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.