Basic gardening books and beyond

Beyond your basic gardening books: Our favorite reads

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The Savvy Gardening experts don’t just write gardening books, we also read them. A LOT of them. And over the years, we’ve discovered many personal favorites. Today, each of us would like to introduce you to three of our most-treasured gardening books. These reads go way beyond your basic gardening books and delve deep into both the science and art of gardening.

Beyond Your Basic Gardening Books: Our Favorites

Gardening books for vegetable gardeners

Niki’s selection of favorite gardening books focuses on vegetable growing and composting.

From Niki Jabbour – Savvy’s expert on growing edibles year-round

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening: I’m a huge fan of Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, the founders of The Seattle Urban Farm Company, a business that designs and builds urban farms and teaches people how to grow food. When I heard they were writing a book, I knew it would be awesome. And it is! High-Yield Vegetable Gardening shows home gardeners how to think like farmers and dramatically increase their yields. The book is spiral-bound and has no glossy pictures, but it is packed with everything you need to know about growing food – picking the right crops and varieties, using succession and interplanting, managing soil, and extending your season. If you’re a food gardener who wants to move beyond all those basic gardening books, leave space on your bookshelf for High-Yield Vegetable Gardening.

Epic Tomatoes: Who wants to grow the best tomatoes on the block? I do, I do! Tomatoes are the #1 garden vegetable in North America, and Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier is the secret weapon you need for a bumper crop of tasty tomatoes. Craig is a tomato whiz with a PhD in chemistry and over 30 years of tomato-growing experience. In this incredible book, he covers the A to Zs of growing these fabulous fruits and highlights some of the best-tasting tomatoes in the world. Incredibly photographed and beautifully laid out, Epic Tomatoes will inspire and delight tomato lovers everywhere.

Complete Compost Gardening Guide: This book by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin is an oldie but goodie. Released in 2008, it’s far from one of those basic gardening books about compost. Barbara and Deborah taught me that composting doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. They offer many easy and effective ideas for turning garden and kitchen waste into rich, organic compost, with or without a bin. Like most gardeners, I use a lot of compost, and with the techniques in this book, I’ve upped my composting game – and even doubled the amount of compost I produce in a year! From banner batches to grow heaps, I now compost directly in my garden which saves time and labor. I also love the conversational writing style in Complete Compost Gardening Guide and the many pictures demonstrating the various composting techniques.


gardening books pruning

Tara chose two books about creating a style-infused garden and one about pruning as her favorites.

From Tara Nolan – Savvy’s ornamental plant guru

Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces: I think the most beautiful book I’ve received this year (inside and out) is Gardenista. I was lucky to meet the author, Michelle Slatalla, who is also the editor of the eponymous website, at P. Allen Smith’s Garden2Grow summit in May of 2016. Unlike most basic gardening books, Gardenista covers both inspiration and serious how-to info. When I interviewed Slatalla for the Toronto Star recently, she said: “We lovingly talk about drainage, gravel and gutters—those nitty gritty things that exist in the garden and people have a lot of questions about them, but they’re glossed over in gardening books.” I also love that there are fun DIYs at the back of the book.

Garden Made: A Year of Seasonal Projects to Beautify Your Garden & Your Life: Making things—crafting, knitting, sewing—is my happy place. Which is why I’ve found a kindred spirit in Stephanie Rose, author of Garden Made and creator of the fabulous website Garden Therapy. Stephanie and I also met through P. Allen Smith and bonded over being the sole Canadians at the event. Later in the summer I got to hang out with Stephanie and visit her garden and studio in Vancouver, B.C. The book is organized by season—I have lots of projects bookmarked!—and features crafts made with materials from the garden or ideas to place in your garden. Highlights include seed paper, a succulent frame, felted acorn magnets, fantastic Jack-o’-Planterns, and a beautiful laurel wreath.

The Pruning Answer Book: This book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan has been out for a few years, and it’s the most-read garden tome on my shelf. I consult The Pruning Answer Book for all my pruning questions because it shows me when to prune and how. For example, I recently consulted it after pruning my ninebark in the fall only to discover that it’s best done in late winter or early spring.

the best gardening books

Jessica’s favorite gardening books include one on helping pollinators and two that focus on gardening techniques.

From Jessica Walliser – Our bug-loving horticulturist

Attracting Native Pollinators: Ever since its release in 2011, Attracting Native Pollinators has been my bible for information on North America’s native bees and butterflies. Written by the scientists at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, I’ve opened the pages of this book more times than I can count. It’s useful for identifying many of our 4000+ species of native bees and learning which plants to include in the landscape to support them. The book is filled with gorgeous photos of butterflies, bees, and the plants they love. Plus, it has excellent tips for pollinator habitat preservation and creation.

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques: Tracy DiSabato-Aust wrote The Well-Tended Perennial Garden in 1998 (the one in the photograph is a first edition, signed copy – lucky me!), but the book will be available as a third edition in February which speaks volumes to how absolutely indispensable this book is for perennial gardeners everywhere. Tracy’s book goes way beyond all those basic gardening books about flower gardening and offers an immense amount of valuable information on maintaining gorgeous perennial borders and beds. From design tips and planting techniques to pruning, pinching, and deadheading advice, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden covers it all with a friendly tone and beautiful illustrations and photos.

Penn State Master Gardener Manual: Let me start with a confession: My first boss, horticulturist Nancy Knauss, is the State Master Gardener Coordinator for Pennsylvania and the project coordinator for this book. Nancy and a crew of Extension educators, professors, Master Gardeners, foresters, entomologists, horticulturists, and many others came together to create this massive text that delves deep into every aspect of gardening. Yes, it’s a manual for the Master Gardener educational program, but you don’t have to be a Master Gardener or a Master Gardener in-training to buy and use it. And, it’s not just relevant to Pennsylvania – it’s relevant to gardeners everywhere. At nearly 800 pages in length, this text goes far beyond most basic gardening books and covers absolutely every gardening topic imaginable with factual, science-based information, not “internet myths.” The Penn State Master Gardener Manual is only available for purchase via the Penn State Publications Distribution Center. Though its price tag is $75.00, this book is worth every red cent.

For more great books about gardening, check out these posts:

Tell us, what are your favorite gardening books? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below. 

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Step beyond your basic gardening books and delve deeper into the art and science of gardening with these great reads.

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3 Responses to Beyond your basic gardening books: Our favorite reads

  1. Patricia Lanza says:

    Lasagna Gardening, Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces & Lasagna Gardening with Herbs, by Patricia Lanza

  2. Mike says:

    Barbara Pleasant’s Nikki was good too. Some of the Storey book series.

  3. Kirsten says:

    Just got High Yield Veg and, on a quick read through, I can say this is definitely in my top 3 most useful veg garden books. We have been expanding our veg garden year by year and this season will see it reach its max space. This book is key for planning how to maximize production in this space. Good recommend! Thanks!

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