As an am­a­teur, I would tell you my tall, pur­ple Ger­man bearded iris smells like grape bub­ble gum. I wouldn’t be too far off, ac­cord­ing to Ken Druse, au­thor of The Scen­tual Gar­den: Ex­plor­ing the World of Botan­i­cal Fra­grance (Abrams, $50, pho­tog­ra­phy by Ellen Hoverkamp), who says the dom­i­nant scent is grape or grape soda. This ex­quis­ite book is one to be­hold. I wish they could have in­cluded scratch and sniff sam­ples—but only for the pleas­ant fra­grances.

Druse, a lead­ing Amer­i­can gar­den writer, fo­cused his 20th book on the amaz­ing pal­ette of scents in the plant world. Lush pho­tos and de­tailed notes make it a ter­rific re­source, cov­er­ing plants both fa­mil­iar and new and the pur­pose of their fra­grance (or mal­odor, in some cases). This book builds a clear link be­tween plants’ scents and our in­ter­ac­tions with them. The last chap­ter cov­ers prac­ti­cal how-to for grow­ing and plac­ing plants to best ap­pre­ci­ate their fra­grant gifts.


Pos­si­bly the most im­por­tant gar­den­ing book to be pub­lished this year, Na­ture’s Best Hope: A New Ap­proach to Con­ser­va­tion That Starts in Your Yard (Dou­glas W. Tal­lamy, Tim­ber Press, $29.95) is a thought­ful en­treaty for all gar­den­ers to start small, in their own back­yard, to cre­ate what Tal­lamy calls “a home­grown na­tional park.” Tal­lamy, a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of En­to­mol­ogy and Wildlife Ecol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Delaware, says many pri­vate gar­dens are cre­ated for beauty with­out re­gard for the crit­i­cal food web they sup­port.

Tal­lamy says now is the time for home gar­den­ers to fo­cus on na­tives. A ques­tion-and-an­swer chap­ter ex­plores how na­tive plants are key to na­tive wildlife’s sur­vival and ad­dresses 10 easy steps we can all take in our gar­dens to re­store our en­vi­ron­ment—in­clud­ing shrink­ing lawns, re­mov­ing in­va­sive species, plant­ing area trees, and net­work­ing with neigh­bors to in­crease our pos­i­tive and col­lec­tive gar­den­ing im­pact.


Hil­ton Carter fol­lowed his pas­sion and it worked crazy well. In Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beau­ti­ful Plants (Cico Books, $19.95), this di­rec­tor, edi­tor, fine artist, and crafts­man has writ­ten a love let­ter to house­plants. “You don’t ac­cu­mu­late over 300 plants with­out find­ing joy in shop­ping for them,” Carter writes. He now “plant styles” homes, find­ing the per­fect green­ery for each place while match­ing his se­lec­tions to the home­owner’s gar­den­ing skills.

His book cov­ers plant­care ba­sics, in­clud­ing how to prop­erly plant a newly ac­quired spec­i­men, choos­ing the right pot and soil, prop­a­ga­tion knowhow, and wa­ter­ing and prun­ing tech­niques. Carter wants ev­ery reader to fall in love with house­plants like he did and in­cludes tons of in­spir­ing pho­tos and ex­cel­lent in­struc­tions to get you started. But his ad­mi­ra­tion for green­ery is what will truly kin­dle a pas­sion in you for house­plants.


Oh, the joy of Marta Mcdow­ell’s books on fa­vorite writ­ers and their gar­dens! This time it’s a glimpse into Emily Dick­in­son’s Gar­den­ing Life: The Plants & Places That In­spired the Iconic Poet (Tim­ber Press, $24.95). Mcdow­ell draws from her re­sources as the gar­dener-in-res­i­dence at the Emily Dick­in­son Mu­seum to piece to­gether what gar­den­ing meant to Dick­in­son.

Mcdow­ell re­veals the plant con­nec­tions in ex­cerpts from Dick­in­son’s let­ters, po­etry, and per­sonal sto­ries. She re­counts how Dick­in­son loved to work in her fam­ily’s flower gar­den and made nosegays for friends us­ing home­grown blooms and at­tached po­etic notes. Mcdow­ell shares how Dick­in­son stud­ied botany at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke to deepen her hor­ti­cul­tural knowl­edge. By fea­tur­ing the poet’s own botan­i­cal il­lus­tra­tions and sketches along with pho­tos of her fam­ily’s gar­den, Mcdow­ell brings Dick­in­son’s pas­sion for plants to life.


Flow­ers, gar­dens, and art have al­ways been in­ex­tri­ca­bly con­nected. The Artist’s Gar­den: The Se­cret Spa­ces That In­spired Great Art (Jackie Ben­nett, White Lion Pub­lish­ing, $40) is a work of art in it­self. Ben­nett pro­files 20 gar­dens that in­spired some of the great­est painters in his­tory. Un­cover the gar­dens in the South of France and that of Celia Thax­ter off the coast of Maine that Cezanne fell in love with. Dis­cover how the Blooms­bury Group took on the gar­den at Charleston in Sus­sex af­ter they left London to es­cape WWI bomb­ings. And how an en­tire vil­lage in Den­mark be­came the sub­ject of a colony of artists who em­braced the method of paint­ing now know as Im­pres­sion­ism. You’ll even learn the sto­ries be­hind Monet’s wa­ter lily pond. Archival pho­tos and images of the artists’ works show how their nat­u­ral sur­round­ings im­pacted them. If you haven’t started paint­ing your own gar­den yet, this book may in­spire you.

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