Longtime gardener, tomato expert and author Craig LeHoullier said he still sometimes gets nervous reading reviews of his book, “Epic Tomatoes.” Despite his worry his, he typically ends up pleased that the book has gotten great reviews and helped people.
“What I wanted my book to do is really feature those things that I particularly gained an expertise in, which is knowledge of a lot of types of tomatoes and being able to tell the stories and honor the families that sent them to me through those stories ,” LeHoullier said.
LeHoullier knows the value of a good book in educating people, and he credits books by author James Underwood Crockett as being major influences on his interest in gardening. That got us thinking about other books that might be good choices for gardeners. We asked LeHoullier and three other book experts to recommend some of their favorite gardening reads.
We talked with several gardening experts: LeHoullier, author and a member of the Dwarf Tomato Project; Danae Horst, author of the book “Houseplants for All” and owner of Eagle Rock-based plant store Folia Collective; Andrew Wilcox, professor of landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona and an active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA); and Ana Buckley, a houseplant enthusiast and manager at Lost Books (the store specializes in both books and houseplants).
Some are new and some are vintage, but like a prized heirloom that’s been grown for decades, our experts say they’re just as good now.
Craig LeHoullier recommends:
Books: “Crockett’s Victory Garden” and “Crockett’s Flower Garden”
North Carolina-based LeHoullier joined the Seed Savers Exchange in 1986, helped introduce gardeners to the popular heirloom Cherokee Purple and is one of the people behind the volunteer-driven Dwarf Tomato Project that has produced dozens of new dwarf tomato varieties
These two books, “Crockett’s Victory Garden” and “Crockett’s Flower Garden,” published in 1977 and 1981 respectively, are from James Underwood Crockett, the original host of “The Victory Garden” on PBS. They give month-to-month guidance for gardeners on things such as when to transplant and how to tend to particular plants.
Why you should read them: LeHoullier said that the books are just as relevant now as they were 40 years ago and are written in a way that’s homey and not condescending.
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Books: Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalo Collection: This online collection features 200,000 historical American and foreign seed catalogs, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Why you should read it: Though not technically a book, LeHoullier said the collection is worth perusing because it’s free and readers can learn a lot. “If anything adds to my current education of trying to understand more about the history of gardening in the country, it’s just taking a half hour every night and flipping through, trying to figure out what my grandfather grew in the 1900s. Or my great-grandfather – what was he growing in the late 1800s? And the answer is sitting in all of these wonderful digitized seed catalogs.”
Danae Horst recommends:
Horst is a photographer, author and owner of Eagle Rock-based plant boutique Folia, which offers a wide assortment of house plants and gifts.
“Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction to the Science of Plants”: Multiple editions of this book by Brian Capon have been put out since its initial release in 1990. An expanded fourth edition will be published in August 2022. The book teaches non-botanists about complicated plant processes in layman’s terms.
Why you should read it: Horst said the book is helpful for picking up terminology that a gardener might encounter in gardening books or articles.
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“Success With Houseplants”: This book from Reader’s Digest was originally published in 1985, but offers information on many kinds of plants and their specific care needs. The second half of the book takes a more overarching look at plant care.
Why you should read it: Horst said the thick book goes on topics ranging from pruning to fertilizer. Though the photos are dated, Horst said there are actually a lot of inspiring photos of plants being styled in homes in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
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“Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants”: Horst’s own book came out in 2020 and offers readers information on how to pick out houseplants that are appropriate for their spaces. It includes information on lighting (with a quiz designed to help readers figure out what kind of light they have in their home), plants that are appropriate for that light, how to style plants and practical tips on things such as repotting, pruning and watering .
Why you should read it: Horst said the book and its content stemmed from her everyday interactions with customers at Folia and the questions they would bring her. She said her book her aims to have something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced plant owners.
Andrew Wilcox recommends:
Wilcox is a professor of landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona and is also active in the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
“Native Plants for Southern California Gardens Flashcards”: These flashcards are available for sale through the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, California. The foundation operates a native plant nursery. The flashcards identify particular types of native plants and also have notes on how to maintain them, Wilcox said.
Why you should read these: “This is a super-handy tool not only for helping to identify plants as you walk around the nursery or home center on the weekends but they are bilingual too,” Wilcox wrote in an email.
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“Wild Suburbia: Learning to Garden with Native Plants”: This 2016 read by Barbara Eisenstein details how gardeners can transform high water usage suburban yards into spaces filled with California native and climate-adapted plants.
Why you should read it: Wilcox said for beginners, “This is a good place to start with some practical advice and stories of success.”
Buckley is a manager at Lost Books in Montrose, which offers a wide selection of houseplants in addition to its books. Buckley is a houseplant enthusiast herself.
“House Planted: Choosing, Growing, and Styling the Perfect Plants for Your Space”: This 2021 read by author Lisa Muñoz features lots of good tips for beginners on how to take care of plants and how to stave off pests and includes many photographs as visual aids.