Some gardening books

The forest in spring, with dogwood in bloom.

The picture above shows part of the native forest that stretches across out modest suburban backyard. Notice the flowering dogwood and the white ash in the background that was just leafing out in mid-May. Everuthing you see was planted by me and my husband, and this lovely woodland replaces a very boring bit of lawn.

This photo encapsulates my approach to gardening, which, as my regular readers understand, is to attempt to restore the natural environment. This approach is not ornamental so much as ecological (although I think the results are very beautiful). I plant native plants and I choose plants that are well suited to my site. I try to work with nature rather than to impose my will on my tiny slice of the environment. If this approach is of interest to you or to your gardening friends, here are some books that you might consider getting for yourself or for gifts.

Noah’s Garden  and Planting Noah’s Garden, by Sarah Stein

These two beautifully written books, taken together, tell you everything you need to know about environmental gardening—what it is and how to do it here in the Northeast. Noah’s Garden tells you why, and Planting Noah’s Garden tells you how. These books are out of print but still available on

Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guides for a Greener Planet)

The book that answers the question “What should I plant instead?” Describes beautiful native alternatives to specific invasive trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and grasses.

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers by Gary L. Hightshoe

Looking for a mid-height native shrub, with great fall color, to plant in a shady site with acid soil? Or perhaps you need a small street tree that can withstand salt and soil compaction. This book can help you find a native plant for any site. A huge, expensive, but extremely useful reference work.

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Douglas Tallamy

The author, an entomologist, has a simple thesis: the more bugs you see, the healthier your backyard environment is. A strong argument for the use of native plants and sustainable gardening methods. The book that is turning people on to native plants today, as Stein’s books did 20 years ago.

Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East by Carolyn Summers

A fascinating new book by a landscape architect. Describes how to use native plants to create traditional gardens, even English cottage gardens and Japanese gardens. Good appendices listing many native plants, nurseries, street trees, etc.

Finally, I often recommend field guides to wildflowers, butterflies, trees, and shrubs as excellent resources for sustainable gardeners. I use the Peterson series, but you may find that you prefer a different one, such as Audubon. A particularly informative book is the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Forests, which is an excellent reference on the ecology of forests. The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies has extensive lists of host plants.


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