The best gardening books you can buy
- Starting your own garden can be overwhelming, so it helps to do your research and figure out what kind of garden you want to grow based on your needs, goals, and available space.
- "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway is a classic and comprehensive guide to backyard gardening.
- It details an inspiring theory about creating small-scale yard eco-systems and includes easy-to-follow instructions that will make sense to both beginners and experts.
Tis the season to get outside! And gardening is a great way to get your nature on. It's therapeutic, good exercise, productive, and relaxing all at once. But what if you're a beginner and don't know where to start?
I hit the books to find the very best gardening resources in the bookstore. You'll notice that four out of five of our picks are specifically for second editions of bestselling classics. That means these powerhouse guides have been tried and tested for years, and then updated to address reader requests so you get the very best.
From my own personal favorites, to expert-recommended stand-outs, I dug through gardening texts available on Amazon, my city's library, and a few reviewer books from publishers to find the best.
Whether you're looking to design a secret flower garden in your backyard, turn your lawn into your own private vegetable farm, or just want to beautify your fire escape with a few choice potted plants, you'll find your starting point in one of our top gardening book picks.
Here are the best gardening books for 2019:
- Best overall: "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway
- Best for beginners: "The Garden Primer" by Barbara Damrosch
- Best for edible gardens: "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith
- Best for container gardens: "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew
- Best for sustainable gardens: "Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" by Fern Marshall Bradley
Updated on 05/30/2019 By Malarie Gokey: Updated prices and formatting. Added links to related gardening buying guides.
Keep scrolling to check out our top picks.
The best overallAmazon
"Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway contains all the info you need to create the perfect garden.
The original edition of "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" first came out in pre-Y2K days and was widely regarded as an inspiration to eco-minded gardeners everywhere.
Author Toby Hemenway stresses the importance of choosing companion plants that work together and help each other grow. His ideas about how to encourage natural symbiosis and creating backyard habitats for helpful insects and critters helped urge the wave of interest in organic gardening from a trend to an all-out movement.
Now, the second edition has been named the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award and is one of the top ten gardening books of 2009 in The Washington Post's rankings. It has become required reading for small-scale gardeners everywhere.
As fellow bestselling gardening author, Paul Stamets puts it in his review of the book, "Toby Hemenway's "Gaia's Garden" will be recorded in history as a milestone for gardeners and landscapers — a fusion of the practical and the visionary — using the natural intelligence of Earth's symbiotic communities to strengthen and sustain ecosystems in which humans are a partner, not a competitor."
"Gaia's Garden" is, of course, also a favorite of novice gardeners who almost uniformly give it 5-star status on Amazon. Reviewers love how the author puts difficult theories into simple, actionable words. A helpful tip: One reviewer said they recommend reading the last chapter first, since it's sort of a summary. Then you can break down the rest of the ideas more easily.
My very favorite part of this book is the illustrated planting maps showing which plants work best together. The idea for more natural circular growing patterns over my stuck-in-the-past in-ground rows is definitely going to influence my veggie-plot design next spring.
Pros: This book provides easy-to-follow instructions along with a great intro to basic gardening theory
Cons: Although there are several photos and illustrations, other books on this list have more visually appealing full-color eye-candy
The best for beginnersAmazon
"The Garden Primer" by Barbara Damrosch helps novice gardeners get to know the basics without getting too overwhelmed.
"The Garden Primer" is just what the name describes. It's a beginner's resource designed to teach the basics. It also works really well as a reference book where you can look things up even after you've got your garden going.
The book starts with the ABC's of "What Plants Need," then covers everything from what kind of tools you'll want when you're just starting out, to how to buy plants at the store, to how to keep your soil fertile year after year.
There are also chapters on each general type of plant, i.e. bulbs, vegetables, ground cover, houseplants, you name it, so even experts might find out new things perusing the pages. It's a terrific way to get the facts on how to garden, but I also loved the author's style which makes you feel like you're reading for pleasure, not just for information.
As a reviewer from the Seattle Times said, "Barbara Damrosch's writing has the snap of a good snow pea and the spice of an old rose." And as one Amazon reader wrote, "This is easily one of the best gardening books ever written."
Pros: This book covers the essentials in a way that makes gardening feel accessible, even to novices
Cons: The book is labeled 100% organic, but the instructions sometimes say to use treated wood, which would make your garden technically non-organic
The best for edible gardeningAmazon
"The Vegetable Gardener's Bible Ed. 2" by Edward C. Smith is a glossy guide to growing your veggies that manages to cover a wide range of topics with depth, while being accessible.
The well-organized structure and detailed glossary of "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" allows readers to jump right in anywhere in the book to learn about just one topic, or can start from the beginning to get a full education in edible gardening.
As one of several hundred five-star reviewers wrote on Amazon, "Each page [of the glossary] includes: the name of the vegetable, information about it, where they like to been sown and grown, seed depth, germination soil temperature, days to germination, when to sow indoors…when to sow outdoors…growing pH, growing soil temperature, spacing in beds, watering, light needed, nutrient requirements, rotation considerations, and seed longevity."
Those on the newbie end of gardening will love the "easy step-by-step directions on planting," combined with "lots of great pictures," as Amazon user, Lynn G. explains. But if you'd like to read more broadly into basic concepts of gardening, some sections of the book cater to that desire as well. I really liked the sections on "good" and "bad" garden bugs, and how to get away with less weeding.
As the number one bestseller in Amazon's Vegetable Gardening category, you won't be surprised that it's an all-around great resource for home growers of edible gardens. It's also the number six overall bestseller in Amazon's Gardening and Landscape Design category, which includes thousands of texts.
The author, Edward C. Smith, has reportedly spent decades with his wife living on a self-sufficient, off-grid property, where they feed themselves all year round from their garden. It's easy to trust a source that has such success when they walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.
Pros: A comprehensive guide to growing your own food geared to get the highest yield with the least work
Cons: The scope is mostly for middle-range gardeners, so experts and complete novices may not find what they need
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