Longtime gardener, tomato expert and author Craig LeHoullier said he still gets nervous at times when he reads reviews of his book Epic Tomatoes. Despite his concerns, he usually ends up happy that the book got great reviews and helped people.
“I really wanted my book to include the things that I’ve become particularly knowledgeable about, which is knowledge of many tomato varieties and the ability to tell the stories and honor the families who sent them to me through those stories ‘ said LeHoullier.
LeHoullier knows the importance of a good book in educating people, and credits author James Underwood Crockett’s books with being a major influence on his interest in gardening. This 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 spoke to several gardening experts: LeHoullier, author and member of the Dwarf Tomato Project; Danae Horst, author of Houseplants for Everyone and owner of the Folia Collective plant shop in Eagle Rock; Andrew Wilcox, professor of landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona and active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA); and Ana Buckley, a houseplant enthusiast and manager at Lost Books (the shop specializes in both books and houseplants).
Some are new and some are vintage, but like a treasured heirloom that’s 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-run Dwarf Tomato Project, which 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 by James Underwood Crockett, the original host of The Victory Garden on PBS. They give gardeners month-to-month guidance on things like transplanting and caring for specific plants.
Why you should read them: LeHoullier said the books are just as relevant today as they were 40 years ago and are written in a way that is homely and not condescending.
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Books: Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalo Collection: This online collection contains 200,000 historic American and foreign seed catalogs, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Why you should read it: Although it’s not technically a book, LeHoullier said the collection is worth reading because it’s free and there’s a lot for readers to learn. “If anything adds to my current education to understand more about the history of country gardening, it only takes half an hour to flip through each evening to find out what my grandfather grew in the 1900s. Or my great-grandfather – what did he grow at the end of the 19th century? And the answer lies in all these wonderful digitized seed catalogues.”
Danae Horst recommends:
Horst is a photographer, writer, and owner of Eagle Rock-based plant boutique Folia, which sells a wide range of houseplants and gifts.
“Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction to Plant Science”: Since it was first published in 1990, several editions of this book by Brian Capon have appeared. An expanded fourth edition will appear in August 2022. The book teaches non-botanists complicated plant processes in lay language.
Why you should read it: Horst said the book is helpful in picking up on terminology that a gardener might encounter in gardening books or articles.
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“Success with houseplants”: This Reader’s Digest book was originally published in 1985 but provides information on many types of plants and their specific care needs. The second half of the book takes a more comprehensive look at plant care.
Why you should read it: Horst said the thick book goes into topics ranging from pruning to fertilizing. Though the photos are outdated, Horst said, there are actually many inspirational photos of plants designed in homes in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
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“Houseplants for Everyone: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants”: Horst’s own book was published in 2020 and offers readers information on how to choose houseplants that are suitable for their spaces. It includes information about lighting (with a quiz to help readers figure out what kind of light they have in their home), plants suited to that light, how to style plants, and handy tips on things like repotting, Pruning and Watering.
Why you should read it: Horst said the book and its content came from her daily interactions with customers at Folia and the questions they would ask her. She said her book aims to offer something for everyone, from beginners to seasoned 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 through the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, California. The foundation runs a local nursery. The index cards identify specific types of native plants and also provide guidance on how to care for them, Wilcox said.
Why you should read these: “This is a super handy tool that not only helps identify plants when walking around the nursery or home center on the weekend, but they’re also bilingual,” Wilcox wrote in an email.
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“Wild suburbs: learning to garden with native plants”: Read by Barbara Eisenstein in 2016, this work describes how gardeners can transform water-intensive suburban yards into spaces full of Californian 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 success stories.”
Buckley is the manager at Lost Books in Montrose, which sells a wide range of house plants in addition to its books. Buckley is a lover of houseplants herself.
“Home Planted: Choosing, Growing, and Styling the Perfect Plants for Your Space”: This 2021 edition, read by author Lisa Muñoz, is packed with great tips for beginners on caring for plants and warding off pests, and includes plenty of photos for reference.
Why you should read it: “My favorite part is decorating,” Buckley said. “It will give you ideas of where plants thrive and where to display them.”
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“Green: Plants for small spaces indoors and outdoors:” This 2020 book by Jason Chongue shares tips and tricks on how to grow not only houseplants but also fruits and vegetables in small containers.
Why you should read it: Buckley said the book’s focus on container and small patio gardening is essential for people who live in a small place like an LA apartment.