Mid-July is the time to take a break with a good garden book. It's a good time to learn plant care and what to install because you can get the materials at a garden center and go into the yard to play.
* "The Natural Habitat Garden" by Ken Druse (Timber Press, 2004) capitalizes on a trend that has become increasingly popular: natural landscape design. Druse differentiates between preserving natural habitats and designing natural habitats. Preservation focuses on large areas, such as park spaces, set aside to preserve the mature woodlands and wildlife that would otherwise be pushed to extinction by development. This book focuses on replacing lawns with plants that grew centuries ago. Druse clearly outlines how to do this and makes a compelling argument for designing gardens that will bring back birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, turtles and hosts of mammals and other organisms, one yard at a time. This 256-page paperback shows natural habitat gardens on a residential scale. Druse is an exemplary photographer. Almost 500 color photos show various possibilities illustrating his philosophies. It is especially refreshing to see that the plants in the photographs are labeled. Cost: $29.95.
* "The Hidden Gardens of Kyoto" photographed by Katsuhiko Mizuno and written by Masaaki Ono (Kodansha, 2004) puts another spin on natural gardening. This is one of the most finely photographed books of gardens I have seen. More than 50 gardens in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, are showcased in pristine condition. If you favor Japanese garden styles, you will be impressed by the sweeps, use of stone, meticulous attention to detail and feel for nature the text and images convey. Mizuno has accessed some of the best kept secrets in the world. He shot hidden corners and unknown gardens, in public and private spaces, some that have been developed and managed for centuries, including the Imperial Palaces and Villas, temples, tea schools and shrines. It's immediately obvious that these were designed to be viewing gardens. This 127-page book, which will be in book stores in September, is loaded with garden design ideas. Cost: $45.
* "Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants" by Greg and Sue Speichert (Timber Press, 2004) is a valuable resource. The book thoroughly covers water garden plants and their culture. It is a well-written, educational reference with more than 700 color images. About two-thirds of the book covers plant material; the balance offers exceptionally complete propagation, planting and fertilizing guidelines and a comprehensive outline of possible pests and what to do about them. Although the book is not about how to construct a pond, it is a definitive, very decorative 386-page hardcover text that will answer every question you ever had about installing aquatic plants on water, underwater and along the edge of water. Cost: $49.95
* "Continuous Color" by Pam Duthie (Ball, 2004) captures the spirit of one of the primary principles of landscape design -- 12-month interest. She illustrates what trees and shrubs bring to the year-round landscape, such as colorful fall foliage, distinctive peeling bark, berries, fruits, variegation, and golden or blue conifers. Some of my favorite shrubs and trees that Duthie covers in this book of ideas are Japanese stewartia (S. pseudocamellia) and paperbark maples (Acer griseum) for winter interest; oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) and Little Henry Sweetspire (Itea virginica "sprich") for flowers in summer and beautiful fall color and Carol Mackie daphne (D. x burkwoodii "Carol Mackie") for fragrant spring flowers and striking foliage throughout the growing season. This 337-page hardcover is broken down by seasons, so you can choose from almost 300 plants that will be of interest during the times of the year you want them to be. Along with hundreds of color photographs, the book has appendices on planning guides, plant societies and resources. Cost: $44.95.
* "Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls," by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury (Timber Press, 2004) discusses a cutting-edge subject that has gained interest and credibility among North American landscape designers and architects in the past decade. The advantages of green roofs and living walls are that they can slow storm water, cool buildings, absorb pollution, grow produce, provide a place to walk your dog, offer recreation and be aesthetically pleasing, all while extending the life of a roof. In Europe, they are installed on single-family dwellings, modern townhouses, office buildings and high-rise apartments. This well-researched and very complete text includes plant lists and site preparation, covers all parts of the country and includes information about planting walls, wires, columns, rooftop meadows, lawns, garden rooms. Design concepts are illustrated in 140 color photographs. Almost any type of outdoor planted roof or wall is possible using this 254-page, fine-quality text. Cost: $34.95
* "The Weather-Resilient Garden" by Charles W.G. Smith (Storey Publishing, 2004) provides ideas for that homeowners' dream: the low-maintenance garden. There are steps you can take to minimize the amount of work you need to put into your garden and the number of plants that need to be replaced every year. With proper planning and maintenance, you can plant a garden that will withstand anything nature deals out and come back for more. Have you ever considered thunderstorms, hail, road salt, ice and freezing conditions, flooding, wind, drought, heat and humidity as factors that your plants must survive? One hundred tough plants are suggested, as well as guidelines for saving conifers from snow damage. Planting for drought and heat tolerance and wind resistance is covered. Throughout this 412-page book, Smith offers information about the survival of plants, trees that make the grade and how to help the process. Keep this book in your library for reference when choosing plants. Cost: $19.95
* "100 Birds and How They Got Their Names" by Diana Wells (Algonquin, 2002) is a delightfully interesting pocket-sized hardcover book to take along on a nature trip. It is packed with facts about the 100 birds she covers; you will find some of them almost anywhere. Wells gives you lots of facts about each bird, including its scientific name and a historic perspective that even bird aficionados might not know, such as the origin of the quill pen or how crows coming home to roost were used to track the beginning of the Hebrew Sabbath. It makes for an entertaining and absorbing 297 pages. Cost: $18.95.
* "Hydrangeas for American Gardens" by Michael A. Dirr (Timber Press, 2004) is the definitive text for hydrangeas. The 199 color images in this scholarly text can be supplemented with a CD-ROM containing more than 900 additional photographs. This is the book to have if you want the whole story about these beautiful plants, many of which are shade-tolerant and have striking fall foliage and flowers that can be dried for color indoors. And you can count on Dirr to give you the honest pros and cons of growing each plant. This book can supplement hydrangea lovers' knowledge or sell you on creating a hydrangea garden. The 236-page hardcover also offers general opinion and scholarship about nine major genera and their numerous cultivars, as well as a chapter on lesser known varieties, one on pests, and another on cutting, drying, dyeing and designing with hydrangeas. Cost: $29.95.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. Contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.