I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to compile a list of my favorite books about gardening and botany. This is quite a diverse list. Some of these books are on the history of gardening. Some are scientific. Some are practical guides on keeping a garden. Some are philosophical ruminations on gardening as an activity that involves the soul. But they are all incredible books, and I highly recommend them.
I have to start with Andrea Wulf’s history books:
The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession – This is a book about how gardening and botany took off during the Enlightenment and the daring adventures of “gentleman scientists” questing after new and interesting specimens.
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation – Our Founding Fathers were agricultural and scientific giants of their time, and they built incredible gardens on their estates to reflect that. Wulf does not shy away from talking about the role slave labor played in these enterprises.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World – The story of the famous German naturalist and first true environmentalist.
Wulf is a brilliant storyteller and one of my favorite writers of all time.
The Gardener’s Atlas: The Origins, Discovery and Cultivation of the World’s Most Popular Garden Plants by Dr. John Grimshaw – I love, love, love this book. This book goes through most of the popular plants you will find in garden centers and from online nurseries and explains their origins and efforts to cultivate them for sale. You will not look at the garden center in the same way after reading it.
The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World’s Greatest Botanical Explorers by Carolyn Fry – I have recommended this book before as part of a homeschooling botany curriculum. What makes this book exceptional are all the old botanical drawings and excerpts from historical works.
Practical Botany for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Botanical Terms Explained and Explored by Geoff Hodge – This book is a wonderfully organized overview of a very complicated topic with a lot of beautiful pictures to help get points across. I don’t think I would have been interested in botany on this level before I really became invested in gardening, but it’s addictive now.
A Portable Latin for Gardeners: More than 1,500 Essential Plant Names and the Secrets They Contain by James Armitage – I studied Latin through college and I am teaching our daughter to read Latin in homeschooling, so we had to have this gorgeous book.
American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson – A biography of a gifted physician and founder of the first botanic garden in the United States.
The Tulip: The Story of the Flower That Has Made Men Mad by Anna Pavord – From the discovery of the tulip in Asia to the financial mania in Europe, the western love affair with the tulip is a fascinating topic in itself.
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean – I revisit passages of this book all the time just for the lyrical language and sense of adventure. The book is about orchid hunters who are willing to trek through the deepest swamps and defy local law enforcement to get rare specimens. The main character is unlike anyone you have ever met before. There is a supremely shitty movie by the same name that really has nothing to do with the book… so don’t think the book is awful because the movie is truly awful. The book is incredible.
I love Monty Don’s shows, but his books are excellent too. The Complete Gardener is a practical book about building and maintaining beautiful gardens. I have been gardening for decades, but I still learned a lot from this book.
Monty’s book Paradise Gardens is also one of my favorites. This book describes famous gardening sites in the Islamic world, and it is based on a television series where he received permission to tour these places. Henry Flagler, the wealthy industrialist who built Florida, was obsessed with Islamic design and constructed lavish hotels and gardens up and down the east coast of Florida that replicated these features. With its emphasis on citrus production, Florida almost lends itself to the paradise garden concept.
Here’s a link to Monty Don’s page on Amazon for other book recommendations.
Lessons from the Great Gardeners: Forty Gardening Icons and What They Teach Us by Matthew Biggs – This is a lovely collection of elite and obsessed gardeners spanning from medieval Japan to the present day.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben – This is part of a series of books called Mysteries of Nature. In it, a professional forester explains how trees are much more sophisticated organisms than we give them credit for.
Native Plants for Florida Gardens by Stacey Matrazzo and Nancy Bissett – I am trying to work more native plants into my gardens for the love of pollinators. I have found this book very interesting and useful in that endeavor.