The Best Books For Gardeners From Gardeners |

With so many people embracing gardening, I thought it would be helpful to provide some resources to ensure success. I interviewed several local experts to discover their favorite garden books — and found inspiration for myself as well.

I’ve been gardening for decades and have shelves of gardening books. While these experts mentioned some of my favorite gardening books and writers, they also suggested books I have added to my reading list. Perhaps you will discover new favorites as well.

Jeff Anderson

Many gardeners recognize Doña Ana County Extension Agent Jeff Anderson, who is known for his love of palms, succulents, and oleanders. He is a community leader in gardening.
Jeff recently read Trees in Paradise: A California History by Jared Farmer, which traces the history of four specific trees in California and their impact on the landscape, economics, and environment.
“It was a challenging book to read, but I enjoyed the challenge,” he said. The effect of trees in California “reflects trees in the United States in general.”
A neighbor gave Jeff a stack of garden books. One of his favorites was Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols, one of my favorite gardening writers. This book covers the experiences of Nichols as he renovates a house and garden in England after World War II. Jeff was inspired by Nichols’ delight in the challenge of creating a garden from a weed patch.
“I enjoyed the prose and the characters that come into it,” Jeff said. “I felt a lot of me in the book.”
Jeff’s gardening interests extend into other media, such as discovering the English gardening guru Monty Don’s television show, Gardener’s World. This is another of our shared favorites. Monty Don has written many bestselling garden books and shows on gardens around the world, including the United States.

Jimmy Zabriskie

Jimmy Zabriskie, a landscape designer and community forester of the City of Las Cruces, immediately recommends one of my favorite resources: the New Sunset Western Garden Book, 9th Edition. An early version of the contemporary guide was published in 1935 and has been revised and republished since.
“It’s been my number one reference for 35 years or so,” Jimmy said. “It provides a wealth of knowledge at a good price.” He treasures his grandparents’ copy of Sunset. “I remember in older editions, pecans weren’t listed for Zone 10 [our area]. It’s been changed,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy and I have a shared love of native plants as demonstrated by the plant selection of Robledo Vista Nursery, owned by Jimmy and his wife, Marcy Scott. She is the author of another of Jimmy’s favorites: Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest. Jimmy and Marcy are regularly at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market on Saturdays.
Jimmy also recommends my favorite — Judy Mielke’s Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes — which he kept at hand in his first years of landscape design.
“So much about plants anymore is in my head,” Jimmy said. “Now to look up something I don’t know, I use a Google search.”

Joan Woodward

Joan Woodward, FASLA, a retired landscape architecture professor who also serves on the Native Plant Society of New Mexico board, has many favorites.
“This is so hard to do,” Joan said when we spoke about her selections. “I’m sitting here savoring the contenders.” Her top contender was Garden and Climate by Chip Sullivan.
In his book, Sullivan describes his travels to ancient Mediterranean and desert gardens, where he photographed and sketched how people in these places mitigated their harsh climates. Using little water and no electricity, gardens employed features such as shady tunnels, secret rooms, and water jokes — hidden water features that could spray the unsuspecting — to keep visitors cool in summer, plus sunlit terraces, warm walls, and more for winter basking. “Each technique is timeless, beautiful, and completely applicable to Las Cruces gardens,” Joan said.
Joan also recommends Roots Demystified: Change Your Gardening Habits to Help Roots Thrive by Robert Kourik and Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden.

My Favorites

Like many gardeners, I have my favorite resources. I would add the All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition by Mel Bartholomew. This is an excellent source for novice gardeners with instructions for creating a vegetable garden — plus a budget-conscious gardener can pick up an older copy at a used bookstore.
For inspiration, I grab Designer Plant Combinations by Scott Calhoun. This book includes designs by Southwest designers, including Judith Phillips, a New Mexico landscaper and author. Her Plants for Natural Gardens was my first book for gardening in New Mexico.
The classic An Island Garden written by poet Celia Thaxter takes a gardener far from the desert to the challenges of growing a garden on an island off the coast of Maine. It is a slim volume of elegant prose, combined with gardening experiences illustrated by Arts and Crafts artist Childe Hassam.
I read Susan Wittig Albert’s mystery series for the delight of the sleuth’s knowledge of plants — particularly herbs. The most recent is A Plain Vanilla Murder.
With new releases every year, it is possible our favorites could be supplanted by a new voice. A recent discovery is Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks, with a friendly prose style that makes botany interesting to a non-botanist.
As we prepare for spring in the garden, we can spend cold and dreary days soaking up knowledge and inspiration from others who appreciate the joys and challenges of gardening.

Written by Jackye Meinecke • Photos courtesy 
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2021

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