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8 Books That Dig Deep into Gardening

From historical mysteries to poetic memoirs, these books will delight green thumbs looking for design inspiration, gardening advice and philosophical musings / BY Athena McKenzie / July 30th, 2021

From a historical mystery to poetic memoirs, these books will delight green thumbs looking for design inspiration, gardening advice and philosophical musings

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Fresh Water for Flowers Valérie Perrin

“I planted them in 1997, the year we arrived. They’ve grown a lot and make my cemetery look splendid. Maintaining it is all about caring for the dead who lie within it. It’s about respecting them. And if they weren’t respected in life, at least they are in death.”

This French author’s compelling novel about Violette Toussaint – the charming caretaker of a small-town cemetery in Burgundy, France – was the “lockdown novel” in Europe. Violette spends her days tending her flower and vegetable gardens, and welcoming mourners, gravediggers and a priest with cups of coffee in her lodge. When the police chief shows up with his mother’s ashes to fulfill her request to be scattered on the tomb of a man he has never heard of, it soon becomes clear that Violette’s complicated history is entwined in this strange endeavour.

2Philosophy of GardeningEdited by Blanka Stolz, translated by Karen Caruana

“Working in the garden seems to induce a sense of meditative calm, a mindset that’s been described as desirable by philosophers from Epicurus to Hume.”

In these lyrical personal essays, philosophers, designers and master gardeners muse on the purpose and delights of the garden. Translator Karen Caruana began the project at the beginning of the first lockdown, and without seeds to start her own garden, found that she could garden vicariously through these essays, which prompted her to look at her own relationship with gardening.

3Cultivated Christin Geall

“Flowers shape my years now. They are both calendar and clock, an all-consuming love I bow to as graciously as I can.”

Based in Victoria, B.C., Christin Geall is a gardener, floral designer, photographer and writer, and all her skills are on full display in this verdant coffee-table book cum useful guide. Her stories and lessons cover growing plants, working with and photographing flowers, as well as deep dives into colour theory and art history, accompanied by her lush photographs that are reminiscent of classic paintings.

4The Heirloom Garden Viola Shipman

“The daisies remind you to be happy. The hydrangeas remind you to be colorful. The lilacs remind us to breathe deeply. The pansies reflect our own images back at us. The hollyhocks remind us to stand tall in this world. And the roses – oh, the roses! – they remind us that beauty is always present even amongst the thorns.”

In this novel from bestselling U.S. author Wade Rouse, who writes under the pen name Viola Shipman – a tribute to his grandmother – we meet Iris, who lost her husband in the Second World War and her daughter to polio. She finds solace from her grief in her large walled garden, and pours her life into creating floral masterpieces. When a young family moves in next door – one with its own tragedies – Iris is drawn out of her solitary life, finding connection through a shared passion for flowers.


5The Last Garden in England Julia Kelly

“Creating a fantasy of nature is part of the gardener’s role.”

Three interweaving timelines are connected by one garden the latest book of historical fiction from the London-based author. In the present, Emma Lovett is restoring the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero, Venetia Smith. The garden begins to reveal secrets from Venetia’s past, as well as those of Beth Pedley, one of the so-called land girls hired  during the Second World War to work on farms and country estates.


6Under Western SkiesJennifer Jewell

“Most gardens are a three-part alchemy between the riches and constraints of the natural and/or cultural history of the place, the individual creativity and personality of the gardener, and the gardening culture in which both the garden and the gardener exist.”

U.S. gardener and writer Jennifer Jewell explores the intersection between gardens and natural spaces in the belief that intentional gardens can address wide-ranging challenges such as climate change, habitat loss, social justice, and health and well-being. Together with Caitlin Atkinson’s dynamic photographs, the book focuses on the natural beauty and potential for unique gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast.


7The Story of GardeningPenelope Hobhouse

“We can picture the garden-owner gradually beginning to derive pride, status and pleasure from the plot that it was within his power to make fertile and beautiful.”

On this grand visual tour of gardening history that covers Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, England, China and Japan, we learn how gardening is an age-old struggle to appreciate and amplify nature’s beauty while trying to impose order. Revered British garden designer Penelope Hobhouse, now in her 90s, wrote the original edition, which was published in 2002. Here, Ambra Edwards, a gardening historian and columnist from Dorset, brings her voice to this timely update.


8Uprooted Paige Dickey

“When all the daffodils have finished blooming in the orchard, the meadow grasses are high enough to conceal their decaying leaves. And by the summer solstice, black-eyed Susans, ox-eyed daisies, and fleabane are flowering, peppering the soft grasses with yellow and white.”

When popular garden writer Page Dickey sold her Duck Hill Farm property in North Salem, N.Y., and with it, the three-acre garden she had been working on for more than 30 years, one might have assumed she wanted to downsize. But she traded up to 17 acres in rural Connecticut, taking on the challenge of starting over in her 70s. While sad to leave her beloved Duck Hill, in this memoir Dickey rediscovers the joys of gardening and embraces the wilder, larger landscape. Accompanying her poetic prose are engaging photographs that make this a read to linger over.



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