Classic Garden Books to Read this Winter

With the New Year upon us, it’s time to settle in for the winter ahead. We can hope it will not be as long or severe as last winter, but no matter what, gardeners will have plenty of time to settle in with a good book. Why not spend the winter reading a few classic garden books?

Cozy up with some garden books this winter.

Cozy up with some garden books this winter.

While there are many new garden books that come out this time of year, classic garden books still have much to say to experienced or beginner gardeners. Here are 10 to consider, divided by use and theme, with a few extra suggestion thrown in along the way. Thanks to Kent Petterson of Terrace Horticultural Books, who vetted our list and added some great suggestions of his own. If you enjoy heirloom garden books, Kent’s shop is a the premierĀ  place to visit in the Twin Cites, just ask Martha Stewart!


The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is the go-to reference for many perennial gardeners. Now in its second edition, the book includes instructions on basic perennial care as well as a thorough list of perennials and the conditions under which they thrive.

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch is another book gardeners will return to again and again for advice. Well-written and practical, this is a good book to dip into when you have a problem or need guidance for a new garden plant or project.

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is the book that basically started the small-garden movement. The focus is on growing lots of vegetables in small spaces.

A garden encyclopedia is a good thing to have (or to have in a library near your house) when you want to look up plants or diseases. If you want an encyclopedia (other than the Internet) to really use, the American Horticultural Society’s A to Z Encyclopedia is a good choice. If you want a book to admire that is really classic, Kent suggests the Wise Garden Encyclopedia (1940) or the Norman Taylor Encyclopedia of Gardening from the late 40s.

How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back by Ruth Stout is hard to classify. Part how-to, part inspiration, part humor, this classic garden book was written by the woman known as the Mulch Queen, who believed that building soil was the best way to garden well. One of the earliest proponents of no-till gardening, her advice is still solid.


Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine White is a classic collection of garden essays from The New Yorker, most of which are more than 60 years old, but still wonderful.

Second Nature by Michael Pollan was published in 1991, long before Pollan’s fame as a proponent of local food. It’s a beautifully written story of his evolution as a gardener. As Kent says, “this book will be a classic, if it isn’t already.”

An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter wrote this book about the small Maine garden she tended during the last year of her life. A poet, she is a lyrical writer, and the book was illustrated with paintings of the garden done by American Impressionist Childe Hassam.

Living Seasonally by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterowd is one of several wonderful books by this pair of Vermont gardeners. Living Seasonally focuses on the food garden and how to eat what your grow in season. You may also enjoy A Year at North Hill, their evocative meditation on gardening in a four-season climate.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver may not even qualify as a gardening book, though it talks a lot about gardens. It’s the story of Kingsolver’s family’s decision to eat locally for one year. Beautifully written, this book inspired many people to join the local food movement.

There are so many more classic garden books. What are some of your favorites?





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