My favourite gardening books

January can be quiet time in the garden so I use it to catch up on a spot of reading – around my favourite subject of course! Here’s my top garden books of all time…


In Your Garden, Vita Sackville West (Frances Lincoln, 2004) Sackville West’s Sissinghurst Garden became a blueprint for the quintessential English garden and this book collates cuttings from her Observer newspaper articles. The diverse articles contain a combination of romantic and practical sensibilities, and I found it fascinating to gain an insight into her gardening preferences in an era of ‘grand gardens’ with knowledgeable patrons.

The Well-Tempered Garden, Christopher Lloyd (W&N, 2014) A garden classic, written by an incredibly knowledgeable plantsman, who was willing to be experimental even though he was born into a period of gardening that was quite rigid and prescriptive. The Well Tempered Garden gives a more personal perspective on his gardening philosophy than his other books, which he honed at his fabulous gardens at Great Dixter. These gardens continue to greatly influence gardeners, designers and plantsmen alike.

The Dry Garden, Beth Chatto (Orion, 2012) The Dry Garden provided me with a great deal of inspiration when I began gardening in the drier conditions of Cambridgeshire. Chatto’s love of plants, the honest accounts of creating her garden and her keen observational eye taught me a great deal.

Thoughtful Gardening: Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners, Robin Lane Fox (Particular Books, 2010) An enjoyable read, drawing on the author’s articles in The Financial Times and his experience as Garden Master of New College, Oxford. Funny and informative, if a little superior in parts, you can dip in and out at will and never be bored.

The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs, Jake Hobson (Timber Press, 2011) We love our topiary at Abbotswood and this inspiring and entertaining book, which introduces new Japanese-inspired approaches to pruning, moves topiary beyond the mundane. With a background in fine art sculpting rather than gardening, Hobson brings artistic flair to traditional techniques.

Garden Design Details, Arne Maynard (Harper Design International, 2005) I adore Maynard’s soft, naturalistic approach to the landscape. His gardens appear to grow out of the landscape and are firmly rooted in the place. This book is packed with ideas – and a great read for a dull January day when you can only fantasise about how you want to transform the garden.

Designing with Plants, Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (Conran, 1999) A wonderful introduction to ‘New Wave’ planting with perennial grasses and flowers. One of the earliest books to unlock how to use these plants in naturalistic drift plantings.

The Natural Australian Garden, Gordon Ford (Bloomings Books, 1999) An early pioneer of indigenous plantings and a more sustainable and natural approach to gardening. “The flora, fauna and landscape of a nation contributes to the identification of the national soul”, he writes. Ford advocates abandoning European gardening trends for gardens that work with the rugged beauty of the Australian landscape. In particular, he swapped the idea of the ‘English lawn’ for bush gardens, which help conserve water – something very relevant to the crisp conditions.

The Herb Garden, Sarah Garland (Frances Lincoln, 2003) My version of this book was inscribed by my grandpa in 1985, and was one of my first gardening books. While there are many more modern books on herbs, I like this one for sentimental reasons. My grandpa was a keen gardener and passed this passion on to my mum and I, and helped me create a herb garden of my own at home when I was younger.

Norwegian Wood, Lars Mytting (MacLehose Press, 2015) Who knew there was so much to learn about chopping, stacking and drying wood? In Abbotswood’s quieter moments, I fancy owning some woodland and doing just this. The next best thing is, of course, is to sit on the sofa in winter with a glass of red wine and imagining doing it!

Late Summer Flowers, Marina Christopher (Frances Lincoln, 2011) Autumn is my favourite time of the year and this book always reminds me to increase the proportion of later flowering plants in the garden. As a very knowledgeable plantswoman and co-founder of the Green Farm Nursery, Christopher provides a good explanation of the approach, with practical guidance and a directory of plants.

Trees for your Garden: Discovering the Very Best of British Ornamental and Fruit Trees, Nick Dunn (Tree Council, 2010) This comprehensive book was recommended to me by a tree surgeon and is packed with expert practical advice and stunning photography.

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, Bill Laws (David & Charles, 2010) This part history/trivia book, part plant encyclopedia is beautifully illustrated and is a great coffee table read.