Landscape gardening books make wonderful winter reading and great gifts for friends or family members who garden. They stimulate you to try new plants, develop design ideas that will be inspirational and get you back into the garden as soon as possible. Here are some of the titles published this year that I found to be good resources for next year's gardening.
* "Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs," by Vincent A. Simeone (Ball Publishing, $24.95) is just the idea book you need for installing a mixed-shrub border or choosing a flowering shrub for almost any purpose, in sun or shade. It is aimed at a nationwide gardening audience, and because we are centrally located in the mid-Atlantic states (Agriculture Department Hardiness Zone 7), all the plants covered can be grown here. More than 100 shrubs are discussed, illustrated by more than 100 photographs. Flowering characteristics, plant care, evergreen and deciduous shrubs, site selection and preparation, choosing a plant, and installation are among the topics covered in this 176-page book.
* "Making the Most of Shade," by Larry Hodgson (Rodale, paperback, $22.95) is a valuable book for owners agonizing over whether to cut down a tree. A tree means more shade and less lawn, and, as the author notes, "Shade is not nearly as bad a condition as some people would have you believe." The disappointing part of a shady spot is that it won't support a lot of bright-colored flowers. The upside is that it be landscaped to create an enclosed, private ambience, unusually lush and cool in character.
Hodgson covers some of my favorite shade plants, such as toad lily (Tricyrtis), Japanese yellow waxbell (Kiringeshoma palmata), lungwort (Pulmonaria longifolia), ground orchid (Bletilla striata) and hundreds more. He suggests designs for shade gardens, including ideas for designing colors and fitting various plants together.
The amount of light in your yard is not a constant: It will vary as trees grow, branches die, seasons change, leaves fall, light reflects at different angles and the footprint of your home increases. To determine sunlight intensity in a particular garden spot, Hodgson suggests test plants: For example, plant a petunia, and if it produces lots of flowers, it's in full sun; a few blossoms represents partial shade. No flowers means heavy shade. This is 389 pages of easy reading with 300 color photographs and 20 illustrations.
* "Growing Hardy Orchids," by John Tullock (Timber Press, $29.95), is an excellent reference on everything you ever need to know about growing hardy perennial orchids in your garden or in containers on your balcony. There are orchids hardy to minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit, which should dispel any myth about them being only tropical plants. One astonishingly tough orchid, lesser rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), flowers white in late summer and is hardy from hardiness zones 2 to 7. It can be found from the northern Canadian wilderness, south to the Appalachians and into the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
This scholarly work covers care, conservation, propagation and what flora grow naturally with orchids. Orchids are catalogued with more than 100 color photographs, including about 103 hardy and half-hardy orchids. Tullock's 244-page work offers an exceedingly complete picture of these plants. He also discusses their possible medicinal value and offers anecdotes about growing them.
* "Irises: A Gardener's Encyclopedia," by Claire Austin (Timber Press, $49.95), is a thorough study both for the iris aficionado and those who can't tell one from another. Irises can be a confusing genus to fully understand, unless you've grown them for a decade or two. And Austin has done that, developing an intimate knowledge of the plants while working for her father, owner of David Austin Roses.
The text is organized into three groups -- bearded, beardless and bulbous irises. There are sections on how you can breed and propagate your own, which ones to plant for flower and foliage, which are best in shade, and those for moist sites. A very complete list of sources for both plants and information is included; there is also a glossary of the more obscure terminology used when "speaking iris."
At 339 pages, with more than 1,100 color photographs, the book is of coffee-table quality.
* "Bulbs for Garden Habitats," by Judy Glattstein (Timber Press, $29.95), is an encyclopedia of experience. Glattstein has planted tens of thousands of bulbs on her property.
No matter what garden chores get done, bulbs will return year after year. There are many more plants than you might think that have the ability to store food and moisture for use during adverse conditions: These are called "geophytes," a group whose root systems include bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers. The author takes a natural approach to planting them, the benefit being that communities of plants mimicking nature will do best and will result in blooms that provide ongoing seasonal change and interest. Propagation, division, tools, deer resistance and other practices are covered.
Glattstein covers plants you might never have thought of as geophytes, such as jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema), wood anemone (A. nemorosa) and bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) and many you might not know at all, including pinellia, camassia, crocosmia and sternbergia. The 296 pages are illustrated with 129 color photographs. Landscape professionals, students of horticulture and do-it-yourselfers can use this text.
* "Bulbs in Containers," by Rod Leeds (Timber Press, $29.95), takes geophyte gardening year round and demonstrates how versatile bulbs are. Pot up some galanthus, narcissus, tulips, fritillarias and sternbergias. Take the tired-looking cyclamen that flowered inside all winter outdoors under a shade tree, and watch it renew. Plant hardy orchid (Calanthe discolor) in a container or directly into humus-rich soil in a shady spot.
The book is divided into three parts: a library of photographs showing bulbs growing in containers year round; a compendium of bulbous flora from Acidanthera to Zigadenus; and a practical guide to buying, propagating, cultivating and displaying the plants. This 224-page hardcover has more than 100 color photographs.
* "The Naming of Names," by Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury USA, $45), is the tome you turn to when you want a captivating book to curl up with in front of the fireplace. Pavord's fascinating research into how human beings came to understand and classify the natural world takes the reader from Athens to Constantinople to Italy to colonial America. She raises and offers answers to intriguing questions: When did humans begin to understand that they were having allergic reactions to plants? Who was the first to study a plant and determine its safety, geographical origin, and pharmacological and food value? Where did the first records come from?
A student of Aristotle named Theophrastus wrote the first book about plants, listing about 500 around 300 B.C. Today we have identified and described about 422,000 plants.
Pavord's account of how we got from then to now makes a compelling read, illustrated with primitive block prints, etchings and paintings.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.
Larry Hodgson's "Making the Most of Shade" helps readers decide whether to cut down trees.
Vincent A. Simeone's "Great Flowering Landscape Shrubs" is a handy idea book.
"Growing Hardy Orchids" has everything you would need to know about perennial orchids.
"Irises: A Gardener's Encyclopedia" is a good read for both iris experts and novices.
"The Naming of Names," by Anna Pavord, tracks the history of man's understanding of plants.
"Bulbs in Containers" takes geophyte gardening year-round, showing the versatility of bulbs.