Nonfiction, That Reading Life, What Shannon Read

My favorite gardening books: Part 1 – NONFICTION

Here’s what I like in a gardening/plant book:

  1. Straightforward and thorough how-to: If you tell me how to plant a certain type of seed indoors, for example, you’d better also tell me when to pot it up and harden off.

    Don’t be skimpy on the details. I am new here.

  2. Beauty: Great photography, good graphics, illuminating illustrations, lovely plants to take in with my eyeballs, etc.

  3. Opinions: The personality of the writer-gardener is of utmost importance to me. If you are boring or are suppressing your personality in the interest of widening your book’s appeal, I’m out. The library shelves are stacked with boring gardening books. Even if I don’t like your personality, I would much prefer that you have one. It makes the writing so much more interesting.

    Have opinions! State them! Let me decide if I like you and your work or not.

  4. Inspiration: Show me the way. I want to know things but also be inspired to do things.

  5. Unique content: I’m thinking of books like The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

  6. Plants in my zone: I know. You can’t show and write about plants in everyone’s growing zone all the time. But I’m not gonna’ lie–if I’m reading your plant book, I’m looking for plants I can grow in zone 5a.

(Weird to have a list with an even number, but here we are.)

With all that said…

My Favorite NONFICTION Books About Gardening and Plants

Bottom shelf: where I keep the goods

Anything by Aly Fowler

Alys Fowler doesn’t know it, but she is one of my mentors. I first got to know her through her book Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery. This is her memoir of kayaking (pack-rafting, actually) the canals of Birmingham, England.

It’s a beautiful book about finding nature wherever you are, and it’s also the story of how she left her husband and realized she was gay.

Fowler is a former presenter on the British show Gardener’s World (with which I am obsessed), and she has a whole catalog of gardening books under her belt.

These are three I own. I reread them all the time and have two of the audiobooks through Audible because I like listening to them whenever I need a hit.

They meet all six of my criteria above.

The Thrifty Gardener

Garden Anywhere

The Edible Garden


From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is a long-time gardening writer. She is one of the founders of Garden Rant, a favorite gardening site of mine. She’s also the author of The Drunken Botanist and the Kopp Sisters mystery series–Girl Waits with Gun is the first. You may recognize it.

Honestly, this is the only book of hers I’ve read so far. I loved it and plan to reread it this summer.


In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West

Oh Vita. So much glamour. So much intrigue.

For those who don’t know, Vita Sackville-West famously had an affair with Virginia Woolf. She became a tangential member of the Bloomsbury set, which included Woolf and her husband, plus Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and the crowd whose base was the famous Charleston farmhouse.

That was a lot, sorry, but I’m deep in the Bloomsbury life right now.

At any rate, apart from all this, Vita was also a writer and gardener. With her husband Harold Nicolson, she created a famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent in England.

This particular book, In Your Garden, is a compilation of Vita’s gardening essays, which she wrote for the London Observer.

They are pure plant poetry.


Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon

Here’s a famous book among gardeners.

This book is for those of us who don’t necessarily want a science lesson, but who need a science lesson to understand more about plants. *raises hand*

It’s exceptionally readable science, which is the point of the book, and has helped me get to know the whys and wherefores of my plants.


A Year at Brandywine Cottage: Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms by David L. Culp

Ok, I’m cheating here because I had to return this to the library before I could read the whole thing. But this book is so darn pretty. I’m buying it.

The author is a renowned garden designer and, in this book, filled with lovely photos, he provides both advice and inspiration.


Magazines!

And here’s another cheat.

My favorite gardening magazines:

The English Garden — A must for anglophile gardeners, obviously.

Fine Gardening — An American publication with style and substance; You’ll definitely find plants for your zone in its pages.


I do have some gardening-related fiction to share with you, but this post has turned out to be really long already. I will save those for a future post.

If you have favorite gardening books, share them with me! I’m always looking for new ones.


from my Instagram stories

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Thrifty Gardener

I love Alys Fowler. I didn’t know a thing about her until I read her memoir Hidden Nature last year, in which she kayaks the Birmingham, England canals and details her coming out as a gay woman.

Fowler, I learned, was a presenter on the BBC’s Gardener’s World, a show I only came to last year. I haven’t seen a single episode with her in it. But I have embraced gardening in the last couple of years and am now totally in love with the show. And Monty Don. In a platonic way, of course.

I’m also on a budget. So when I learned of Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Gardener, I popped onto Amazon, where I discovered it was $80! Lol. No.

I searched AbeBooks, a much kinder source for books anyway, and got it for $24.

Anyway, in her lovely conversational style, Fowler doles out advice for the rest of us–those that don’t have tons of extra cash, or you know, any at all, to spend on the garden of their dreams.

Above: The rockery I created in our side yard. Please ignore the trash bins–we’re moving them eventually. Bricks and rocks were free from neighbors who were getting rid of them. Plants were purchased on sale or for less than $4 a piece, or again, given by neighbors. My mom bought five of them for me, bless her. She also helped with the digging! It may not look like much to a stranger, but it’s heaven to me…

Fowler spends time on topics like saving seeds and taking cuttings from your own plants for propagation; making compost and comfrey tea–sometimes featured on Gardener’s World, I noticed; and “scrap craft,” which is what most Americans might call upcycling.

I also appreciated her recommendations on plants that are easy to grow from seed, which is much cheaper than buying plants from a nursery. At her suggestion, my garden will most certainly include poppies and nasturtiums grown from seed next year as I don’t like to spend money on annuals bought from nurseries.

In addition to these tips and tricks, I just like the approach, the mindset that Fowler encourages.

This is from her introduction:

“This much I’ve learnt. Gardening is something you do, not something you buy. You don’t have to spend money to have a great garden. Slow gardening, like slow food, is taking time to savour. It’s the process, not the sudden transformation that matters. When you build a little, dig a bit, plant a little, harvest often and, more importantly, don’t try to do it all at once, nature works with you.”

In my own gardening, I need to reread these words every day. I should put it on a sign. There is so much I want to grow and do now that I have discovered the world of gardening. It gives me so much joy and I just want more and more of it.

Also, I’m a very impatient person. I like immediate gratification. But it’s utterly ridiculous to fall into gardening and expect that.

So, instead, I continually work on taking the slow road. Just like Alys.

Hydrangeas in my own garden
And a sweet coreopsis bloom making his presence known.
Baby fern tendril in the bottom middle
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