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184-More Must-Have Books for Every Gardener: Encore (Hybrid) Presentation

| Grow, Podcast

While I am a big proponent of learning through experience, I also hone my gardening skills and draw inspiration by regularly dipping into my library of books on horticulture and the natural world. In the nearly two and a half years since I first presented an episode on my favorite books for gardeners, I’ve added more must-haves to my list, and I am sharing them with you this week.

This encore presentation is updated with six additional books: a few that have been out for some time, a couple of recent releases, and one that will be published next month. Some make great reference books, while others are simply great reads that will enthrall you while imbuing you with knowledge that you can apply to your garden.

If you are looking for a holiday gift for gardeners, any of these books would be a great choice. But for even more ideas, like the best garden tools, you can download my free guide, 20 Gift Ideas for the Gardener in Your Life, updated for 2020. You can also text GIFTGUIDE to 44222 to receive it. 

Books That Changed My Life

“Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson

Silent Spring” is, hands down, the most widely influential book in this category. Personally, I know that it transformed my thinking. First released in 1962, Rachel Carson’s classic resonated powerfully throughout the world. It’s credited with launching the environmental movement and galvanizing policymakers to protect air and water quality and conserve land. Her book exposed the dangers of DDT and ultimately led to the pesticide’s ban.

“Silent Spring” was the first book I read that really cut through and drove home the bigger environmental picture. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

 

 

“Organic Manifesto – How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe,” by Maria Rodale

Organic Manifesto” is a beautifully written book that traces the genesis of chemical farming, the rise of the conglomerates profiting from chemical use, and the role of the government in fostering the continued prosperity of the chemical industry.

Maria interviewed health researchers, chemical farmers and organic farmers all across the United States. She learned how organic practices can improve the quality of the food we eat while reducing instances of diseases such as cancer and asthma, and reversing the climate change taking place due to soil depletion and carbon emissions.

Maria’s family is responsible for bringing the term “organic gardening” into the mainstream. We featured Maria and the Rodale family legacy on an episode of Growing a Greener World®, and I interviewed Maria for the podcast to learn more on why going organic matters. 

“Organic Manifesto” will change your thinking and your habits as positively as it did my own.

 

 

“Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” by Douglas W. Tallamy

Dr. Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” will help you realize how much of an impact your decisions have on the world at large. The book explains how increasing pressure on wildlife populations due to urban sprawl and habitat destruction threaten biodiversity. 

One of the most significant takeaways from this book is this: Native wildlife can’t or won’t eat alien plants. When native plants disappear, native insects disappear, and that deprives birds and other animals of their food source. In some cases, species are at the brink of extinction because the plants they derive their food from have been nearly wiped out.

The book is uplifting in that it details how anyone with access to any patch of earth — or even just a balcony — can effect change. For more on why I love this book, you can listen to my podcast discussion of “Bringing Nature Home” with Doug. 

 

"Bringing Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy

 

 

“Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard,” by Douglas W. Tallamy

Doug followed up “Bringing Nature Home” with “Nature’s Best Hope,” and once you read one you’ll be dying to get your hands on the other. 

“Nature’s Best Hope” perfectly picks up where “Bringing Nature Home” left off.  Doug outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation. I love it because this approach relies on the initiative of private individuals and is free of any influence or limitations from government policy. 

“Nature’s Best Hope” is a guidebook that shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors to provide wildlife habitats in practical, effective and easy ways. If you’re motivated to do something good for the environment, starting in your own backyard or balcony, “Nature’s Best Hope is the guidebook you need — and it’s now more important than ever to get started. 

In Doug’s second appearance on the podcast, we discussed “Nature’s Best Hope”, and that episode is a great lead-in to the book.

 

 

“Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Andamchak 

Tomorrow’s Table” is a book that I found fascinating for painting both sides of the picture concerning organic farming and genetic engineering. 

As a strict organic gardener, I know why I want to grow and eat food without genetic manipulation, but I also wanted to have a better understanding of the case being made in favor of genetically engineered food. In my research, I found “Tomorrow’s Table.” This fascinating book really hit the mark.

The co-authors are geneticist Pamela Ronald and organic farmer Raoul Andamchak, who also happen to be married. The book’s premise presents a case that a prudent blend of two important aspects of agriculture — genetic engineering and organic farming — is key to helping feed the world’s growing population in an ecologically balanced manner.

So, no matter which side of the argument you’re on, the perspective given throughout this book from each author (especially considering the interesting dynamic of their being married couple) gives us a unique look into their respective cases. 

As you read through this book, you get a much better understanding of the problems that farmers face as they try to provide larger yields without resorting to environmentally hazardous chemicals — and you will learn how organic farmers and geneticists address these problems. 

This book is for anyone who wants to make food choices that will support ecologically responsible farming practices, and especially for anyone who wants accurate information about organic farming, genetic engineering, and their potential impacts on human health and the environment. Ultimately, you will be enlightened and much better informed on each position.

 

 

“The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water” by Charles Fishman

If you’re looking for a page-turner of a book that is as entertaining as it is informative, “The Big Thirst” is it. This book had such a profound impact on me, I had author Charles Fishman on my podcast back in episodes 128 and 129. I wasn’t planning on two episodes, but that just goes to show you how much there is to talk about when you really get into it. 

I first read this book when I was looking for more information on why water conservation is always being talked about around good environmental stewardship. I wanted a resource that offered some hard-hitting examples of why we need to think about water conservation in our own yards and gardens, even when it seems like a lack of water where we live seems so unlikely. 

A written description of the book says, “‘The Big Thirst’ will forever change the way we think about water, about our essential relationship to it, and about the creativity we can bring to ensuring that we’ll always have plenty of it.” I 100% agree that after reading this book, it did forever change the way I think about water, and why we should never take it for granted. 

You will enjoy this book immensely, and you will learn a lot about water that you likely never considered.

 

 

“Teaming with Microbes – The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web,” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

I love to preach about the value of good soil, and one of the books that opened my eyes to the intricacies of what’s going on beneath the soil surface is “Teaming with Microbes.” It is my go-to resource for understanding how the soil food web works. 

Not only is “Teaming with Microbes” fascinating for its subject matter, but its exceptional writing earned it the 2011 Garden Writer’s of America Gold Award for Best Writing/Best Book.

 

Teaming with Microbes

 

Great General Reference Books

Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden,” by Jessica Walliser

Just a few episodes ago, I had author Jessica Walliser on to discuss companion planting strategies that are supported by scientific research. Her upcoming book on this topic, “Plant Partners,” won’t be available until December 22, but you can preorder it now and have it in time for Christmas. 

A science-based book is what we gardeners have been really lacking when it comes to companion planting. What I most liked about this book is that rather than just giving recommendations for companion planting combinations, Jessica goes into detail on the biological reasons why certain plants complement each other.

Jessica shares how strategic companion planting, along with increased diversity in the garden in general, fights pests and disease, improves soil quality and fertility, and attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects. It’s a thoughtfully written book for any gardener looking for more than just an anecdotal recommendation. It has real science — and that’s my kind of book.

 

 

“The Garden Primer,” by Barbara Damrosch

A foundational reference on all things gardening and with a focus on organic practices, Barbara Damrosch’s “The Garden Primer” is a best-seller and a classic. This book covers all the basics and then some.

Barbara gardens in Harborside, Maine, with her husband, Eliot Coleman (whose own books appear farther down this list). This power-house couple have developed and maintained a gorgeous landscape and vegetable garden in one of the most challenging climates in the country.

 

 

“The Ortho Problem Solver”

“The Ortho Problem Solver” is as comprehensive as it is heavy. If you are looking for information on any garden problem — be it your lawn, edibles, pests, diseases, trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials — it’s all in this book. I reach for this book regularly to help me when I’m researching a variety of garden issues.

Yes, Ortho is a manufacturer of many synthetic insecticides and herbicides that I would never recommend. But stay with me: While I use this resource to identify problems in my garden, I don’t use the treatments that Ortho recommends. The recommendations are often (as you might expect) Ortho chemical products. I turn to other resources to determine the best organic treatment method. I highly recommend you use this book in the same way — as an identification tool only.

“The Ortho Problem Solver” is in its 7th edition, which just a couple of years ago was being sold for nearly $700. Today, the price has come down significantly — less than $200 for a used copy. But you don’t need the latest edition to benefit. I have the 5th edition, which now runs for less than $60 second-hand.  

The Ortho Home Gardener’s Problem Solver” is a truncated version of “The Ortho Problem Solver,” and it can be had for just a few dollars. It identifies both chemical solutions (that I don’t recommend) and non-chemical solutions (which should always be your first approach). 

Southern Living Garden Problem Solver” by Steve Bender and “The New Sunset Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide” are books that are similar in principle but region-specific.

 

 

“Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening”

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening” brings together many organic gardeners to present a comprehensive guide packed with information and illustrations on flowers, edibles, gardening terminology, and much, much more. It’s a concise, well-written and all-purpose book that you will continue to come back to for years to come.

 

Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is a great resource book for gardeners

 

“Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs,” by Whitney Cranshaw

This is a favorite book of A Way to Garden’s Margaret Roach and the go-to book for “Bug Lady” Suzanne Wainright-Evans. Why? Because every insect in North America is included in various life stages and photographs. I enjoy “Garden Insects of North America” because it identifies host plants, insect damage and the regional distribution of every bug.

This book won’t tell you how to treat an insect issue, but it is the best book out there to identify an insect issue.

 

Garden Insects of North America is a valuable book for gardeners.

 

“The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way,” edited by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley

Once you have identified an insect issue, this is the book that will tell you how to treat that issue. “The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control” is the perfect complement to “Garden Insects of North America.”

The New York Times named this a Best Gardening Book for good reason. It includes symptom guides and a comprehensive list of organic controls for pests and diseases, such as cultural, physical, biological, sprays and dusts. This book is an invaluable gardening resource.

 

 

The Plant Propagator’s Bible: A Step by Step Guide to Propagating Every Plant in Your Garden,” by Miranda Smith

Miranda Smith will empower you to propagate anything in your garden. There are several books out there that explain propagation, and “The Plant Propagator’s Bible” is one of the best. It makes the process simple with great illustrations and just enough information without being overwhelming. 

A new edition is coming out in March 2021 and available for pre-order now.

 

 

“Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses,” by Dr. Michael Dirr

Are you seriously into plants? If you are, “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” is a must-have for you. It is the most comprehensive resource for all things related to woody plants and trees. Dr. Michael Dirr is an icon in the horticultural world, and through this book, he teaches everything you need to know and plenty of things you didn’t know you needed to know.

With so much detailed information as well as outstanding illustrations of plant parts, this book is huge. It’s an invaluable tool and an investment you will use for the rest of your gardening life.

 

 

Vegetable Gardening Books

“The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible,” by Edward C. Smith 

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” covers anything and everything edible that you can grow in your garden. Soil preference, when to plant, when and how to harvest, fertilization — it’s all in there and with good illustrations too. 

Back when I was the host of Fresh from the Garden — a DIY Network series in which I demonstrated how to grow one vegetable per show from seed to harvest — I kept this book on set as a reference. I still use it all the time, and I guarantee you will too.

 

 

 

“Four-Season Harvest – Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” by Eliot Coleman

We featured Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Farm in an episode of Growing a Greener World. Gardening all year long — in Maine — is the real deal. Eliot and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, have been doing it for decades and “Four-Season Harvest” is a testament to the knowledge and skill acquired during that time. 

Ever-curious, a passionate problem-solver, and with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Eliot is a gardener’s gardener. His book will teach you things you won’t learn anywhere else. To learn more about him and his fascinating story of five decades of growing, check out my podcast interview with Eliot.

 

 

“The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener,” by Eliot Coleman 

I’m a big fan of anything world-renowned market farmer and gardener Eliot Coleman writes so I’m adding his newest book release to my highly recommended list. Last year, he came out with his 30th anniversary edition of “The New Organic Grower.” 

I love everything about this book. Since its original publication in 1989, it has been considered one of the most important farming books available. And why this is so relevant to home gardeners too is that Eliot is a small-scale organic farmer, doing most of his work by hand, and showing us many of his time-tested techniques for food growing success, even in the harsh climate of coastal Maine.

This book is for any food gardeners looking to expand their skills and understanding of organic growing, or for any young farmer looking to get started on the right track. 

 

The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman is an inspiration book for gardeners.

 

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time,” by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes” author Craig LeHoullier has been a recurring guest on the podcast, and he’s an expert on all things tomato. This book is a stand-out because it features spectacular photographs throughout to complement the stories and history of the heirloom tomatoes featured. Craig’s great writing and far-reaching knowledge draw you into each story.

Craig also shares the techniques he’s developed throughout his many years of growing and experimentation, including his dense-planting method for seedlings. You can watch him in action in an episode of Growing a Greener World, during which we revisit Craig’s tomato heaven three times to watch the progress from seedling to harvest. If you love tomatoes, catch that episode and definitely snag a copy of “Epic Tomatoes.”

 

 

 

More Books Gardeners Will Love

If I’m not reading a reference book on gardening, I’m reading garden-related stories. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree” by Sally M. Walker.

I have had a long-time fascination with the American chestnut tree. When I first heard about it years ago, I was drawn into learning all I could about this once iconic tree, but saddened to learn that it was overtaken by a fungal blight that essentially wiped out about 4 billion of these trees from American forests. Like anyone rooting for the underdog, now I am enthralled with ongoing efforts to restore it. 

While we have a long way to go, there are many active efforts going on. That gives us hope that someday we may see the majestic American chestnuts reclaiming their space in woodland forests across their native range of the eastern and interior eastern United States.

 

American Chestnut Feld Laboratory

The American Chestnut Field Laboratory in Tennessee. To see these trees in person was a bucket list item on my short list!

 

There are a number of books that tell the story of the American chestnut — it’s heyday, its decline, and those restoration efforts I’ve mentioned. But if you are a fan of trees, and especially the American chestnut, pick up a copy of Sally M. Walker’s “Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree.” It’s an easy read without leaving the important science aspect out of it. 

And next week, you’ll hear a lot more about the American chestnut tree, because my podcast guest is from The American Chestnut Foundation. We go a lot deeper into the science for another geeky conversation. You can order this book now and have it read in plenty of time before next week’s podcast. I think it will really give you a new appreciation for this tree and the recovery efforts if you read the book before hearing the podcast. 

I’ve read “Champion”  three times, and it has led me to become much more active in local restoration efforts. So if you want some fun learning around a topic that may be leading to a happy ending after a devastating loss, this is a book you should add to your shortlist of great reads.

 

 

“Tomatoland – How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit,” by Barry Estabrook

Of all the quality control standards in the tomato growing industry, flavor is not one of them. Barry Estabrook’s “Tomatoland” details how tomatoes mass-distributed to grocery stores everywhere are judged on uniformity of size and shape, and their durability, but not on flavor. This is just one of the many fascinating topics covered in “Tomatoland.” It’s a James Beard award-winner, and a page-turner I could not put down. 

Another thing I learned is that ninety-percent of the off-season tomatoes distributed across the country are primarily grown in the sand of a few large family-owned farms in Florida. “Tomatoland” will change the way you think about America’s favorite vegetable and how America farms.

 

Tomatoland book

 

“The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life On a Sustainable Farm,” by Terra Brockman

Filming for Growing a Greener World, I see how hard organic farmers work and am in awe of what they do every day. But “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm” gave me an even deeper appreciation. Terra Brockman takes the reader through the day-to-day tasks and challenges of a year on a large organic farm. 

 

 

French Dirt – The Story of a Garden in the South of France,” by Richard Goodman”

French Dirt” is a love story about a man and his garden — plowing, planting, watering, and tending, cabbages, tomatoes, parsley and eggplant — and the relationship between an American outsider and a close-knit community of French farmers.

Richard Goodman and his girlfriend decided to leave their big city life and rent a home in the French countryside. They were not gardeners at the time but found a growing passion for the garden. I love how this book is written, and I love to share it with friends — which is why I can’t find my copy just now. Since it’s a quick read, I like to revisit it throughout the year. It may be time to invest in a second copy.

 

French Dirt book

 

If you haven’t listened to this episode yet, you can do so by scrolling up the page and hitting the play button in the green bar.

What are your favorite books for gardeners? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 3: Growing Epic Tomatoes with Craig LeHoullier

Episode 12: Beneficial Garden Insects – Bringing Nature Home with Doug Tallamy

Episode 15: Life Lessons on Gardening and Design with Margaret Roach

Episode 37: Starting Seeds Indoors: The Non-Negotiables for Success, Pt. 1

Episode 48: The Simple Science Behind Great Gardening, with Lee Reich

Episode 49: When Good Bugs Eat Bad Bugs: The Business of Beneficial Insects

Episode 52: Why Organic Matters – with Maria Rodale

Episode 88: The New Organic Grower: 50-Years in the Making, with Eliot Coleman

Episode 128: Conserving Water’s Finite Supply in a Very Thirsty World

Episode 129: Reshaping How We Think About Water: Why Paying More Might Not Be So Bad

Episode 142: Why Our Plant Choices Matter: Nature’s Best Hope, with Doug Tallamy

Episode 179: Plant Partners: The Science-based Benefits of Companion Planting, with Jessica Walliser

20 Gift Ideas for the Gardener in Your Life – You can also text GIFTGUIDE to 44222 to receive it. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardenerTV YouTube

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joegardener Facebook Group

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Growing a Greener World® 

GGW Episode 123: Organic Gardening and Rodale Institute

GGW Episode 301: Winter Gardening

GGW Episode 519: Hyper Local Food

GGW Episode 620: Bringing Nature Home

GGW Episode 803: Epic Tomatoes With Craig LeHoullier

GGWTV YouTube

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water” by Charles Fishman

Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy

Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree” by Sally M. Walker.

The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Epic Tomatoes” by Craig LeHoullier

Four-Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman

French Dirt” by Richard Goodman

Garden Insects of North America” by Whitney Cranshaw and David Shetlar

The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” by Michael A. Dirr

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard,” by Douglas W. Tallamy

Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden,” by Jessica Walliser

The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener,” by Eliot Coleman

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control” edited by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley

Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe” by Maria Rodale

The Ortho Home Gardener’s Problem Solver

The Ortho Problem Solver

The Plant Propagator’s Bible” by Miranda Smith

The Seasons on Henry’s Farm:  A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm” by Terra Brockman

Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson

Southern Living Garden Problem Solver

“Sunset’s Western Garden Book”

Teaming with Microbes” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis 

Tomatoland: From Harvest of Shame to Harvest of Hope

Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Andamchak

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward C. Smith

Wild Alaskan Seafood Box – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.comEnter code “Joe” at checkout for two special bonuses just for our podcast listeners – 2 pounds of Dungeness crab with your first order and free scallops for the life of your subscription.

Corona® Tools – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com

*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Exmark, and Wild Alaskan Seafood Box. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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