Perhaps you can email me back suggestions for other books that I might read and recommend in a subsequent article.
John King – Reaching for the Sun: How Plants Work
This is not a book about gardening per se, but it is an excellent and accessible introduction into the workings of plants. I have found myself reading it through several times because it is a good read. In my experience just a better understanding of how plants work would be greatly beneficial for most gardeners. There are other basic botany books such as Brian Capon’s Botany for gardeners.
Michael Dirr – Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, and Propagation and Uses
It’s hard to imagine that such a long tome on the woody plants would be fun to read, but Dirr is not only THE expert, but an entertaining writer as well. With a common name or scientific name you can learn more than you thought there was to know.
Rodale Press – Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening and Landscaping Techniques
Rodale books are fun, quirky and very accessible, and this one is stocked full with information and wonderful illustrations. It covers the gamut, well, except in true Rodale fashion there is nothing in this book about chemicals.
Lois Trig Chaplin – The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists: The Best Plants for All Your Needs, Wants, and Whims
This is one of those books that is a lot of fun and very helpful at the same time. If you can think of a list that could apply to a southern garden, it is in this book. Substitutes for Bradford Pear? Yep, a list. Annuals that attract butterflies? Yep, a list. Perennials that can take sun all day? Yep, that list is in there too.
James R. Cothran – Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South
When we think of the southern garden today we tend to think of the suburban dogwood/azalea/camellia garden of the mid twentieth century. This wonderful book, a gift to me from my daughter Heather, explores gardens, plants, and gardening in the south up to the Civil War, much of it plantation gardening. It is fascinating to see how many familiar non native plants got firmly situated in the southern garden so early on.
Bob Polomski – Carolinas Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have A Beautiful Garden All Year
It is hard to keep everything straight in our heads about what to do when and where in the garden – even if the information is up there somewhere. Polomski divides his book up into types of plants – bulbs, lawns, houseplants, perennials etc., and does a month by month guide for each category with nice helpful hints scattered throughout. I use this a lot.
Steve Bender – The Southern Living Garden Book: Completely Revised, All-New Edition (2004)
This is the one book in the list I do not own, but I asked my gardening friends what gardening encyclopedia they enjoy and use the most and they pretty much all said this one.
Michael Pollan – Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
This is about as perfect a non fiction book as can be written, and Pullan’s ruminations based on his experience in his own garden are enriching. His exploration of the difference between nature and culture is worth the cost of the book.
Andrea Wulf – The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession
It’s hard to imagine botanical collectors as cultural rock stars, nor the collecting and sharing of plants across oceans as an industry unto itself. But centered in England this international trade sent American plants and trees all over the world, thanks mostly to the dedicated life labor of John and William Bartram. It also brought a lot of plants here!
Gardening Club of Columbia – Gardening Notes for South Carolina
This quaint little guide put together by the Columbia Gardening Club not only has a month by month calendar but lots of interesting (and somewhat random) information about plants common to the SC midlands gardens.
Gil Nelson – Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens: A Handbook for Gardeners, Homeowners, and Professionals
I am a big fan of native plants. Amidst the tidal wave of non native plants and cultivars, natives have become rare jewels among thorns. It is my hope that over time Midlands gardeners will gradually fill empty spaces and design new ones with plants adapted to our region. Nelson’s is an extraordinary guide for doing just that.
Lee Reich – The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated
If there is any particular gardening skill that seems in short supply it is pruning. I have not read all the available pruning guides but this is a good one.
Allan M. Armitage – Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture and Garden Attributes
What Dirr is to woody plants Armitage is to perennials. This book is what it says it is – a treatise. It is a reference book but also makes for great casual reading. If you get one book on perennials get this one.