I love reading about gardening almost as much as I love gardening. I have an ever-growing library of gardening books, many previously-owned, with notes and marks from previous gardeners in the text. One note may read “try this with lilies,” while another may say “didn’t work in sun.” Used books – pennies on the dollar; advice from a gardener- priceless! Since I haven’t found a used book store nearby, my sources are estate sales, library sales, and websites (Thrift Books and Amazon are two I frequent). My garden library has long since spilled out of its small bookcase in my office to occupy a reading corner in my sunroom.
I feel I may be alone in collecting gardening books - most think it’s easier to search the internet for anything they need to know. After all, the answer is just a Google away. Well, actually, 10,000 answers are just a Google away. How do you know which answer is the best for East Texas? I prefer to keep on hand some reference books by authors I trust as my first source of information.
The first reference book I bought after moving to Texas was written by local organic guru Howard Garrett, the “Dirt Doctor.” My copy of his “Organic Manual” is just about worn out from use over the past 20 years. His common-sense approach to gardening - to feed the soil, not the plants - and use of feed-store amendments, has struck a chord with me: I’m gardening like my grandma did. His “Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening” focused on growing plants “the natural way” - with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Some of his other books, like “The Texas Bug Book” and “Texas Trees,” have also earned a place in my library - they are comprehensive and totally Texan.
Once I covered the basics in my library, I branched out to books that appeal to my gardening passion. I happen to be a bulbophile - I’m obsessed with bulbous plants - so I have several books on bulbs. The best references for Southern bulb growers are “Bulbs for Warm Climate”’ by Thad Howard and “Garden Bulbs for the South” by Scott Ogden. But my favorite bulb books to read are written by Chris Wiesinger. His latest, “The Bulb Hunter,” was co-authored by Dr. William C. Welch. Chris’s books tell stories of his adventures in finding bulbs at old homesites in Texas and are great reads, providing a sense of history as well as being great resources for Texas gardeners.
There are certain Southern authors who entertain as well as inform. I would read a cereal box if it were written by Felder Rushing. A friend gave me Felder’s book, “Tough Plants for Southern Gardens,” and I love his advice to gardeners: “Find and plant things that grow themselves.” Felder also collaborated with another outstanding Southern garden writer, Steve Bender, on “Passalong Plants,” a fascinating guide to heirloom plants that have graced Southern gardens for decades - many of which now grow in my garden. Steve also writes for Southern Living as the Grumpy Gardener, and I look forward to purchasing his book of the same name.
In addition to my home library, I keep field guides in my car - after all, who doesn’t need to look up a wildflower while they’re out and about? My favorite wildflower field guide is “Wildflowers of Texas” by Geyata Ajilvsgi - the plants are arranged by color of the flowers, and that makes it easier to identify a plant. (Ajilvsgi also wrote “Butterfly Gardening for Texas,” another comprehensive work for the Texas gardener.) The other field guide that I keep with me at all times is Stan Tekeila’s “Trees of Texas Field Guide”: two pages per tree provide all the information you’ll need to identify many different Texas trees.
So whether you’re looking for a gift for a gardener, or for a gardening book for yourself, head to a used book store or log on to your favorite website. You’ll be sure to learn more about your East Texas garden.
About the author: Lin is a Texas Master Gardener in Wood County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of all of her favorite gardening books. Join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9, at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.