Gardening books good gifts for afficionados and nature lovers

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese proverb

December 9, 2004
MARY LOGAN, Victoria County Master Gardener

 In this frantic season of selecting meaningful presents for our friends and loved ones, why not consider a garden-centered volume to place under the tree? Nothing is as easy to select, purchase and wrap, or as likely to be enjoyed by the recipient, as a book. During this dormant season, nature lovers could be re-invigorated by perusing gardening pages filled with advice, instruction, full-color photos and some sentiment for nurturing and loving the outdoors.

There are thousands of titles to choose from that are listed on the Internet, displayed in bookstores or available in libraries. When checking, I brought up 2,109 results for "Gardening Books," with the three most popular listed as "Reader's Digest New Illustrated Guide to Gardening," "Gardening for Dummies" and "Better Homes and Gardens New Garden Book," the last being my initial gardening reference. From my personal collection, I would like to share some of my other favorites, most of which were given to me by those who know of my love for gardening.

One of my early all-encompassing gardening acquisitions was Neil Sperry's "Complete Guide to Texas Gardening: Landscapes, Lawns, Fruit and Vegetables ... Colorfully Illustrated." The title aptly describes the contents of this comprehensive, best-selling book by the well-known author, the 1984 recipient of the Garden Communicators of America Award from the American Association of Nurserymen. The first edition sold more than 350,000 copies; the second includes data on more than 450 new plants and trees. Many still consider it the bible for Texas gardeners.

Another of my favorites, the highly acclaimed "Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region" by Sally Wasowski, is a beautiful tome with amazing photographs by her husband, Andy Wasowski. Neil Sperry advises, "If you're interested in Texas-born plants, this is the reference you've been waiting for." The back cover proclaims, "'Native Texas Plants' contains 364 detailed plant profiles; 400 color photos; 11 regional plans; 10 theme gardens; and much more!" The Corpus Christi Plan chapter, "Coastal Bend Prairies and Marshes, Rio Grande Plains" pertains to the Victoria region.

During my Texas master gardener training, Malcolm Beck was one of the featured instructors. Much impressed, I purchased his "The Garden-Ville Method: Lessons in Nature." A frequently requested speaker, Beck has addressed Victoria's South Texas Farm & Ranch Show participants as an organic gardener specialist. His book's rear cover states, "Malcolm Beck is known throughout the country as a leading authority and practitioner in the field of organic growing. ... Beck's home-spun approach to farming and gardening is based on the belief that if you work with nature, nature will reward your efforts."

A wildflower volume is an essential reference for all who cruise Texas highways and byways during the prolific and colorful spring flowering period. My choice is the University of Texas Press' "Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide" by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller. In the foreword by Lady Bird Johnson (honorary co-chairman, National Wildflower Research Center), the former first lady writes, "Just reading the text and seeing the beautiful color photographs - all 381 of them - makes me want to reach for my sunhat, put on my walking shoes, take this knowledge-filled book and fare forth to seek and discover!" Wow...!

For those who seek a variety in reading material, let me recommend several others of my treasured books, written by authors whose lives have been fundamentally defined by their experience in their gardens. Although each contains many pearls of gardening wisdom, the books are not how-to's but are stories of lives well spent, and the emotions and connected memories, with an intense love of gardening.

Shortly after its publication in 1997, a friend and a relative each sent me a copy of "Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden" by Emily Whaley. The inside flap describes precisely the book's flavor: "Mrs. Whaley's tiny, walled garden is said to be the most visited private garden in America. ... It is the life's work of a forceful, vibrant, sociable, opinionated, determined woman who has spent the last eighty-five years of cultivating whatever life offered. Now, in conversations with award-winning low-country novelist William Baldwin, Mrs. Whaley takes us on a tour of her garden - and of her life."

"People with Dirty Hands: The Passion for Gardening" by Robin Chotzinoff is another well-enjoyed book that tells stories of people possessed with growing a variety of verdant matter. In the introduction, Chotzinoff writes, "I will age ungracefully until I become an old woman in a small garden, doing whatever ... I want. There was a time when this would have sounded unfulfilled to me, if not downright depressing, but now I look forward to it."

This year, upon the recommendation of several friends, I purchased "Elizabeth and Her German Garden." Written by Elizabeth von Arnim in 1898, the book is a young mother's delightful account of her joy in spending some months each year on her husband's estate in northern Germany, away from the hustle and confinement of Berlin. Her newfound and unbounded love for nature is infectious and wonderfully expressed in this endearing memoir. An overwhelming success when first published, von Arnim's little jewel beckons to be re-read.

Also to be considered while gift selecting are gorgeous coffee-table books, appealing to almost everyone; there is an endless supply of floral and fauna pictorials from which to choose.

The combination of two of my loves - gardening and reading - makes giving and receiving gardening books a natural pleasure for me. However, the choices are seemingly endless and somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps one of the mentioned suggestions will be an appropriate gift for a gardening aficionado.

Erasmus wrote, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." I would add "and plants and flowers" to Erasmus's thoughts.