A Collection of Gardening Books

June 7, 2013(updated on October 3, 2018)

stack of gardening books

I am a fantasy gardener. I read gardening books, peruse seed catalogs and wander through the rows of seedlings at my local garden center, all without having so much as a square inch of outdoor space to call my own. There were two seasons (several years ago) when I managed to secure a plot in a community garden, but it was very far from my home and so thoroughly infested with mosquitoes that I’d be swollen and itchy within just a few minutes (I’m a bit allergic to mosquito bites), so I gave it up.

Still, I like to imagine what it might be like to have a convenient spot for growing a few things and I fuel these daydreams with books. Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed most in recent days. Whether you actually have a garden or you’re a fantasy gardener like me, they’re all particularly good reads about growing things.

Apartment Gardening

The first book is Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington. This one came out two years ago and is such a hopeful volume for those us of without a yard (it still doesn’t help me too much, with no balcony and only north-facing windows, but my geography doesn’t stop me from liking it).

It’s the perfect primer for those who are growing edible things in small pots and containers. It will hold your hand through seed starting and hardening off. It contains instructions on how to build planter boxes and worm bins. And, it has a bunch of recipes offering a variety of ways to use up your harvest (I dream of someday making the pea vine dumplings. Don’t they sound wonderful!). It’s a lovely, intuitive book and it perfect for new gardeners.

Gardening for Geeks

Gardening for Geeks by Christy Wilhelmi is a more recent release and approaches gardening from a far more scientific perspective. It will help you orient your garden, build your raise beds, test and amend your soil and even figure out your frost dates. There’s lots in here about different styles of gardening (organic, biodynamic, French intensive, etc) and the hows and whys of pruning.

There’s also a stash of recipes towards the back of the book, including sesame roasted radishes and basic instructions for canning up those tomatoes.

If you’re the type who isn’t satisfied by cursory explanations and needs a more thorough discussion of why and how, this book is perfect for you.

The Complete Kitchen Garden

Last up is The Complete Kitchen Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden. The balance of this book swings more heavily towards recipes than garden advice, but for this fantasy gardener, that actually works out pretty well because it means there’s more ways for me to interact with it. Still, it’s got pretty garden layouts, advice for plant rotation and tips for patio gardens.

For those of you who are actually gardening this season, what are your favorite resources for growing advice and wisdom?

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18 thoughts on "A Collection of Gardening Books"

  • I love to go to humans first. Neighbors who have gardened for years know the soil and area better than any book.

  • I agree with Andrew especially finding someone who has tackled your particular climate and soil peculiarities. Additionally, I like The Smiling Gardener his blog is located at http://www.smilinggardener.com/ . His 15 lessons have given me some great ideas on how to garden more sustainably.

  • I agree that humans are a good source of help. I too have a pile of gardening books but when I have a specific question I really like the site http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/
    You can search for whatever your current problem is, to see if it’s been answered before (and in my experience it usually has!) and if not, submit your own question to be answered by “gardening experts.” I’ve also occasionally gotten some good advice from readers to my own gardening blog, where I sometimes post my questions and problems.

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one.
    I’m a fourth floor apartment dweller with a magazine rack full of seed catalogs and whole shelf of gardening books, esp. kitchen gardening.
    Luckily I do have a kitchen window where I can successfully grow a couple of pots of basil.

  • People in the area, trial and error, and google are what I use the most- although I do like looking through gardening books.

  • I love Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden. It’s not an intro gardening book: he won’t tell you when to plant your peas or how to stake tomatoes. But it’s a great intro to permaculture gardening–how to use the principles of ecology to design a more sustainable garden that’s also easier to maintain and more productive than the conventional row method.

  • I find blogs and blogging friends a valuable resource. Though I’ve been growing vegetables for decades, I moved recently (only 15 mins from my old house) and ran into a problem I hadn’t had before. One of my friends knew what the problem was immediately. Experimentation is always a great way to learn. There is a lot of advice out there and what works for your style and your particular yard can be different from another person’s yard. My extension service is always a good place to go. They have a large website and understand the pests and diseases in the area. My gardening bible is How to Grow More Vegetables as it has great charts on how far apart to plant for the best yields in a small space (better spacing advice that square foot gardening I think) and how warm things need to be before planting. But some of his advice is not really made for the backyard gardener. It is more tending to sustainable subsistence farming in rural areas.

  • I’m just flying by the seat of my pants! Last year was the first time I had a garden and what could go wrong with zucchini for the first time?! So I ended up with loads of Zukes and was quite happy. I get ideas and tips by following a local nursery and their garden guy and other people who are old hands at this. This year I’m growing Zukes, Cukes,and giant sunflowers. The Zukes and sunflowers are growing like gang-busters but I have just one Cuke plant that came up. I’m hoping once our Monsoon rains start more Cuke plants will pop up!

  • The bestest, most fun part of getting garden advice is talking to other addicts! I love finding other people who like to garden around my neighborhood and the kids’ school and sharing tips — and usually onion sets, seedlings, seeds, too many jalepenos, etc.

    I read gardening books and blogs years ago when I was just starting out – but then I spent a lot of time in trial and error learning for myself. Now I mostly go back only for specific problems, like why the heck are the darn carrots splitting (manure – they don’t like it).

    I am moving and will have a whole lot less space to garden now – almost no space with sun. I’m moving back to almost all pots myself as a result, and it’s going to be hard. Gardening has fed me in more ways than one for a long time, and I feel your sadness about not getting to grow what you’d like. But I’m glad that you get to indulge a little, at least! And I hope that a community plot comes up closer to home.

  • Years ago I got a free gardening book from the US government. It was one of many free self help books you order from Utah and is the best book ever. I don’t know if this service is still available; can’t find it on the net.
    I also like to use the James Underwood Crocker books that I bought back in the 70s. He was the host of the Victory Garden tv show many years ago, and a master gardener.
    And, of course, my husband. He knows everything about gardening. Don’t know how, he just knows. We have been gardening since the early 80’s and love it. Our philosophy is to plant more than we need (share with animals and loved ones), and grow something new from time to time. Our best “new” finds: you can grow okra in the NE, and tomatillos are the easiest thing to grow.
    Some of most everything we grow goes into canning, drying or freezing.

  • I’ve been gardening for a couple of years now and some of it has been hit or miss for me. I have a few books but mostly I’ve learned by experience. None of my friends really garden so I don’t have anyone I can ask questions. I don’t have a green thumb so I’m always a little disappointed when things go wrong.

    One thing I have learned is that zucchini is the easiest thing in the world to grow. I wish everything were that easy. I always have plenty on hand to use for making pickles and canning them.

  • I think reading is a great way to start learning. I’ve read so many gardening books that I’ve lost count. Then try some of the things you read about. Trial & error is not a bad way to learn. You tried a community garden & that didn’t work but have you thought about seeing if you could do a container garden on the roof of your apartment building? You’d be closer to home at least. I don’t know about mosquitoes – I assume that would still be something you’d have to deal with but it is possible. I’m a mosquito magnet. I can walk across my yard & come in with 30 to 40 bites in just a few minutes while my husband has none. I know how to deal with them after gardening for so many year.

    I read a lot before I began learning from people. I joined a garden club & I’ve learned a lot through that. I trade plants all the time so when I get a new one I know who to ask if there’s a problem, the person who shared it with.

    My last tip is to grow natives. For me that means what grows well in my soil & climate. For you that means growing indoors. Research all you can about what does well inside with less light.

    Love your blog & all the great ideas you share.

  • I have a ton of gardening books but I think the best resource may be gardening blogs of people in the same zone you’re in. They know the weeds that bedevil your garden. They’ve battled correcting the same soil. They know the native plants and, more importantly, what lovely looking thing you feel in love with from a picture can become invasive in your specific conditions. They know what to be ready to plant as the seasons change and when your tomato plants can go out. I’m in Southern California and I put tomatoes out in March. I want as much yield from my heirlooms as I can get before the verticullum strikes. If you’re a Zone 5 gardener and you follow that advice you’re in trouble!

    So, books are all well and good — and when it comes to indoor plants possibly more universally useful — but give me the blog of a gardener from my own zone.

  • I’m sorry to hear about your mosquito bite allergy. I’ve used a Terapik on my kids since they were babies (they are also allergic) and this thing works like a charm. I know it sound like snake oil but it works and I didn’t have to put any chemicals on them. It stopped the extreme swelling on my kids and it neutralized the histamine so they didn’t scratch it. Anyway hope it helps.

    I also like Gaia’s Garden by Hemenway because it appeals to my sense of environmentalism.

  • A bit of everything – books, blogs, talking to other gardeners, Extension services websites and pulications, and definitely trial and error too. Gardening is complex and full of surprises, not one year is like the other so you never know what issue you might encounter. – Reading your post also makes me (again) quite frustrated about how few people garden for food in this beautiful rural area where I live, whereas city dwellers wait for years to get a spot in a community garden.

  • Like a few other people who have commented here, I tend to ask people I know who garden. I have a few Rodale organic gardening books as well as a few other gardening books and if I have a specific question I don’t know the answer to, I’ll google it and/or ask some of the farmers down at market.

  • Besides the other good advice, I offer a couple more: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith, the Bountiful Container by McGee & Stuckey and pretty much anything by Eliot Coleman.

    As for gardening in a nearly impossible space: have you considered buying an Aerogarden or something like one? I live in the north and nothing grows here from November to March without serious help. One year we had snow before Halloween that stayed all winter and it even snowed that year in May. So my Aerogarden’s bright white lights on my kitchen counter sustain me over the long, dark winter. The flowers and/or herbs I can grow are pretty important too!