Senior Women Web
Image: Women Dancing
Image: Woman with Suitcase
Image: Women with Bicycle
Image: Women Riveters
Image: Women Archers
Image: Woman Standing

Culture & Arts button
Relationships & Going Places button
Home & Shopping button
Money & Computing button
Health, Fitness & Style button
News & Issues button

Help  |  Site Map


Garden Edition: December - Holiday Garden Books

by Linda Coyner

The easiest and possibly the most popular category for gift-giving is books, especially for those last-minute shoppers and having a couple titles in mind can make the gift bulletproof. That's where a wish list posted on or comes in handy. Lacking that, I took a stroll by the gardening books in a large bookstore to see what titles would be vying for your attention. I looked for books that seemed appropriately pretty but still useful. 

For instance, "Gardening for Dummies," IDG, $16.99, by Michael MacCaskey and Bill Marken is very useful but not pretty enough for a gift. (See my review, August Garden Edition).  Michel Pollan's "Second Nature: A Gardener's Education," Dell, $13.95, paperback, a book that I'm very fond of and recommended last month, would qualify as a gift if you could find it in hardcover. The handful of titles I've selected are hardcover coffee table books, with one noted exception, lovely to behold and a pleasure to read. The books about butterflies and annuals are also worthy of space in your bookcase.

Before proceeding, I must repeat a bit of book giving advice: Don't inscribe a gift book.  Most bookstores are kind enough to exchange a book if it isn't marked up and is in good shape, without a receipt. If you feel compelled to add a personal note, do so on a separate piece of paper and tuck it inside the cover.

  • "Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates," Fulcrum, $34.95, hardcover, by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor. 

  • This is a book that's been very visible of late and is likely to tempt you. It's not the war stories I expected, given the title. It's a breezy collection of ramblings, sometimes personal, about the authors' experiences in their gardens and lives. 

    The essays, some of which the book says are based on newspaper columns, are part philosophy, part gardening advice. The essays are organized by season and subject, but there's no need to read them in order. The authors' advice is ecologically friendly and, though based on their Western gardens, can be applied to any garden. This book definitely makes the grade as a gift book. Paper quality and design are first rate, and high quality photographs, most of which were taken by the authors, are wonderful. 

    According to Fulcrum, the duo co-authored the Denver Post column, Front Range Gardeners, for eight years. Both Colorado gardeners are experts in their own right. Springer was schooled as a horticulturist and has gardened on both sides of the pond. She is well known for writing the award-winning "The Undaunted Garden" which I plan to discuss in an upcoming column.  Proctor is director of horticulture at the Denver Botanic Gardens and an accomplished artist. He has authored several garden books, and he and his garden frequently appear on the Discovery Channel.

  • "The Painted Garden: A Year in Words and Watercolors," Running Press, $17.95, hardcover, by Mary Woodin. 

  • This little treasure may not be as visible as some larger titles but it's worth searching out. It is the musings of a gardener quite literally, as the typeface resembles handwriting, over the course of a year alongside watercolor sketches of her garden. The author's text is supplemented by quotes from well-known gardeners. 

    The book's forward states, "I have spent a glorious year, paintbrush in one hand, trowel in the other, recording the comings and goings in my garden, from bulbs and blossoms to buds and a baby." Her training as a textile designer is evident as she adds texture and color to sketches of her suburban London garden. Many times the photographs fall short of recording the full beauty of a flower and it takes an artist's keen observance to truly evoke it. Woodin uses her magic to bring to life the twigs, flowers, leaves, and bulbs. Before you know it, you're taking a virtual tour of her garden and reminiscing about your own. 

  • Annuals with Style: Design Ideas from Classic to Cutting Edge, Taunton
  • Press, $29.95, hardcover, by Michael A. Ruggiero and Tom Christopher. 
    This lovely book is chock full of useful information for all types of gardener. While it's primary focus is annuals, the book is also an easy-to-read primer on the life cycle of plants, making sense of that not-so-neat business of what "annual," "perennial," and "biennial" mean. The authors' fresh look at the use of annuals in garden design leaves behind the commonplace to create lively combinations with tropicals, succulents, grasses, vines, foliage plants, and biennials. Typical of Taunton Press, the book is beautifully designed. There's no shortage of excellent photos, many of which were contributed by Ruggiero. 

    The 'Essential Annuals' section is the place where we get a close-up discussion of the plants, in alphabetical order. The formatted information for each plant--Start, Garden uses, Culture, Gardener's Choice, Pests and Diseases--is very thorough. The tidbits of history are interesting and I especially liked the 'Gardener's Choice' section, which describes recommended varieties. In this section, however, the book's design fails the reader by using identification photos that are small and sometimes not helpful. It's here also that the page design doesn't clearly show where one plant entry starts and the next ends.

    The book received a lot of press earlier in the year but it wasn't until I noticed that Michael Ruggiero was one of the authors that I took a closer look. Our paths crossed a few years ago on a project on roses. He is Senior Curator at the New York Botanical Garden, where he started working some 40 years ago. Christopher is a contributing editor for Martha Stewart Living.

  • Garden Butterflies of North America by Rick Mikula (Willow Creek Press, $29.50 hardcover; $19.50 paperback).

  • The subject of butterflies and butterfly gardening is so hot these days you're likely to see several titles on the subject this gift giving season. This one grabbed my attention once I learned more about the author.

    As is always the case, I see his name everywhere butterflies are discussed. He's been butterfly farming for the last 20 years and serves as butterfly habitat consultant for many universities, zoos, museums, and aviaries. He even has his own web site ( which has his books for sale.  The Gallery of Garden Butterflies is the highlight of the book. Each of 40 or so butterflies get a spot in the gallery with a large photo and a page of text. You'll also see a map of North America with the butterfly's range highlighted. 

    When it comes to butterflies, learning to recognize which caterpillars are destined to become these lovely creatures is half the battle for me. Don't expect much help here. Apparently, the caterpillars of one butterfly can vary so greatly that most books, including this one, resort to a general description rather than a photo. 

    The text reveals a knowledgeable lepidopterist, at home describing such things as flight patterns, resting posture, larvae, and eggs. It's also peppered with delicious details of habit: "Clouded Sulphur males are extremely fond of puddle clubbing. In many areas it is not unusual to find them congregating on and around the eyes of turtles and alligators to drink the tears of their host....The saline solution assists the males in the production of sperm."

    The book also has useful information that doesn't get bogged down in the technical about life cycle, basking rituals (to fly, they must warm up to 80 degrees), and puddling (hanging out around puddles). Mikula also covers the plants that attract butterflies, plants the deter their pests (ants, aphids, spider mites) and insects that deter butterfly pests (ladybug, syrpids, lacewing, dragonfly). 

    The book's narration carefully preserves Mikula's enthusiasm and pleasure with butterflies keeping the science of the subject interesting--for which Mikula also deserves credit, as he edited the book. Combine that with photos of butterflies and you have a wonderful introduction and reference work. 

    On the same subject but from a regional perspective is "Your Florida Guide to Butterfly Gardening: A guide for the Deep South," University of Florida Press, $14.95, paperback by Jaret C. Daniels.
    Thanks to its compact size and heavily formatted information, this guide is practical for use in the field. The photos are lovely and make it easy to identify butterflies and their larvae, as well as the plants that serve as nectar sources for adults and hosts for larvae.

    Don't forget to enjoy the holidays. Happy new year! 

    We'd like to hear your gardening favorites and we could pass those on to our readers, too, for gardening book gift ideas. E-mail SWWPub.


    More about Gardening


    Follow Us:

    SeniorWomenWeb, an Uncommon site for Uncommon Women ™ ( 1999-2024