Four good books related to gardening published recently would make fine Christmas presents.

"Thomas Jefferson -- Landscape Architect," by Frederick Doveton Nichols and Ralph E. Griswold, published by University Press of Virginia, 178 pages, well-illustrated, $9.75.

Nichols is Cary D. Langhorne professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia and Griswold is a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The Capitol in Washington is a monument to Thomas Jefferson's magnificent vision, they say. He was indirectly responsible for its location and he established its architectural and landscape character. Although many skills were employed in its development, his guiding influence and management united them all.

No exact precedent for such a city existed elsewhere in the world. Collaboration with the greatest botanists of his time, an instinctive humanitarianism and a natural ingenuity in landscape architecture made Jefferson a pioneer in this country. Based on a close study of the many notes and letters Jefferson left, the authors present a clear and detailed interpretation of his extraordinary accomplishments in this field.

"The Small Garden," by John Brookes, Macmillan, 256 pages, over 600 full-color illustrations, $19.95.

Brookes is a renowned garden designer in England. His book tells how to assess your soil and site, gives different ways to draw up a plan best suited to your personal tastes, provides new and imaginative ways to use walls, fences, paths, and terraces, tells how to lay paving and construct a pargola, and suggests the most effective and efficient way to use whatever space you have.

A variety of plants is included -- climbers, ground covers, vegetables and foliage plants; three-dimensional plans showing layout and planting; and, how to have an easy-care garden all year round. The emphasis is on simplicity and enjoyment.

"Japanese Maples," by J.D. Vertrees, Timber Press, 178 printed pages, over 200 photographs of Japanese maples in full color, $39.50.

Vertrees has served on the staff of Oregon State University and has studied and collected Japanese maples for many years, cultivating many varieties in his nursery.

This book was prepared to provide a comprehensive source of information on and description of this general group of plants, he says. The second purpose is to clarify and simplify the nomenclature. His third purpose is to provide gardeners, landscapers, and nurserymen an authoritative guide to propagation, cultivation, and other horticultural characteristics of this extraordinarily useful group of plants.

"Decorating With Plants," by Oliver E. Allen and the editors of Time-Life Books, published by Time-Life Books, 160 printed pages, beautifully illustrated, $8.95.

You can do more with plants and flowers than add a splash of color or fill an awkward space, the authors say. You can use them to frame a view or obliterate it, provide a focal point in a helter-skelter room, soften hard architectural lines, and even alter the scale of a room. To achieve such effects, you need to know just a few basic guidelines, which are supplied by the book.

The book contains picture essays: Living Designs by Experts Coast to Coast; The Flowering of Western Civilization; Eleven Ways to Shape Bouquets; and, Portable Plants From Terrace to Rooftop, with an encyclopedia of decorative plant materials.

After all, using plants and flowers provides one of the most inexpensive ways to change a room, the authors say.