of bloom, making it an invaluable resource for identification and an ideal aid to help decide which rose to plant next.
5. Our Plot by Cleve West: £20, Frances Lincoln Publishers
Clive West is an allotment advocate and in Our Plot he aids the reader in getting the most out of their own allotment with keen advice on vegetables, flowers and fruit. Throughout the book West encourages the sense of an allotment as a community hub, a place for families and friends to share experiences and have fun in a creative way. It’s a good humoured read with personal pitfalls scattered among the practical tips. Digest it, share it with your allotment chums, and watch your plot thrive.
6. Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury: £30, Timber Press
Piet Oudolf is one of the world’s leading contemporary garden designers, bringing architectural harmony to his naturalistic gardening approach through heavy use of perennial plants. This book is a real treat for anyone who wants an insight into how the mind of such a creative designer works and includes plans to some of his most famous works along with expansive photography. But unlike some designer’s portfolio pieces, this book also ably demonstrates how us amateurs can replicate similar effects in our own back garden, making it a practical and illuminating choice.
7. Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs by John G Hillier and Roy Lancaster: £19.99, Royal Horticultural Society
First published in 1971, this is an ever-expanding book, with 1,500 new species and cultivars added to its most recent edition. If you’re hoping for pretty pictures then look elsewhere: this is a proper manual, stuffed full of horticultural details on thousands of plants, proving to be an invaluable resource for even the most experienced gardeners.
8. Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell and Ben Russell: £16.99, Frances Lincoln Publishers
For some gardeners, building wooden structures provides them with a greater sense of achievement than cultivating the plants that grow in and around them. This new book contains 30 practical projects – from fruit cage to boot cleaner – that will keep anyone with a saw, drill and a few bits of timber happy for weeks. Every stage of each project is clearly photographed with such easy to follow instructions that even the most hammer-shy gardener will be able to knock out a cold frame with ease.
9. New Wild Garden: Natural-Style Planting and Practicalities by Ian Hodgson: £25, Frances Lincoln Publishers
The naturalistic planting of wild flowers is becoming increasingly popular, not only as a way of creating distinctive gardens but also for helping protect and preserve some of our most valuable plants and pollinators. Through the use of stunning photography and Hodgson’s creative gardening advice, this book opens up a host of wild possibilities, from wildlife-attracting containers to colourful meadows, with a practical plant gallery ensuring there’s enough planting choice for everyone.
10. The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd: £16.99, W&N
An enjoyable read that offers practical advice, Christopher Lloyd’s masterpiece has been riding high in the bestseller lists since its first publication in 1970. From planting and pruning to seeds and weeds, Lloyd writes with a passion for his subject, presenting his personal take on gardening challenges, triumphs and despairs with forthright opinions and a liberal dose of wit.
The Verdict: Gardening books
We’ve popped a few old classics in this list but we’re suggesting a recent release as our Best Buy. RHS Great British Village Show reveals some insider secrets but, more importantly, is a well-crafted book that is sure to encourage more people to enjoy the many rewards of gardening.