Green Scene

The best gardening books of 2009

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, December 12, 2009

Landscape and gardening books are handy sources of inspiration that make perfect holiday gifts for the gardener on your list. Here is a selection of the best works from this year's bumper crop of books:

"American Horticultural Society New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques: The Indispensable Illustrated Practical Guide" edited by David J. Ellis, Fiona Gilsenan, Rita Pelczar and Graham Rice (Mitchell Beazley, 2009). This is a must have for gardeners and landscape designers. Horticultural techniques are essential elements of landscape designs. Without proper maintenance, designs are quickly lost. This book presents an organized approach to property care, including basic horticultural guidelines, wildlife, ornamentals, vegetables, herbs, fruit, lawns, aquatics and containers. It features step-by-step color illustrations of landscaping tasks and 200 full-color photographs. Hardcover, 480 pages. $45.

"The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants" by Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kessler and Madeline Harley (Firefly Books, 2009). The authors leverage the power of microscopes to enlarge tiny bits of plant material to fill entire pages in this photo anthology. Seen in a larger than life fashion, pollens and seeds become complete life forms with unique purposes. The photography and text convey a wealth of information about the organisms responsible for our plant world. The authors' narrative is unique and as ethereal as the color images. Hardcover, 144 pages. $29.95

"Fragrant Designs" is the latest Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) All-Region Guide, part of the award-winning gardening handbook series that has been published continuously since 1945. The booklet presents a general overview of scents, and their effect in the garden, offering sections on capturing fragrance for garden designs. Many horticultural experts have written chapters, and the work features more than 100 color photographs and illustrations. To subscribe to the series, call 718-623-7200 or visit Paperback, 119 pages. $9.95,

"Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" sixth edition, by Michael A. Dirr (Stipes Publishing, 2009). The author's works are known to serious gardeners and landscape professionals around the world. I have used Dirr's books for more than 25 years, and this latest 5 1/2 -pound volume is his most complete compilation of woody ornamentals. It offers thorough information about shrubs and trees to help you decide on the right plants for a site. Organized alphabetically by botanical name (genus and species), there are 14 indexed pages of common names that gardeners will find helpful. The text follows a standard format for each genus with thousands of hybrids listed. 1,325 pages. $76.80 soft cover, $96.80 hardback

"Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love" by Julie Moir Messervy (the Taunton Press, 2009). One of the nation's preeminent landscape designers, Messervy guides readers through six of what she calls "pleasure principles." In a text rich in landscape ideas, she illustrates how you can create your own "pleasure ground." Messervy considers defining your comfort zone as an important factor for making your garden flow and examines this question in depth. She also instills confidence in do-it-yourselfers so that they will have a better grasp of how to envision their space. Hardcover, 249 pages. $30

"Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" second edition, by Toby Hemenway (Chelsea Green, 2009). This book explores ways to create energy-efficient designs by making good use of sun, wind, vegetation and land contours in urban and country settings. The term permaculture refers to creating sustainable landscapes, homes and workplaces based on ecological principles. Most of the ideas in the book are for land parcels of a quarter-acre or larger, but there is a chapter on permaculture gardening in the city. It clearly and concisely covers most aspects of environmentally friendly horticultural design, including energy analyses, design process, water use, wildlife and plant use. Paperback, 313 pages. $29.95

"Waking Up in Eden" by Lucinda Fleeson (Algonquin, 2009) is the biographical story of Fleeson's adventure living on the edge of a threatened natural environment in rural Kauai, Hawaii. After 20 years as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, she sold her home and left her job to work at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Fleeson takes readers on her explorations of the island, especially its plant life, as she learns that native plants are rapidly disappearing and invasive species are taking over. This botanical adventure story will introduce you to plant hunters and propagators who are trying to save endangered flora and reverse the devastation of this beautiful paradise. Paperback, 320 pages. $23.95

"Wicked Plants" by Amy Stewart (Algonquin, 2009) is a fascinating, albeit morbid, nonfiction account of the dangers of poisonous plants. This easy-to-read book can fit in your pocket and provides a trove of information that could save your life. Stewart's compelling style along with the attention-grabbing subject matter will keep gardeners riveted. Some of the most dangerous plants she describes include aconite, oleander, ratbane (Dichapetalum) and rosary pea (Abrus precatorius). Hardcover, 235 pages. $18.95

"Birds of Eastern North America: A Photographic Guide" by Paul Sterry & Brian E. Small (Princeton University Press, 2009) is the ultimate handbook to accompany you in the field or while bird watching at home. With approximately 1,000 photographs, the book makes an excellent visual reference for the identification of birds. It also includes a helpful glossary, with explanations of bird plumage and a variety of habitats. Predators and sea birds are also represented in this guide, which covers the eastern half of mainland North America and the Arctic and sub-Arctic territorial islands of the United States and Canada. Paperback, 336 pages. $18.95

Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md.

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