Green Scene: Good books for the gardener

Friday, March 4, 2011; 11:31 AM

Since spring is right around the corner, I felt it appropriate to share some titles that will fit well into your gardening library. Books are still one of the best ways to keep up with the latest in landscape design and the needs of plants. These new favorites of mine cover a wide range of garden- and landscape-related subjects.

l"Flowering Plants: A Pictorial Guide to the World's Flora," general editor Leon Gray (Firefly Books, 2011, $24.95), has more than 700 detailed color illustrations and interpretations of plants listed by family. Each plant is identified by its common and scientific name. Illustrations throughout the book explain the story of each plant, the type of flower, plant similarities and differences, and the general distribution of plant habitats. This volume is an excellent way to learn about plant relationships. For example, some plants can be members of the same family but look completely different from one another. Take this 288-page softcover field guide on your next long trip, and you'll find that you only need batteries for a flashlight, not an iPad.

l "Continuous Container Gardens: Swap in the Plants of the Season to Create Fresh Designs Year-Round," by Sara Begg Townsend and Roanne Robbins (Storey Publishing, 2011, $19.95), will show you how to stay green through the year. The authors use hundreds of high-quality color images to demonstrate their design guidelines and suggest numerous possibilities for plant use. This 271- page softcover book beautifully illustrates numerous ways to grow plants, including flowering trees.

l "Ornamental Grasses: Wolfgang Oehme and the New American Garden," by Stefen Leppert (Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2009, $45), is the ultimate grass book. Ornamental grasses were not used very much in gardens 20 to 30 years ago. In the 1970s, landscape design primarily consisted of installing trees and shrubs as foundation plants against houses, with trees used in lawns. The New American Garden changed that approach to garden design and introduced a new style to landscape architecture and design. Having come from Germany, Oehme was designing on this continent with plants that hadn't been tried here. His intense enjoyment of Beethoven could well have influenced his sweeping design style. This 143-page hardcover, full-color "idea" book has about 225 photographs. It's a valuable reference book to have on your shelf or coffee table.

l "Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide to Conserving North American Bees and Butterflies and Their Habitat" (Storey Publishing, 2011, $29.95), a 370-page book, has images to illustrate the intricate ways that pollinators communicate, congregate and move. The greater the diversity of pollinators the better yield from your garden. Providing foraging habitat, nesting sites and egg-laying sites for pollinators will boost your crops.

l "The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane," by David George Gordon (Sasquatch Books, 2010, $14.95), is about animals that the author admits he didn't like until he started learning about them. It's apparent from one comment, "To err is human, to slime is sublime," that as his appreciation for these creatures grew, he became fascinated by them. This 150-page softcover reference book includes fun facts such as these: Slugs are simply snails without shells. French diners consume more than 14,000 tons of escargot snails every year. In the mid-1980s, students at the University of California at Santa Cruz chose the native banana slug as the campus mascot. Snails and slugs are hermaphrodites, equipped with male and female reproductive parts and can, under certain conditions, mate with themselves.

l"Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History," by Bill Laws (Firefly Books, 2010, $29.95), presents interesting information and impressions about plants. For example, trade in tulip bulbs in 17th-century Holland led to the world's first major financial crash. Agaves have supplied raw materials for products ranging from ships' mooring ropes to tequila. And rubber plants in South America were known to indigenous people as weeping wood, and the sticky compound was used to keep feet dry and protect skin from fungal infections. Hardcover, 224 pages.

l "The Small Budget Gardener: All the Dirt on Saving Money in Your Garden," by Maureen Gilmer (Cool Springs Press, 2009, $16.95), will save time and money. Gilmer has broken the 238-page hardcoverbook into 11 useful sections. The book offers suggestions for saving money on energy and water, and it promotes recycling and the reuse of anything that can be handy in the garden.

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

© 2011 The Washington Post Company