Gardening Book Recommendations?

Brandon and I have done a lot of work inside (obviously), but the outside looks terrible. I do NOT know how to garden, but I’d like to give it a try and I’m not sure where to start!

Any recommendations for good gardening books (or magazines or websites)? Should I be sticking to some sort of Arts & Crafts or Bungalow style?

pink peony

We have peonies, which I love… but they only look good from May – September. The rest of the year, the stems die off and it looks like we have nothing in front of our house. We definitely need something (evergreens?) to anchor everything and look good year-round. Maybe we’ll add a flowering tree too? I like the pink blossoms of the Eastern Redbud even though it might not match the style of our home. Maybe I’ll get one anyway?

Eh. I’m clueless in this department.

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  • Allison
    April 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I think the best place to start is at your local nursery or garden centre. The people working at those places are generally very knowledgeable and can help steer you towards plants that do well in your climate (and your yard’s light conditions) and are easy to maintain. It’s very easy to get taken in by beautiful pictures in gardening books and then end up with a garden that’s not thriving and difficult to look after.

  • SuzyCat
    April 2, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I’ve bought the book, You Grow Girl for my sister-in-law and flipped through it before I gave it to her. It’s a fun, upbeat, easy to read book with nice drawings and layout. I plan to get this book myself when I get a house and yard. She also has a website with a blog and great forum. It’s yougrowgirl.com

    Good luck!

  • wendy
    April 2, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    My favorite gardening book is called “What Perennial Where”. It helps you figure out what plants will work in your type of soil, lighting, and location, as well as when they will look good throughout the year. I like perennials because you plant them and, with some care, they keep coming back, no replanting every season.

  • Alison
    April 2, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I’d recommend You Grow Girl. There’s also a website: http://www.yougrowgirl.com/. Gayla hip, fun and funky and better, a lot of her advice is geared toward the urban gardener. I have a black thumb and have used her advice with some success.

  • Jessica
    April 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I agree with Allison — A reputable local nursery should have excellent information about plants that will do well in your climate. My husband is a horticulturist who specializes in native plants, so it’s also my duty to tell you that North American native plants are the way to go!

    If you’re looking for pure inspiration, I’d recommend the following books: “The American Woodland Garden” by Rick Darke and “Gardens by Design” by Noel Kingsbury. As far as gardening blogs, my current favorites are You Grow Girl (http://www.yougrowgirl.com) and Fresh Dirt (http://freshdirt.sunset.com).

    You might also find that your local cooperative extension office has helpful, inexpensive publications. (Looks like this is the web site for IL: http://web.extension.uiuc.edu). Plus you also have the Chicago Botanic Garden (http://www.chicagobotanic.org/) … Ok, I’ll stop spewing garden-related web sites now. :-)

  • Sherry
    April 2, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Definitely hit up your local gardening center for ideas, advice, and all that jazz. But don’t touch your adorable pink-lined wallet while you’re there. Instead, head to Lowe’s and apply all that you learned and snatch up any and all suggested plants there for at least 50% less (most of the time even more than that). It used to break our heart to buy something for $25 at the garden center only to see that it was $6.99 at Lowe’s.

    Plus Lowe’s offers a YEAR LONG money back guarantee, so if anything you purchased kicks the bucket 11 months later you can bring it back. I’ve actually done this quite a few times and they happily refund your money (meanwhile garden centers laugh if you ask if there’s a return policy).

    The obvious downside is that you definitely don’t have the variety that you’d have at your gardening center, but we’ve managed to plant over 100 bushes, flowers, and trees from Lowe’s over the past two years in our almost-an-acre lot with pretty darn good results.


  • Caitlin @ C³
    April 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I agree with Allison; check your local nursery as they are sure to have great relevant advice!

    For decorative trees, my favourite is the Japanese Red Maple!

    Are you interested in just decorative gardening? Square Foot Gardening is a good book, but it’s more for veggies than pretty plants.

  • Caitlin @ C³
    April 2, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I think the ate my comment; I refresh and it’s not here, but if I try to post it again it tells me that I’ve already posted it.

    Anyway, I second the notion of talking to your local experts, and I like the book Square Foot Gardening, but it’s more for vegetables than decorative plants.

  • Jules
    April 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Well, I’m a book person. I’ve found that unless I go to a specialized nursery and talk to actual landscape designers, very few people actually know enough to be helpful. I’ve had fantastic luck with the Sunset series. I know they are a west coast publication, but I did a quick search on Amazon and found they have a midwest series, too. Here is the link to the midwest version of the book I have:

    I can’t say how good this midwest one is, but Sunset is a respected publication out west, and the Sunset West book has been invaluable to me as I pick and choose plants. The key to gardening is picking a plant that works best for your soil type, climate, etc. so you will need a book or guide for your area. Sunset was also great because it detailed which plants were pet friendly. I almost bought an Angel’s Trumpet until I read the pods were poisonous to dogs and small children. O_O

    Try finding a comparable gardening publication in your area and see if they publish any book series. Double check to make sure it has color pictures, because many of them don’t. If you find a good one w/o pictures, then also buy a pictorial encyclopedia of native plants so you know what everything looks like. Learned that one the hard way! :)

  • b
    April 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    look at houses in your area that have landscaping that you like – we have gone as far as taking pictures of landscaping in our neighborhood – and then talking those pictures to a local nursery that way they have an idea of the style that you like – plus you have the benefit of seeing thing that will grow in your climate.

    Since the Chicagoland area has a similar growing zones as Michigan – I can tell you looking in magazines is difficult because you fall in love with the plants that can’t take our long cold winters.

  • Kylie
    April 2, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I’m not sure what the temps are in your area, plus it’s a whole different country but I’ve just started work on my backyard. I’m similar to you in that I know nothing about gardening, but I do lilke the outcome of pretty flowers.

    So, I’ve planted camellia sasanquas along my fence which will flower in autumn/winter and stay green all year – plus grow a bit of a screen. In front of them I am planting David Austin roses, which will flower spring/summer. I’m also planting gardenias because I adore their fragrance.

    From what I’ve read, and mostly been told by my green thumbed friends and family, these plants are fairly hardy and don’t need too much maintenance. But they give beautiful results. :)

    My blog has a few photos of the progress of this garden makeover.

  • Ileana
    April 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Like others have mentioned, You Grow Girl is awesome!

    You may also want to check to see if your local arboretums/botanical garden can offer you help, or if they have regular or seasonal plant sales. Some even offer workshops about native plants and landscaping/gardening tips for your region.

    Check out your local cooperative extension, too: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

  • Cara
    April 2, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    In terms of basic, basic outdoor manuals, I found Better Homes & Gardens Step-By-Step Yard & Garden Basics, ISBN Number: 0696212889 to be a huge help when planning our gardens and yards. It’s FULL of colour photos showing you step-by-step instructions for everything you can imagine.

    I found it at costco last spring for about 15$ and carried it around triumphantly in the weeks leading up to getting our first home. The day we picked up our keys I had it in arms, walking home from work when the sweetest, craziest lady with 3 cats in a stroller stopped me to talk gardening. She was so excited I was starting my first gardens and opened a brief case to reveal a zillion packets of seeds-that she plants down by the river banks, since she was an apartment dweller-and gave me 4 envelopes of seeds she promised I wouldn’t kill.

    I think overall that book has brought me incredible luck with my gardens (and garden purchases strangely!)… this year I can’t wait for the last frost to be over and done so I can plant my already started seedlings!

    Good luck and green thumb wishes!

  • paola
    April 2, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Treat your garden as you would a room.

    Firstly there’s the hard landscaping which is equivalent to the walls. The nice thing in a garden is that the landscaping can be changed (with some effort) and structures such as pergolas or arches can be added easily.

    Then think about your shrubs, which are equivalent to the furniture. They give structure to your garden, so consider height, shape and eventual size. Research these carefully because you don’t want to be moving these around much. Choose a mixture of evergreens and deciduous plants, bushes, small trees and climbers, and look for lots of year round interest in the form of flowers, fall colour, bark colour, berries etc.

    Perennials are the ‘soft furnishings’ of the garden. They come back year after year and get bigger and better, so you don’t want to change them too often either. They all bloom at different times – from hellebores in February to schizostylis in November, so it’s nice to always have some in bloom.

    Annuals and bulbs are the art and tchotchkes. They are more splashy and colourful and have a limited lifespan. Use them to fill in the gaps and change them around every season. You can also add real tchotchkes and art if you want.

    As you would with a room, keep to a limited and definite colour palette, though it might change a bit over the seasons.

    The easiest gardens are ones full of plants which thrive in your climate and soil. Read books specifically for your area and garden blogs written by people gardening in your climate.

    The great thing about gardening is that if you make a mistake it’s generally easy to move something and start again…

    Oh and grow edible things! There is nothing more satisfying…

    I’m putting up pics of our new garden month by month on my blog.

  • Kirsten
    April 2, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Seconding (or, really fifthing) the You Grow Girl recommendation and general positivity toward edibles. But, to add to the conversation, I’ve also found that books about historical gardens helped clarify what looks good in and around an arts and crafts bungalow. Some good options:

    In Harmony with Nature: Lessons from the Arts and Crafts Garden – Rick Darke

    Outside the Bungalow – Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister

    Arts and Crafts Gardens – Gertrude Jekyll

    The forms and core visual ideas of these gardens, as well as Japanese gardens, complement bungalows. But don’t feel tied to the exact plant choices. You can often find natives that provide the same sorts of textures, colors, and shapes which will perform better in your garden. Local nurseries and area-specific plant guides will help you with that.

    Also, Sunset is great for inspiration and tends, along with Cottage Living magazine, to have gardens that live happily with bungalows. Fine Gardening magazine is also a good way to find appropriate plants for your area.

  • Michelle
    April 3, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Have you thought about using native plants? It seems very compatible with the bungalow/arts and crafts theme. My husband and I are also in the Chicago area and a great resource for us has been the “Wild Ones” website and gardening group (www.for-wild.org). We have a native garden and it is always buzzing with life – from birds to bees, butterflies and other critters! After the first year, little to no watering required.

    A book that I started with was called, “get your lawn off grass” – great general ideas, but not very design specific.

    Have fun!!

  • Sarah
    April 3, 2008 at 7:46 am

    I’m Zone 5 too (Detroit area)! In fact my bro and SIL live in Oak Park too. Anywho, we redid all the landscaping around our 1920s bungalow when we moved in. I didn’t use many books– I mostly went to nurseries to see what I liked then to our local farmer’s market to get them cheaper. But gardenweb.com is a great online resource. Great forums, photo galleries for ideas, etc. As for evergreens, I must say I have Winter Gem boxwood around our back brick paver patio, and they have grown large and LOVELY. As for ornamental trees, Redbuds are beautiful. I also really like Cleveland Pear and flowering crab hybrids (that don’t produce fruit). We really tried to stick with more heirloom-y type plants. And we tend to have lots of white, pink, and purple. Good luck, and have fun with it!

  • Kristin
    April 3, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Oh how I feel for ya, we have a huge yard that needs landscaped and we are so new to “cutting the grass” that this should be interesting to see if I can figure out which plants to buy and where to put them. I need to become friends with the dirt. I have a pink* thumb(pink is for inside things)not a green one.

  • Kelley
    April 3, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I LOVE LOVE the book, ‘You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening’ by Gayla Trail. It’s super hip and fun and the illustrations rock!

  • Making it Lovely
    April 3, 2008 at 8:58 am

    A pink thumb! I love that.

    Thanks for the recommendations so far, everybody!

  • Jules
    April 3, 2008 at 9:20 am

    I second gardenweb.com They were priceless during my kitchen remodel (they have all sorts of forums) but the garden forum is what they are famous for.

  • Shannon
    April 3, 2008 at 10:02 am

    There are some kinds of “evergreens” with leaves rather than needles that change color in the fall & winter (usually lovely reds, oranges, and yellows) but that don’t lose their leaves. Something like this could give you color in the winter & greenery in the summer, when the flowers are providing the color. Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of these kinds of plants.

  • Courtney
    April 3, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I love Sunset Magazine it is very inspiring! I just started gardening last year and I am now addicted. Sunset magazine gives good advice on what you should do in your garden each month. The other things that I did were I checked out Landscape Design books at the library and got really good ideas from those to! Can’t wait to see your projects everything you do is amazing!

  • janet
    April 3, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Did you see your mention in the Washington Post HOME section today? Congrats!

    Speaking of the WaPo, they have a great gardening guy guru you might want to check out. His article today was on hydrangeas, which I love. (Adrian Higgins is his name.)

  • Rachel James
    April 4, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I also have peonies and you are right, they are SO beautiful, yet the stems can be so hideous. Part of me just wants to say we all have to suffer for beauty, so during the winter months just let it be and know that these gorgeous babies will arrive sooner than you think. But, sensibly, I plant crepe myrtles around the peonies, which are lovely even when not blossoming.

  • Rebecca
    April 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    I recommend the book _Covering Ground_ (http://www.amazon.com/Covering-Ground-Barbara-W-Ellis/dp/1580176658/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207362057&sr=8-1)–amazing photos & plans. I also love the sassy, nerdy blog Garden Rant. Good luck!

  • Elizabeth
    April 4, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Eleanor Pereyni’s “Green Thoughts”(hope I’ve spelled her name right. is a most lovely readable, inspiring book about gardens.
    Thoughtful and interesting.
    It will really give you a lot of ideas and pleasure

  • lfw1031
    April 5, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Nicole – don’t overlook fieldtrips to the Morton Arboretum or the Chicago Botanical Garden. Visit a couple times during the growing season to see what’s in bloom. There is a lot of free knowledge there – tip sheets, information on native plants, butterfly and bird gardens, waterwise growing, etc.

    Also, remember that, just like the inside of your house, the garden is always in transition. You can always move stuff around, divide stuff (to make MORE for free!) and trade with a neighbor (to get NEW stuff for free!). Gardening is never “done” – it’s a place to experiment and learn. Dead plants are the best teacher – as my grandma would say.

    Finally – remember this: a lot of the big box stores buy on a national scale to appeal to the entire country and boost their bottom line. Our clay soil and zone 5 preferences are very specific. Buy yourself a good, basic garden encyclopedia (Better Homes and Gardens has a great, big one) and refer to it when enticed by a gorgeous penstemon or feathery grass. Some things just won’t grow in our area no matter what. An encyclopedia will help you stay on track.

  • pve design
    April 5, 2008 at 7:58 am

    gardening is like decorating, you plant it, you see how you like and how it likes you back. moving things, replanting, living, dying. plants are like children, each one requires light, water, fertilizer, love, and not all equal.
    love succulents now. so easy to live and let live.

  • Sue
    April 5, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Going with others re: You Grow Girl. Was near a Border’s earlier this week and was able to purchase the last one on the shelf. I LOVE it!!!!!!!!!!!!! Excellent ideas, instructions, pictures…fabulous! Enjoy!

  • mariah
    April 7, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    i really like small garden by john brookes. has a great mix of planter ideas, reference as well as design tips for modern, traditional and city and english country designs.

    house is still getting better and better. i continue to think that we are kind of style twins :)
    love it and keep it up!!

  • Lisa {milkshake}
    April 8, 2008 at 6:12 am

    I agree with Wendy’s suggestion of “What Perennial Where”. We received that book as a gift when we bought our house almost 10 years ago. I still use it.

    This website is a great resource, too: http://www.gardenweb.com/.

    Careful – you will quickly become addicted to gardening!

  • jane
    April 8, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Definitely take a walk through the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Gardens. Everything is marked and it’s helpful to a see a plant in a natural setting, rather than a picture in a book. Also, take the puppy for a walk around your neighborhood and look for landscaping you like and maybe catch the homeowner/gardener at work—they can give you helpful advice. Gethsemene (in Andersonville?) is a great garden center with helpful staff. Finally, the redbud tree would be great start! It is a wonderful small tree for the area. Also, don’t forget the library—you can bring a number of garden books home until you find the one that seems to work for you, and then purchase that one. I like “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” because in includes maintenance info (pruning, dividing, mulching, etc) and Pam Duthie’s “Continuous Color”—with color by season, and she is a local gardener.

  • kingking
    April 8, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I second the suggestions by Ileana and Jane, especially getting to know your neighbors. When we moved into our current home, I really admired the landscaping of a house two doors down. It turns out the lady of the house is a master gardener, works for the county extension office, and has been more helpful than any book could ever have been. Best of luck in your outside endeavor, I have no doubt it will be as warm and welcoming as your inside one. Go make it lovely.

  • Nicole
    April 9, 2008 at 7:26 am

    I enjoy gardening, but I can’t seem to get it to work like my mom. She can make anything grow just from looking at it!
    I used to have her help me, but our tastes are different… So, I’m doing this all my own now! :D

    So, I started out by going to a book store, looked through magazines on what would work in my climate. I’m in zone 5. Since we have full sun – south facing… I wanted to make sure that the flowers/plants are not going to die from the lack of shade. I picked out the colors that I wanted – we have a blue house, so I picked violet, bright pink, and yellow to be the main colors for the house… Then I drew the garden out — dimensioning the garden. Placing the plants the way it would be if it was in its’ full size.

    THEN I went to the larger nursery around, showing them what kind of plants that I have picked out… This way, I have a general idea on what I like and what kind of flowers/plants I’d like — which helps the people at the nursery on my taste if they didn’t have something I had written down. When I went, they didn’t have a few of what I had drawn out, but the lady gave me recommendations that matches the size and color to the flowers that they didn’t have… The lady even told me that one of my plants wouldn’t work for full sun (despite of what the magazine said)…

    I just planted everything last Saturday… :) It was a lot of work — since I went through and pulled all the weeds out first.

    oh yes, make sure you have mulch to cover up when you’re done… Mulch is a good water retainer, and helps keep the weeds out — but doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try to plant themselves in there!

    We water our plants at least every other day.

    Good luck!!!! and Happy Planting! :)

  • Jason
    April 9, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I recently purchased a 1920s bungalow in chicago and the Bungalow Association offers landscaping workshops. We recently attended a workshop at a NW side library and it was fantastic! They gave great ideas and everyone there owned a bungalow so it was great networking as well. I have found that most bungalow owners have very similar challenges. I believe that you can participate in these seminars if you are in Chicago or suburbs.

  • Amber
    April 12, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Definitely stick with native plants. Your library will have books about growing in your zone. Also Gardenweb.com has a wealth of info including regional and zone specific forums.

    Another thing I will advise that no one has mentioned is try to grow organically and if possible plant compatibly. Example if one plant has problems with a certain pest or fungus scoot in a plant that will help rid the other plant of that pest. You and the rest of nature don’t have to worry about being around bad toxins and you’re not wasting time and money on them.

  • gail
    April 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I drive past your house all the time on my way to dunkin donuts for coffee. My best friend grew up in that house so I think I was there about 5 days a week as a teenager. forget about the gardening….I think what you need to do is paint that fucker! that old cream and brown is so tired!

  • Shawna Stobaugh
    January 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    If you like Peonies, you might like peony poppies. They look similar. Fluffy and cute. They last all summer even into fall I think. You home looks adorable.