Jinny Blom books

The best books for plant lovers

We consider the best horticultural and gardening books that all discerning gardeners need on their bookshelves

There are plenty of books that specialise in planting, whether their focus is on planting schemes, garden design or the botanical properties of the plants themselves. As there is so much literature to choose from, Gardens Illustrated put together a list of the best books for plant lovers – the titles any discerning gardener should have in their library. Don’t miss designers Tom Stuart-Smith, Julian and Isabel Bannerman and Penelope Hobhouse’s top book choices too, some of which are within this piece.

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Tom Stuart-Smith with his favourite books
© Andrew Montgomery

Perennial Garden Plants or the Modern Florilegium

by Graham Stuart Thomas
Frances Lincoln
ISBN 978-0711224032

First published in 1976, this comprehensive survey of perennial garden plants has been hailed as a classic since its initial publication.

SOME OF THE BEST GARDENING BOOKS OF 2019

RHS Latin for Gardeners

by Lorraine Harrison
Mitchell Beazley
ISBN 978-1845337315

Author Lorraine Harrison explains how an understanding of the meaning behind botanical names can reveal many of the properties of plants, such as their shape, scent and colour, which can help enormously when choosing the right plant for a garden.

TOM STUART-SMITH RECOMMENDS: Trees & Shrubs

Trees and Shrubs
© Andrew Montgomery

by William Jackson Bean
(John Murray, 8th edition published in four volumes during the 1970s)

The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes

by Rick Darke
Timber Press
ISBN 978-0881928174

Grass expert, Rick Darke explores the prominent role grasses play in the sustainability of green spaces, and provides practical advice for propagation, growth and maintenance.

Dream Plants for the Natural Garden

by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
Frances Lincoln
ISBN 978-0711217379

These are plants that require little input from the gardener but provide endless enjoyment. A dream of a book for horticultural enthusiasts.

PENELOPE HOBHOUSE RECOMMENDS: Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

cover of Garden Design book by author Sylvia Crowe

My first choice must be that of the landscape architect Sylvia Crowe who published Garden Design in 1958. I

Henk Gerritsen: Essay on Gardening

by Henk Gerritsen
Architectura & Natura Press
ISBN 978-9461400123

From his earliest memories of gardening, his inspirations, his working relationship with Piet Oudolf and the impact of the New Perennial Movement, it goes on to discuss ecology, the building blocks of a garden, from plants to ‘frills and knick-knacks’, and the impact of urban development.

TOM STUART SMITH RECOMMENDS: Sowing Beauty

by James Hitchmough
(Timber Press, 2017)

The Rose

by David Austin
ACC Distribution
ISBN 978-1870673785

With clear advice and a comprehensive list of roses illustrated with colour photography, it’s an invaluable reference book for rose lovers.

Botany for Gardeners

by Brian Capon
Timber Press
ISBN 978-1604690958

Known for his clear description of how plants work, Brian Capon uses Botany for Gardeners to provide a detailed guide to a plant’s inner workings, from the biological detail of the plant itself to its relationship to the natural world.

PENELOPE HOBHOUSE RECOMMENDS: Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India by Elizabeth B Moynihan

Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India by Elizabeth B Moynihan

Highly readable, it is a brilliant synopsis of garden-making from Cyrus the Great’s garden in the 540s BC until the decline of the great Mughal dynasty after the death of the Taj Mahal’s builder, the Emperor Shah Jahan, in 1666 AD.

RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening

Edited by Chris Brickell
DK
ISBN 978-1409383949

Divided into two parts – Creating a Garden and Maintaining the Garden – the book provides advice on garden design along with practical planting tips.

PENELOPE HOBHOUSE RECOMMENDS: Manual of Trees & Shrubs by Hillier Nurseries

Manual of Trees & Shrubs by Hillier Nurseries

by John G Hillier and
Roy Lancaster
Royal Horticultural Society
ISBN 190-7057471

Reference books lie in a small heap beside my desk. For me the most valuable is Hillier’s Manual of Trees and Shrubs. I have various editions, all heavily annotated by me or my husband.

Annuals and Biennials

by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
Pan Books
ISBN 978-0330373524

Annuals and Biennials, the tenth volume of Phillips and Rix’s Garden Plant Series, showcases more than 1,000 plants, both wild and cultivated, making it an invaluable reference guide.

TOM STUART SMITH RECOMMENDS: Lunuganga

by Geoffrey Bawa, Christoph Bon and Dominic Sansoni
(Times New Edition, 1990)

Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden

by Beth Chatto
Frances Lincoln
ISBN 978-0711214255

Drawing on her own experience of tackling a dry and windswept gravel garden and using a no-nonsense approach, the experienced plantswoman demonstrates how every gardener can create a plot where plants flourish despite lack of water and poor soil – and regardless of scale.

The Well-Tempered Garden

by Christopher Lloyd
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN 978-1780227825

Known for his relaxed, non-technical manner, ‘Christo’ discusses many hundreds of plants with passion, intelligence and wit in this entertaining book that covers both the aesthetics and practical process required. Essential reading.

TOM STUART-SMITH RECOMMENDS: The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English landscape Garden

by Tim Richardson
(Bantam Press, 2007)

The Gardener’s Book of Colour

by Andrew Lawson
Pimpernel Press
ISBN 978-1910258026

Using detailed colour photographs and keyline planting plans, Lawson demonstrates how colour has the power to change proportions, evoke different moods and harmonise space.

JULIAN AND ISABEL BANNERMAN RECOMMEND: Flora Britannica

Flora Britannica

by Richard Mabey
(Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996)

Bulb

by Anna Pavord
Mitchell Beazley
ISBN 978-1845335328

Each bulb is illustrated and has thorough descriptive detail that highlights the garden writer’s extensive knowledge and enduring passion for plants; an essential reference book.

JULIAN AND ISABEL BANNERMAN RECOMMEND: Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening

Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening

by Ursula Buchan
(Thames & Hudson, 2007)

Making a Garden: Successful gardening by nature’s rules

by Carol Klein
Mitchell Beazley
ISBN 978-1845337971

In her most recent book, acclaimed plantswoman Carol Klein argues we should take inspiration for what will work in our gardens by looking at what works in similar conditions in the wild, be it woodland, wetland, hedgerow, meadow or seaside.

The Education of a Gardener

by Russell Page
Vintage Publishing
ISBN 978-1846559259

Russell Page was one of the greatest landscape designers of the 20th century, and this 1962 book is frequently cited by designers and garden writers as essential reading.

JULIAN AND ISABEL BANNERMAN RECOMMEND: Meadows: At Great Dixter and Beyond

Meadows: At Great Dixter and Beyond
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by Christopher Lloyd, with a new introduction by Fergus Garrett