A Treasure Chest of Gardening Wisdom, for You or Those on Your Gift List

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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, December 13, 2008

One school holiday assignment I never minded was to read a book of my choice. So, here are my picks for some landscape and gardening books for your holiday reading and gift list this year.

· "Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes," by Allan M. Armitage (Stipes, 2008), is not exactly a curl-up-on-the-couch type of book, considering that it's an 1,109-page, encyclopedic tome. But, whether you are a grower, collector or simply appreciate perennial plants, Armitage's style makes the text one you will want to read from front to back and use as a reference for years. There are more than 300 color photographs in this soft-cover study of perennials that weighs in at more than four pounds. Cost: $84.80.

· "Listening to Stone: Hardy Structures, Perilous Follies, and Other Tangles With Nature," by Dan Snow (Artisan, 2008), is a brilliant work by an ingenious artist and stone mason. Your jaw will drop a little more with each turn of the page. It's reminiscent of artwork by M.C. Escher, who drew impossible structures, except Escher's drawings were one-dimensional. Snow's works are three-dimensional, real-world objects that are constructed of stone without mortar that actually exists in the landscape Remarkably, most are working fabrications. His latest book is part philosophy and part geology. He promotes a sense of community: When loose stone is collected and arranged, conversations take place. We hear people pondering their place on earth. With photography by Peter Mauss, this 144-page hardcover will inspire you to fashion your own stone structures. Cost: $23.95.

· "Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites," by Ken Druse (Clarkson Potter, 2008), will make a handsome addition to your coffee table. The author is a distinguished photographer whose pictures had me testing my knowledge of plants before I read one word of this well-researched book. The text is loaded with surprises. For example, sailors got vitamin C by brewing a tea from the bark of live evergreens transported to prevent scurvy while at sea. This plant was named arborvitae or in English, tree of life. You will also learn practices to use when pruning, preening and protecting plants. This 288-page book is beautifully appointed with photographs. Cost: $50.

· "University of Maryland Master Gardeners Handbook," by the state's Master Gardener Program, located at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center, contains the most up-to-date information available about proper horticultural practices for Maryland and adjacent states in the Mid-Atlantic region. Updated this fall, the book is a cooperative effort by numerous authors, horticulture professionals and administrators. This 655-page spiral-bound paperback has been organized into chapters starting with ecology and covering virtually all elements of the landscape, including botany; soils; plant pathology, diagnosis and treatment; plant nutrition; entomology; weeds; ornamentals; edibles; invasives; natives; aquatics; houseplants; landscape design; propagation; pruning; water quality and wildlife. To order, call 410-531-5556 (http://www.mastergardener.umd.edu) or contact the Home and Garden Information Center at 1-800-342-2507 (http://www.hgic.umd.edu). Cost: $69.

· "Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy," by Bonnie J. Gisel with images by Stephen J. Joseph (Heyday Books, 2008), focuses on one of this wilderness and mountaineering aficionado's lesser-known passions. The graphic illustrations in this handsome, hardbound volume have been masterfully designed to appear as Muir saw these dried specimens. He collected and catalogued hundreds of plants and stored his herbarium in San Francisco when he left Oakland to roam in the mountain wilderness. This book is a testament to Muir's contributions to the botanical world. In spite of his documentation of many of the nation's natural wonders, and columns in a number of publications, he preferred being known as a botanist. This 256-page hardcover offers a look at Muir's life through his notes and 150 historical and botanical images. Cost: $45.

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