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10 of the best gardening books from Penelope Hobhouse

Acclaimed garden designer and writer Penelope Hothouse shares 10 of her favourite gardening books.

“Luckily reading garden books still remains one of my greatest pleasures. It is both informative but also nostalgic, reminding me of how I learned and changed as a gardener, writer and designer. I now own not only a horticultural ‘working’ library but also one reflecting a more recent interest in Islamic styles and their religious significance. I keep them in separate rooms, as Islamic stuff, mainly relating to Iran, India and Central Asia, marked a big change in my life.

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Now at 85 and retired, I am totally self-indulgent. Reading is no longer for research but for pleasure. It is hard to list my ten favourites so I’ll try to relate them to my own experience”.

Penelope Hobhouse sits on a wooden rocking chair holding a book

10 of the best gardening books

Design and the History of gardening

Books on garden design and the history of gardening can be considered together as they are dependent on each other.

1

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. It remains the most comprehensive book on design I know… She covers Far Eastern developments, the Italian Renaissance garden, French formality, English garden development and finally the contemporary garden in the West. But it is not all history – she weaves in design theory as she describes historical settings.

2

The Education of a Gardener
 by Russell Page

The book 'The Education of a Gardener' by Russell Page published in 1962

The Education of a Gardener (published in 1962) by the great modern garden designer, Russell Page, is a classic. It is a restful, ‘dipping in’ book I keep by my bed… He thinks of a garden as a work of art; he is always composing a picture in which every detail has been planned. Colour and texture of leaf and flower rank equally with the architecture of substantial plants.

3

The Formal Garden in England
 by Reginald Blomfield

The formal garden in England by Reginald Blomfield

Reginald Blomfield’s classic is quite different to Russell Page’s book above. Published in 1892, it is a historical survey of how gardens can not only be related to the house, a reflection of the architecture, but also settle both building and garden into the surrounding landscape.

4

Plants in Garden History
 by Penelope Hobhouse

Plants in Garden History by Penelope Hobhouse

I wrote Plants in Garden History as a study of plant availability and discovery through the ages… I relished the research and learnt history starting with Egyptian tomb gardens and Persian paradise garden, to Louis XIV’s Versailles and on to the explosive 19th-century introductions that gave the Victorians colourful bedding-out flowers.

5

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.

6

The Landscape of Man
 by Geoffery and Susan Jellicoe

The Landscape of Man by Geoffery and Susan Jellicoe

Already well-known for books on garden history and theory, the authors cover almost all the topics we have already discussed, but with an emphasis on the garden as part of the environment, so perhaps this is the only book you need.

7

Italian Villas and Their Gardens 
by Edith Wharton

Italian Villas and Their Gardens by Edith Wharton

The whole book, with pictures by Maxfield Parrish, has an aura. It captures the essence of Renaissance taste in a way no modern production can compete with.

Reference books

8

Manual of Trees & Shrubs by Hillier Nurseries

Manual of Trees & Shrubs by Hillier Nurseries

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.

9

Perennials and Their Garden Habitats by Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl

Perennials and Their Garden Habitats by Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl

Originally intended for Hansen’s landscape students at Weihenstephan near Munich, it is now widely consulted by all gardeners. Unlike other dictionaries, it puts a greater emphasis on the ecological needs of a plant than on their aesthetic value in border schemes. It was an eye-opener.

10

The Green Tapestry by Beth Chatto

Cover of the book 'The Green Tapestry: Perennial plants for the garden' by Beth Chatto

No library can be complete without at least one volume of Beth Chatto’s illuminating books. I owe so much to her. The Green Tapestry seems a good choice as it includes many descriptions of her own garden schemes and plant lists.

Words Penelope Hobhouse

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Photograhy Andrew Montgomery