Get Great Gardening Advice from Books

By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener

Last year the coronavirus brought so many changes to our lives. We all had to make adjustments, some more difficult than others. One bright spot during these trying times is increased interest in creating more livable outdoor spaces and engaging with the natural world. Several new books are readily available now online and at local libraries offering curbside pickup.

My favorite is Jan Jansen’s Gardentopia. I spent hours with this pictorial guide, savoring 135 ideas for creating my very own sanctuary. Jansen’s insights as a professional landscape designer are inspirational. Each concept is briefly described and accompanied by photographs that bring the concept to life. The book is divided into five sections: garden design; walls, patios, walks and steps; theme gardens; color in the garden; and plants and planting. I found so many useful ideas that I bought the book to highlight suggestions for framing my garden area, creating focal areas, adding artful accents and more. I’ve no doubt this book will inspire others to enhance the beauty and function of their garden landscapes.

If you are more interested in step-by-step guides, then Landscaping for Beginners by Landscape Design Academy should fit the bill. Another resource book is Pauline Pears’ revised Organic Book of Compost. It starts with the evolution of composting throughout history, then takes the reader on a journey through recycling household waste, culminating in the production of fertile soil.

Although published in 2019, Nature Play at Home by Nancy Striniste could not be timelier. It is a compendium of ideas to engage children in creating outdoor spaces and to connect them with nature. There are suggestions for building play spaces in your yard; explorations in nature; and activities that involve climbing, planting and crafting with natural resources. All of these ideas are captured in photographs that spark the imagination. I found how easy it is to bring joy to children whose school lives have been disrupted when I saw my grandsons’ eyes light up after suggesting they each paint a mural on my garden shed doors.

In Colorado we are blessed with so many accessible parks and wide-open spaces that we might unknowingly take them for granted. This was not urbanite Charlene Costanzo’s experience when she felt a sense of awe upon seeing San Carlos Bay, Florida, for the first time. In The Twelve Gifts from the Garden, Costanzo poetically illustrates in short vignettes how first impressions in nature can change after close observation and reflection. As a birder, I enjoyed her discovery that two dead trees were intentionally left in a well-maintained garden to provide homes for various species, including an osprey that she spotted dining on a freshly caught fish. Costanzo suggests that observations like this are gifts that can bring a sense of peace and well-being.

Books that help us recognize, appreciate and cultivate gifts from the garden are particularly enjoyable as we spend more time at home, in our gardens and in nature with our families.

Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.