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A summer reading list for gardeners and green thumbs

New books that celebrate the joy of dirt beneath your nails and the beauty of green spaces

New books about gardening for every type of reader, and every type of green thumb.Christophe Ena/AP/file

Hey, congratulations! It’s almost August and your garden looks terrific. A great reward for all your hard work earlier in the season. And there is no better way to celebrate than cracking into a new book among your summer splendor. In the oft-translated words of Cicero: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

In the spirit of reaping nature’s bounty for all it can teach us, it’s time to explore the loftier aspects of horticulture and the reasons it enhances your life. Here are three remarkable books perfect as gifts for other serious gardeners or as a special treat for yourself. Plus, three terrific new books for very young budding gardeners.


"Becoming a Gardener" by Catie MarronHandout

Becoming a Gardener: What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living by Catie Marron

This is a lyrical, first-person narrative of Catie Marron’s journey to becoming a gardener, an experience so profound that she refers to it as “finding a newfound way of being.” For Marron, a writer, editor, and former investment banker, being a gardener isn’t about superior knowledge of plants or flowers, but about “your imagination, memories, dreams, and life experiences made tangible.”

She is helped along the way by the sage advice of experienced gardeners and writers ranging from Jamaica Kincaid to Penelope Lively and Michael Pollan to George Washington. Marron writes that “a garden is the living embodiment of your involvement with life … a steady reminder that life can be good even in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow.” Marron’s reflections are accompanied by magnificent full-color photographs, watercolors, and fine art. A highly satisfying combination of part gardening book, part art book, and part literary memoir.

Philosophy for Gardeners: Ideas and Paradoxes to Ponder in the Garden by Kate Collyns

Kate Collyns claims to like “nothing better than to ponder the existential nature of the universe whilst weeding a bed of lettuce,” and sees gardening as an innately thoughtful and practical pastime. In this unusual and thought-provoking collection of original essays, she explores the big questions through the lens of gardening, inspired by a disparate group of philosophers/gardeners, from Confucius to Aristotle to Buddha. This isn’t a manifesto on how gardeners should think or behave. It’s an entry point into the profound philosophical ideas that can emerge while working in one’s garden. It’s perfect for anyone inclined to ponder life lessons while tending to their greenery and features lovely line drawings throughout.


"The Gardener’s Garden: Inspiration Across Continents and Centuries" is a definitive and luxurious gift book, featuring the world's most beautiful gardens by Phaidon Editors.handout

The Gardener’s Garden: Inspiration Across Continents and Centuries by Phaidon Editors, introduction by Madison Cox

This is the definitive gift book for the serious lover of gardens — a sumptuous collection of 250 of the world’s finest and most beautiful gardens. The gardens were chosen by an international team of experts and brought to dazzling life with over 1,000 full-color images. As gorgeous as the photos are, the descriptions, written by leading gardening writers, are also informative, full of details about the owner as well as the design of each garden.

From the magnificence of world-famous gardens like Versailles, the Taj Mahal, and Sissinghurst, to lesser-known ones like Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Hong Kong, Prospect Cottage in Kent, UK, and Fairsted (Frederick Law Olmstead’s home and office) in Brookline, each garden is distinctive and well worth learning about. In his introduction, celebrated designer Madison Cox asks readers to remember that the breathtaking gardens in the book are not only inspirational, they’re “a testament to centuries of human passion.” This is a new edition with a brilliant but surprisingly unassuming new cover.


For gardeners-in-training

Gardening can become a tool for empowerment for young green thumbs; it connects them with nature, it promotes patience and gratitude (though they may not be aware of it) and, best of all, it’s fun. It also provides great metaphors for growth and new possibilities. Here are three of the best brand-new books about gardening and nature, all perfectly pitched to very young kids.

A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis

This deceptively simple book, perfect to read aloud, gracefully follows the life cycle of a single seed as it develops into a magnificent sunflower. With bold and beautiful illustrations, this step-by-step guide focuses on the symbiosis with other natural elements (sun, soil, rain, wind, birds) that a growing flower requires to fully bloom. And then the cycle begins again. Award-winning author and illustrator Antoinette Portis includes further information about the growth of sunflowers and a brief bibliography at the back of the book.

"How to Say Hello to a Worm" by Kari Percival is a picture book guide for connecting with nature, written for very young children.Handout

How to Say Hello to a Worm: A First Guide to Outside by Kari Percival

This gentle and engaging book for very young children captures the joy of connecting with nature and making things grow together. The simple text, presented in an easy Q&A format, and the colorful digital woodcut illustrations work together perfectly for both kids who are already comfortable outside and those who are still a bit reluctant. The book makes the garden and its creatures sources of curiosity and magic. Gardening tips and FAQs for parents about gardening with toddlers are included at the end of the book.


"In Our Garden" by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Melissa CrowtonHandout

In Our Garden by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Melissa Crowton

This uplifting and engaging story is about Millie, a homesick young girl who inspires an entire community to band together to create a vegetable garden on the rooftop of their school. It takes persistence as well as lots and lots of patience. Millie’s teacher wisely advises: “Be patient. Good things take time.” Finally, the kids, teachers, and parents are rewarded for their hard work with a glorious first harvest. And for Millie, happily, the garden “tastes like home.” It’s beautifully written, delightfully illustrated, and perfect for aspiring young gardeners … or community activists.

Betsy Groban is a regular columnist for Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf and has worked in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.