Knowledge is Power and one of the best ways to quickly gain knowledge is through good books. I still prefer to read physical books. I scan a lot of books on my Kindle but if I really want to read it, I immediately order the “real” book.
Here are some of my favorite gardening related books that I recommend. If I have reviewed them on this blog I include links to my original reviews.
Foundational Gardening Books
#1 – Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden
#2 – Native Plants of the Southeast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 460 Species for the Garden
#3 – The Prairie Garden: Seventy Native Plants You Can Grow in Town or Country
#4 – Manual of Woody Landscape Plants
Books that Dig Deeper
Books Every Citizen of a Democracy should Read
Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy
Not a lot more that I can say about this book. It makes the case for Native plants from an entomologists point of view beautifully.
I have to admit it, I originally didn’t get the whole native plant thing. I mean who cares where a plant comes from after all we are a country of immigrants here is the US . Gradually over the years been turned into a convert.
I now fully recognize the value of including native plants in the landscape. It was Doug’s monumentally important book Bringing Nature Home that really solidified my evolving views of how and why I should be pursuing my career and calling.
The Living Landscape by Doug Tallamy and Richard Darke
The Living Landscape is more of a continuation of “Bringing Nature Home” than a replacement for it.
If his first book made the case for using native plants in the landscape, this book shows you how in a general sense. This is not a “paint by number book” for creating a native landscape, but it is a broad and detailed covering of how and why it can be done.
This also is not a dumb down book for the beginning gardener. By the same token, I can’t imagine a better first book for someone looking to begin landscaping their home to read.
I recommend it without reservation. Check out my full review here: The Living Landscape Book review
Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher
I first heard Larry Weaner, the author of this book, on the Away to Garden podcast. It was a seminal moment in my life in that it, like reading Doug’s Bringing Nature Home was, totally changed how I saw landscaping. I have since read every article and listened to every presentation I have been able to find from Larry.
I also patiently waited for him to write a book. It was worth the wait. You can check out my full review from a few years ago here or read it on Amazon(it’s the 1st for this book).
Naturalistic Planting Design by Nigel Dunnett
As a landscape designer with a strong interest in creating ecological sound landscapes, this book was the best I have read in a long time.
There is enough detail in theory as well as practices that I am in the process of rereading it (1st time was this Summer). Great ideas thoroughly explained, plus lavish photos and illustrations. I only wish the ending sections were a little longer and more detail. Still, this is the best gardening book I have read this year. I liked this better than his colleague’s Sowing Beauty (which is great in its own right but is focused on seed grown plantings).
Note this is a deep book that is definitely for professionals or obsessive gardeners with a natural or native plant bent. Not for casual gardeners or native plant purists.
Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden by Allan Branhagen
This is the first book I would recommend to gardeners/landscapers in the Midwest who are looking to add ecological value through natives plants.
I love plant books where an author will give their opinion of plants instead of just listing dry facts. Alan does this in this comprehensive book. See my review post, Native Plants of the Midwest Book Review for more information.
Native Plants of the Southeast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 460 Species for the Garden by Larry Mellichamp
This book is in the same format as Native Plants of the Midwest and is just as high quality. If you are from this region, it should be added to your library. It does have a feature that I like that the Midwest books does not, that being a star rating for the ornamental usefulness of the plant. A lot of the plants in this book are in the nursery trade even in my area so it may be useful to you even if you are in a nearby region.
The Prairie Garden: Seventy Native Plants You Can Grow in Town or Country by J. Robert Smith
This book is from the original owner of Prairie Nursery. It is a nice little paperback book from the 1980’s that does not have color photos but instead drawings. I actually think they may be easier to understand than lots of photos are. It is also my go to book when I am looking to grow new prairie plants from seed or even just add them to my garden.
Manual of Woody Landscape Plants Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propogation and Uses by Michael Dirr
Their is no way I can’t recommend Michael Dirr’s classic massive book. This is an expensive book but it may be the best value here. If you want to know about trees and shrubs grown in Landscape this book is a no brainer. It sits on the desk (not the shelf) of every nursery and serious landscaper that I know.
While not specific toward native plants or wildlife friendly plants, it includes just about every tree or shrub used in landscaping. It has no color pictures just line drawings. It is just packed with information and Dirr’s brutally honest opinions instead.
Principles of Ecological Landscape Design by Travis Beck
I bought this book in 2014. I promptly read it. In a class I took in 2018 for a Profesional certificate in Ecological Restoration I am working on, it was used as the textbook and I STUDIED most of it again. I still have not absorded probably half of what is in this book. It is deep and extensive in what it covers.
This is an applied ecology book 1st and foremost. It is brillant. It is also not for the casual reader, but instead it is for serious practioniers of ecological landscaping.
Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land Workbook by Steven I. Apfelbaum
There are actually two versions of this book, I have both and prefer this workbook format. This is a book for those who have a decent amount of property (i.e. multiple acres) and are looking to return the land (or at least part of it) to a previous state such as a prairie, woodland, etc.
It is a book that guides you through a process of doing ecological restoration on their land over the course of multiple years. It does provide a framework to really guide your restoration project. Good stuff but not for the casual gardener or even landscaper.
With People in Mind: Design And Management Of Everyday Nature by Kaplan
This is a book different than all the others I have recommended so far, as it is not about gardening or ecology. This is a book about people and nature. It is about the way the natural environment can enhance our well being and ability to function. It is also about how to design natural spaces to do just that effectively.