A Central Austin Gardener's Most-Read Books

Reading about gardening is almost as intoxicating as gardening itself. Some books focus on place (patio gardens, container gardens, water gardens, shady gardens, urban gardens, vegetable gardens). Other books focus on method (organic gardening, gardening for lazy people, square foot gardening, gardening in 20 minutes a day). Some reference books describe every garden plant; others focus on a specific type (daffodils, roses, lilies, irises, ornamental grasses). After reading through the general "how to" books and plant descriptions, you'll discover garden design, the politics of gardening, the philosophy of gardening, and the life stories of gardeners and gardens. There are picture books and books with no pictures, books for gardening with children and books for gardening for wildlife.

I've read almost every gardening book in the Austin Public Library at least once. This is a list of those I return to again and again. I feel like I know these people and their gardens. I've indicated the call number of books available at the Austin Public Library.

When you begin your own collection of gardening books, check out Half Price Books. It has a revolving selection of used and remaindered books that will leave more money in your budget for plants.

Plants for the South

So much advice and so many contradictions! There are thousands of books on gardening, but most seem to be written by gardeners living in England, New England, or the Pacific Northwest. Temper their advice and recommendations with the understanding that their geography and their seasons are not the same as ours. When an English gardener writes that a plant prefers a hot, dry site, he or she isn't imagining our 42 days of 100+ degrees in a summer.

A Southern Garden
Elizabeth Lawrence. (Raleigh, North Carolina) 1942.
Published in 1942, A Southern Garden was the first book written specifically for gardeners in the South. It remains one of the most eloquent and delightful. Plant descriptions are arranged by season. A detailed bloom calendar is included in an appendix.
Austin Public Library 635.90975 La
Passalong Plants
Steve Bender. (Birmingham, Alabama) & Felder Rushing. (Jackson, Mississippi) 1993.
Offbeat, wacky, outrageous...words not normally associated with gardening books. I love these guys! I'm also pretty sure that my Bouldin Creek neighbors take landscape design advice from these two southern plantsmen. An antidote to English gardening books from a couple of good ole boys who garden in the south and understand our weather and our ways. Descriptions of each plant run about a page, accompanied with a memory, and a color photo.
Read more about it
Austin Public Library 635.90975 Be
Garden Bulbs for the South
Scott Ogden. (New Braunfels) 1994.
Austin Public Library 635.9440975 Og
This was one of the first garden books I owned and it is still my favorite reference for bulbs. If you've been discouraged because you can't grow tulips and daffodils and other bulbs associated with spring in northern climes, read this book. Scott Ogden will introduce you to a world of lesser known bulbs which can thrive in our heat and heavy soil. His tone is friendly and informal; he is the knowledgeable gardening friend that we all wished lived next door to us, willing to share stories of plants he has known and give us plain and simple advice.
    At first I found the organization a bit confusing. Bulbs are grouped by their bloom time and then by family. To make it easier to scan, I wish there were more headings. There are some color photographs and a good index. But it is the plant descriptions, the recommended varieties, the various cautions, encouragements, and anecdotes that make this a must-have reference for anyone who wants to grow bulbs in Austin.
Austin Public Library 635.9440975 Og
Gardening Success with Difficult Soils
Scott Ogden. (New Braunfels)
Austin Public Library 635.955 Og
Naturalizing Bulbs
Rob Proctor. (Denver, Colorado)
Austin Public Library 635.94097 Pr
Bulbs for Warm Climates
Thad M. Howard (near San Antonio) 2001.
Published in 2001 by the University of Texas Press, this reference complements and updates Garden Bulbs for the South. The organization of information, the typeface, and the color photographs are all better. It is more scholarly and encyclopedic.
Austin Public Library 635.94 Ho
Sunbelt Gardening: Success in Hot-Weather Climates
Tom Peace (south-central Texas) 2000.
One of the best of the recently published books which focuses on heat-hardiness (rather than the tradional cold-hardiness) of plants. Sunbelt Gardening considers issues for gardeners both in the southeast and the southwest, making it especially useful to Central Texas gardeners who deal with both climates. The introduction provides a set of principles which should help transplanted gardeners from the north rethink their gardening habits. The first section expands on the idea that the best time to garden in the south is the winter. The rest of the book is divided by season and then type of plants. This is not a plant encyclopedia; there are not individual entries per plant. Typically each variety is discussed in a paragraph and compared and contrasted with similar types of plants (bulbs, vines, grasses, annuals, perennials). Full-color photographs throughout, although this is not just a picture book.
Austin Public Library 635.952 Pe
Roses in the Southern Garden
G. Michael Shoup. (Brenham) 2000.
Basically this book is an expanded version of the catalog for Shoup's Antique Rose Emporium, but that is not a complaint. Each rose gets a page or two to itself, complete with two or three color photographs (most taken at the Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham). You can be sure that any rose listed has a good chance of succeeding in an Austin garden (these are not your finicky hybrid teas). All my own roses are here: 'Buff Beauty', 'Blush Noisette', 'New Dawn', 'Sombreuil', and 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'. If this book succeeds in making you want to rush out and buy roses, Barton Springs Nursery and The Natural Gardener are both outlets for the Antique Rose Emporium. But it is worth a drive to Brenham to see the display gardens which give you a sense of what the roses will look like five or ten years from now.
Austin Public Library 635.933734 Sh
Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country
Marshall Enquist. 1987.
This is not a gardening book, but a wildflower identification book. It is my favorite for several reasons: it is narrowly focused on the Texas Hill Country; it does not discriminate against non-native plants and so is valuable for identifying naturalized plants that are often catalogued as weeds in the garden; it photographs each specimen against a black background.
Austin Public Library 582.1309764 En
Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region
Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski. (Dallas) 1988.
I had already failed with traditional landscapes plants in other Austin yards, so when faced with a big yard all my own, I decided to find plants that had a fighting chance of making it on their own. I began my research with Native Texas Plants. Plants are grouped by type and the plant descriptions include a color photo and soil, moisture, and temperature requirements. The various regions of Texas are described and an example garden plan for each detailed.
   My favorite way to use this book is to find some plants I like, then go to the nursery and look at them. Then find some plants at the nursery, and come home and see whether the book says I can grow them in this region. It's not a foolproof system, but it has saved me a lot of money by preventing me from buying plants that have no chance in my back yard.
Austin Public Library 635.951764 Wa


The Kitchen Garden: A Passionate Gardener's Comprehensive Guide to Growing Good Things to Eat
Sylvia Thompson (San Jacinto Mountains, Southern California) 1995.
The subtitle provides the best description, although it could have just as easily been "A Passionate Eater's Guide...", but perhaps that name was reserved for the companion book "The Kitchen Garden Cookbook". This is my encyclopedia for the vegetable garden.
    In the first section of the book, plants are described in alphabetical order. Each description contains detailed growing instructions and also descriptions and recommendations of different varieties. As such, this book provides and excellent guide through the overwhelming choices offered in the seed catalogs where all varieties are described by the catalog writers in confusing superlatives. Sylvia Thompson includes advice for all types of gardening environments, rather than assuming that we all garden under the same conditions as she.
    The second section of the book is an alphabetical description of gardening terms and practices. Also included are reference charts for sowing and reaping, a list of seed and plant sources, and a bibliography.
Austin Public Library 635 Th
A Woman's Hardy Garden
Helena Rutherford Ely (New England?) 1903. Reprinted in 1990.
Almost 100 years old now, this is one of the first books written for the small American garden to encourage an informal cottage style filled with flowers, often American native plants. It is called a hardy garden, because it focuses on plants that overwinter rather than those that must be raised in a greenhouse and bedded out, as was the style of the time.
   The very short chapters are written in a straight-forward yet elegant style. The early chapters deal with designing, preparing for, and creating the garden itself. The latter chapters focus on specific types of plants (annuals, perennials, shrubs, irises, roses, lilies).
"I always think of my sins when I weed. They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of. It seems a pity sometimes not to nurture a pet one, just as it does to destroy a beautiful plant of Wild Mustard, or of Queen Anne's Lace."
Austin Public Library 635.9 EL
Neil Sperry's Complete Guide to Texas Gardening
Neil Sperry (Dallas). 1991.
This is the first book that anyone beginning gardening in Texas, especially those who are used to gardening elsewhere, should read. Full of both general gardening topics and plant descriptions, the advice is targeted for the different climates and soils within Texas. This handy reference could also have been titled "Creating the Suburban Texas Landscape".
Austin Public Library 635.09764 Sp


Tasha Tudor's Garden
Tovah Martin, Richard W. Brown, & Tasha Tudor (Vermont) 1994.
My garden is never going to look like Tasha Tudor's and if you live anywhere in the South, neither is yours. So don't fret over the impossible. Study how she projects a sense of place and reflection of her own spirit in her garden. If you continue to gaze too longingly at the gorgeous color photos of Tasha Tudor's Garden, console yourself with the thought that Southerners don't have to contend with a frost in September killing all our annuals.
Austin Public Library 635.9092 Ma
Lee Bailey's Country Flowers: Gardening and Bouquets from Spring to Fall
Lee Bailey. (Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York) 1985.
Not really a gardening book, but a book of color photographs of bouquets gathered from the garden, Lee Bailey's Country Flowers inspired my beginning gardening three ways; first to begin observing the changes in my garden from week to week; second, to photograph the flowers. Lastly, it reassured me that it was all right to leave large portions of my yard uncultivated, to begin a little at a time, and to let nature take care of the rest.
Austin Public Library 635.9 Ba
Henry Mitchell on Gardening
Henry Mitchell. (Washington, DC)
Collected essays from Henry Mitchell's Washington Post column written from 1973 to his death in 1993.
The Essential Earthman
Henry Mitchell. (Washington, DC)
More collected essays.

The Natural World / Nature vs. Nurture

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
Michael Pollan. (Connecticut)
Michael Pollan is one of those thoughtful garderners who spends those long, quiet hours tilling and weeding meditating on what it all means.
"For I soon came to the realization that I would not learn to garden very well before I'd also learned about a few other things: about my proper place in nature (was I within my rights to murder the woodchuck that had been sacking my vegetable garden all spring?); about the somewhat peculiar attitudes toward the land that an American is born with (why is it the neighbors have taken such a keen interest in the state of my lawn?); about the troubled borders between nature and culture; and about the experience of place, the moral implications of landscape design, and several other questions that the wish to harvest a few decent tomatoes had not prepared me for."
Pollan's writing is lively; his insights, provoking. He is touching, especially when writing about his grandfather. And, often, he is downright hilarious. I laugh out loud whenever I reread his descriptions of the two upscale catalogs, Wayside and White Flower Farms.
Austin Public Library 635.9 Po
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife
Noreen Damude & Kelly Conrad Bender. 1999.
If Second Nature inspires you to build bridges between the garden and nature, then Texas Wildscapes will tell you how to do it. Published by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Press, the goal of this book is to help you create good wildlife habitat in your urban or suburban garden, first by designing a garden hospitable to Texas wildlife and then by implementing your design with hospitable native plants. In addition to step by step instructions, Texas Wildscapes contains many tables of reference material to help you identify the birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects in your garden.
Austin Public Library 635.951764 Da
Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
C. Malcolm Beck and John Howard Garrett. 1999
I like this book because it is the first place I've ever read a good word about wasps. Other backyard habitat books draw the line and exclude wasps. Wasps are beneficial destroyers of caterpillars. Malcolm Beck says that they eat tent caterpillars amd I believe him, because when I stopped spraying wasp nests, I stopped having problems with tent caterpillars in my pecan trees. I've had paper wasp nests for years under my eaves next to my clothesline. They have never been threatening. The only time I was ever stung by a wasp was when I stepped on a yellow jacket in tall grass. But whose fault was that?
Austin Public Library 632.709764 Be


We Made a Garden
Margery Fish. 1956. Reprinted 1995. (Somerset, England)
I debated whether I should have listed this book in the "how to" section, because (as the back cover says) it is "Full of practical information and inspiring ideas on how to create a garden out of a wilderness." But since the tone is "how I did it" and the "and you can too" is only implied, I finally decided it fits best here with the stories of gardens and their gardeners.
   I wonder if my own garden would have developed more quickly had I read this book in the beginning, rather than now, in the middle. It considers all the things I've find myself thinking about lately: the lawn, the hedges, the paths, what to plant, failures, and even finishing up. I think the very distance in time and space between my garden and Margery Fish's garden emphasizes some of the organizing principals of gardening--a cohesiveness and an order that transcend a mere collection of plants, a difference in gardening style or regional ecology. The garden is the whole; the plants are just the parts.
   One thing is very clear; the operative word in the title is "made". By comparison, I have been timid about imposing myself upon the land. As a result, I expend a great deal of effort for much less of an effect.
Austin Public Library 635.9094238 Fi
The Gardener's Year
Karel Capek. 1931. Reprinted 1984.
Find out if your favorite gardener has this book, and if not, make a present of it. This has to be the funniest book ever written on gardening, more so because it is all true. To give examples, I'd have to quote long passages. Don't give this book to a beginning gardener, though. The reader should have gardened through at least one year to really appreciate Karel Capek's observations.
Read more about it
Austin Public Library 635.90207 Ca
Garlic is Life: A Memoir with Recipes
Chester Aaron. (California)
Professor turned garlic farmer in California. Very personal reminiscences written when he is in his 70s.
Austin Public Library 635.26 Aa