Since time immemorial, humans have instinctively sought to create and enjoy beautiful outdoor spaces. According to Genesis, The Garden of Eden was the setting for the creation of mankind. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This passion for ordered outdoor existence has continued up to the present day.
As a student who just graduated from university, it is an understatement to say I don’t know much about gardening. Once I mowed the front lawn. For the next couple weeks, it looked like a pair of amateur golfers and some starving goats had simultaneously attacked the now patchy brown grass. However, I am capable of enjoying the fruit of others’ work and I admire an interest in working the earth. I found that the following books give fantastic practical advice and inspire gardeners to reach new heights of creativity. Who knows, maybe when the weekend hits I’ll hunt up a trowel and do a bit of weeding. (But probably not.)
This glossy coffee-table book serves as inspiration to create truly magnificent gardens. Foley describes the twenty-six gardens (all located in America, but otherwise vastly different) before a series of his stunning, gorgeously lit photographs. These private gardens highlight the botanical possibilities in a whole range of geographical areas and weather conditions. According to the Washington Post, ‘[Roger Foley] doesn’t just observe; he perceives, and the resulting images capture the singular spirit of his subjects.’
Less has become fashionably more in decorating circles, and gardening has followed suit. A Minimalist Garden capitalises on this trend and emphasises elegance, simplicity and strong lines. The book instructs gardeners who wish to imitate or innovate in the minimalist style through a directory of appropriate plants and materials. Photographs show how spare surroundings can draw attention to a few strong features, featuring a number of gardens with varying approaches to minimalism. Bradley-Hole also explores the philosophical background of his topic.
The Laskett is both a gardening book and a poetic narrative piece. It tells the moving story of Roy Strong’s marriage and the loss of his wife, centred on the monumental garden they made together. Strong explains how the garden went from dream to reality as he and his wife worked to create the largest formal garden in the UK. Many gardening icons feature in this narrative as minor characters, adding to the colour and spirit of the story. The Laskett intertwines the magnificence of the garden with that of Strong’s marriage, and the garden begins to symbolise the great love and grief of Roy Strong’s life.
Strong describes the Laskett as ‘nature tamed by art, a jardin d’amour, a memory system, a manipulation of space, an illusion and…a private sacred space in which the true circle of a marriage has been tenderly inscribed.’
Most gardeners develop the outdoors in the hope of admiring a burst of riotous floral splendour or shapely trees standing in line during the summer. Some anticipate autumn’s last hurrah of golden leaves or the first buds of spring.Winter is a different story. The grass doesn’t grow, the bushes turn black and ragged and the garden is fairly ugly for at least three months out of the year. This book instructs gardeners on creating a format which retains beauty, shape and colour during the winter. Verey tells readers about plants which bloom during the winter. She also emphasises the importance of heightening the attractiveness of the garden’s design, especially in relation to garden features (such as pots, paths and trellises), so that the garden retains its charm during the frosty winter months. This book is useful to every gardener living in a seasonal climate.
A list of gardening books would scarcely be complete without one which focuses on roses, the flowers of love and romance. In the seventeenth century, roses were so rare and beloved that they could be used as legal tender, and to this day they are considered especially valuable.
‘I haven’t much time to be fond of anything … but when I have a moment’s fondness to bestow, most times … the roses get it.’ – Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Beales is an expert on old roses, and his experience appears on every page of his book. Readers discover which types of roses will thrive in certain soils, what they require and how to buy, propagate and prune each species. This text is the ultimate on rose gardening and features 600 photographs.
This highly practical guide to plants and gardening features plenty of photos and specific instruction. It aids both amateur and experienced gardeners to choose which plants to grow in his or her garden. With five chapters on perennials, climbers, shrubs, conifers and trees, What Plant Where offers instruction for areas such as borders, raised beds, rockeries and many others.
In this day and age, space is at a premium. This book is addressed primarily toward urban gardeners who only have access to postage-stamp backyards, balconies, window boxes. Complete with photographs, layout diagrams and clear instruction, it helps would-be gardeners make the most of minimal space. The essence of the instruction lies in building raised beds and filling them with a formula which helps the plants to thrive. All New Square Foot Gardening is recommended as a revolutionary way to garden by a variety of people, including busy professionals, parents and disabled people.
Number three in my list of the best gardening books is How To Garden: Small Gardens by Alan Titchmarsh. The book is excellent for both amateurs who do not know where to start and those with extensive gardening knowledge, as Titchmarsh’s confident voice throughout explains how to manage small spaces creatively as well as frequently humorous. Highly recommended.
In the last days of his life, the filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman created a garden in the most unlikely of locations; a strip of harsh shingle ground facing a nuclear power station in Kent. Jarman imitated many of the elements around him in his garden, resulting in a piece of land that beautified and reflected both the harsh, spare scenery and Jarman’s own personality.
“I was always a passionate gardener – flowers sparkled in my childhood as they do in a medieval manuscript.”
The garden features beds delineated with sharp flints and roses growing up driftwood, metallic sculptures and occasional bursts of poppies. It is a tribute to gardening as a piece of art coming out of circumstances that seemed to render it impossible.
Be Your Own Gardening Expert was first published in 1958 and became such a hit that it created a brand of books. Most of these books are short and directed specifically at a certain feature of gardening – bulb planting or pests, for example. Titles span every facet of gardening, and include The Orchid Expert, The Garden to Kitchen Expert, The Fruit Expert and many others. These books are succinct, reliable, well-illustrated and have had fantastic commercial success. Today more than 52 million Expert books have been sold, rendering them the best-selling gardening books throughout the world.