Gardening

The UK’s Best Gardening Books For Growing Instructions & Inspiration

woman laid in garden hammock reading

Gardening books are not all the same like ‘peas in a pod;’ indeed, they can be so different that a comparison would be like comparing ‘apples and oranges.’ Underneath we present half-a-dozen gardening books, all of them ‘plum picks.’ Buy any of them and your gardening skills will surely ‘blossom.’

“Pooh! Who wants a gardening book when you can get up-to-date information online!” you say? Our reply: “Not so fast, buster!” An authoritative, subject-specific, or experience-appropriate book will not only improve your gardening skills, you can pore through a book in depth in a way you cannot do online. And then there’s the satisfying heft of a hardcover, the convenience of instant look-ups in the index, the fact that the pictures stay with you, and the touch of class a fine coffee-table book brings to your living room. 

Underneath we present six wonderful gardening-related books. Each has some commonalities with the others but each one also has its own distinct offerings, features, and even charms. As such, in all honesty, we recommend and favour all six of them. 

Our #1 Top Pick
RHS Gardening Through the Year: Month-by-month Planning Instructions and Inspiration
Value Pick
Veg in One Bed: How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month
Also Consider...
The Complete Gardener: A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening
Author
Ian Spence
Huw Richards
Monty Don
Publisher
DK
DK
DK
Book Type
Hardcover
Hardcover
Paperback
Length
352 Pages
224 Pages
440 Pages
Price
£14.80
£12.39
£17.75
Our #1 Top Pick
RHS Gardening Through the Year: Month-by-month Planning Instructions and Inspiration
Author
Ian Spence
Publisher
DK
Book Type
Hardcover
Length
352 Pages
Price
£14.80
Value Pick
Veg in One Bed: How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month
Author
Huw Richards
Publisher
DK
Book Type
Hardcover
Length
224 Pages
Price
£12.39
Also Consider...
The Complete Gardener: A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening
Author
Monty Don
Publisher
DK
Book Type
Paperback
Length
440 Pages
Price
£17.75

Last update on 2020-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images / Pricing from Amazon Product Advertising API

“Not very helpful,” you say? “How will I choose one or two?” Well, what is your experience level? What do you want to grow? Are you looking for instruction or ideas? Or inspiration? Are you interested in colourful blooms, delicious veggies, or overall self-sufficiency? If you answer these and a few other questions and read the reviews underneath, you’ll find the perfect book for yourself, or for a loved one or a good friend.

Best Pick: RHS Gardening Through The Year: Month By Month

Novice or an expert, roses or veggies, RHS’s Gardening is so well-presented yet goes so deep but so broad, all will benefit from this most well-rounded book.

One would expect that if the RHS, a BBC expert, and DK (Dorling Kindersley) team up to produce a gardening book, it’s going to be a doozy. And so it is with Gardening Through The Year by Ian Spence, a Number One bestseller across the board. Published by DK, this 2018 edition has 351 pages and is available in hardcover and paperback.

This is one book that is ‘broad-spectrum’ in who it hits. Tyros, hobbyists, green thumbs, old hands – all knowledge and experience levels will gain something from this book which can be utilised as a step-by-step instruction manual, as a quick reference guide, and also just to read gradually to acquire knowledge.

Each by-month chapter is divided into ‘Star Plants’ and ‘What to Do’ sections. It features a 63-page alphabetised A to Z Plant Directory with bullet points about each plant including helpful hints like ‘Seasonal Highlights’ and ‘Cultivation,’ and even ‘Perfect Partners’ for each plant.

The month-by-month chapters are written so as to change your attitude to the weather and your garden. For January and February, this book will keep your guard up – frost, roots, and more are treated in depth. But when you come to April, you’ll be told that it “is perhaps the most exciting month of the year” and what it brings “help[s] to gladden the heart of every gardener.” Thus, how you view and approach your garden should be influenced by the season and month. 

Spence goes into not only details but what one might call ‘sub-details.’ So, for example, it’s not about when and how to prune, it’s about precisely when and how to prune specifically forsythias, lavender, climbers, even redcurrants. However, Spence’s book is not about only annuals and perennials; it extends to lawns, vegetables, fruits, hedges, herbs – everything that grows and that may have a place in your garden.

Perhaps the best part about this book is that it informs you whether to sow or whether to hoe, what to plant and what to transplant, when to water and how to weed, how to prune and when to pick, all on a month-by-month basis. Simply colour-by-the-numbers and you won’t miss a trick while you will avoid mistakes on the way to having a brilliant garden . . . and on the way to becoming a green-thumb. Furthermore, Spence teaches you to keep gardening and going on even through October when others might harvest, call it a year, and put up their feet. 

Though he goes into the particulars of harvesting and storage, he says October is “a good month to start planting trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants,” and explains how to do so.

The photographs are lovely and also informative – there are artistic photographs and eye-catching ones, besides the kinds of photos you would find in a Botanical encyclopedia. Most importantly, the book features many how-to ‘action’ photographs that impart correct technique. Interestingly, this 350-page hardcover book which is chock-full of photographs is not expensive at all; it sells at a very reasonable price, another big plus point in its favour.

As befits this premium book, the Index is absolutely excellent, covering plants and how-tos, and also indicating pages with main topics and photographs.

Gardening Through The Year is a wonderful book; it is a ‘complete manual,’ so to speak, is packed with practical information, but also has a wealth of wisdom inside its pages. If you buy only one gardening book, this is the one to get. It also makes a superb gift. It is not really superior, as such, to the other books reviewed here, it is simply the book that will be most useful and most appealing to the majority of gardeners at all experience levels; therefore, it is our Best Pick.

Pros

  • Brilliant month-by-month approach means you are always prepared in advance and will not remain unaware of some time-sensitive task.
  • Even the carefully-taken and -chosen photographs and illustrations have an orientation, from aesthetic to informative to instructional.
  • Will convey solid information and be of use to all experience levels, from greenhorn to green-fingers. 

Cons

  • Because of a change in layout and reduction in size, the latest hardcover edition has seen some text reduced, some material omitted, as well as some illustrations omitted, from the 2001 edition.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

Value Pick: Veg In One Bed: How To Grow An Abundance Of Food

Growing your own tasty veggies is a cherished dream for many; now, if you have a piece of land only 4 x 2 metres, you can grow Veg in One Bed all year round.

Veg in One Bed, subtitled How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month by Huw Richards is another month-by-month guide except that it focusses solely on veggies, and what is more, how to grow them year round in a single raised bed measuring only 3 x 1.2 metres! This bestselling 2019 hardcover has 224 pages and is published by DK.

It is indeed “Ideal for new allotmenteers,” as observed by The English Garden, but it is also ideal for those with big backyards, even huge backyards, but who have very limited time but a passion for learning how to organically grow a multitude of veggies. Veg in One Bed concentrates on veg fundamentals like tomatoes, leeks, radishes, turnips, spinach, peas, and beetroot but also makes interesting detours into exotica like dwarf French beans and tatsoi.

Richards has been growing produce in his family’s backyard since he was a child and the wealth of his accumulated experience (besides his innate passion for the subject) is self-evident. The author thinks that “raised bed help to make growing vegetables easy” and for those who are willing to put in a modicum of effort, this marvelous book will make it ‘easy.’

The book has four main sections: ‘Getting Started,’ ‘Your Bed Month by Month,’ ‘Next Steps,’ and ‘Veg in Containers.’ The first section has eight chapters with preparation instructions and maintenance guidance. Chapter topics include, ‘The Windowsill,’ ‘Your Raised Bed,’ ‘Plan for the Weather,’ and even ‘The Compost Bin.’ The real fun begins in the second section which has a Year Planner, one chapter for December through February, and dedicated chapters for each month from March to November. All chapters provide very detailed information, ranging from scientific facts to experience-derived pearls.

The month-by-month guide has various sub-heads to guide you on a task-by-task basis: Tasks like ‘Sow,’ ‘Start off,’ ‘Grow,’ ‘Harvest,’ etc. are listed by month. Underneath these sub-heads, each month’s stages pertinent vegetables are identified, with how-tos for each stage-vegetable combination. Easy-peasy! Information and instructions cover how to sow, which varieties to select, how much to water, potential pests, what to watch out for, whether to thin, and when to harvest.

As anyone would expect, you get detailed instructions on watering and thinning but also on sometimes neglected side-subjects like support stakes. The book even covers veggie pests from cabbage whitefly to carrot ‘just’ fly.

The book has numerous very helpful ‘instructional’ illustrations. Among these graphics is a month-by-month layout of the raised bed detailing rows and vegetables with colour-coded stage (e.g. start-off, transplant, grow on, and harvest) for that month.

Apart from listing entries within their own name in alphabetical order, the comprehensive Index also even includes many entries as sub-heads within other topics which makes for a very handy cross-reference.

Richards simplifies the skill of growing vegetables and makes it as easy as 1-2-3 to the extent that even novices can become competent vegetable-growers in double-quick time. This Veggie-Odyssey concentrates on one aspect of gardening and provides lucid information and concrete instructions that yield fruit, er, veg, for loose change. It’s a Value Pick any day and just edges another brilliant budget-buy reviewed underneath.

Pros

  • Shows you how to grow nearly 20 kinds of veggies almost throughout the year in one little raised bed.
  • Covers each month from several perspectives – not only what to grow, but what to do, what to watch out for, what is ‘best,’ etc. 
  • Simple system of using a single raised bed makes the project approachable and manageable for gardening tyros.

Cons

  • Intermediate-level gardeners who already grow vegetables in their gardens may not learn much from this book.
  • Quick learners and tyros who ‘take’ to gardening may quickly exhaust what this book can offer.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

The Complete Gardener

If you ever wondered how expert green-fingers do it, in The Complete Gardener one such man relates just how he did it and offers ideas, guidance, and wisdom. 

The Complete Gardener, subtitled A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening, at 440 pages is verily a tome. Written by Monty Don, this comprehensive book was published by DK in hardcover in 2003 and in paperback in 2009.

Don, the main presenter of BBC-TV’s Gardener’s World, takes readers to his own garden in Herefordshire. Using a season-by-season format he provides “a personal account of how I manage my own organic garden.” But the spectacular array of flowers, climbers, shrubs, herbs, vegetables, and fruits on show has one asking “Is the real gardener Don or Demeter?”

Don, a gardener since childhood, imagines a garden as a ‘holistic’ entity not merely in its elements and inputs, but even its layout and structure. Consider his perspective on Paths, to which, along with Walls and Fences, he devotes a sub-chapter. Paths may get you from Point A to Point B, but that’s far from all. This master gardener’s outlook on Paths reminds one of that aphorism, “It is not so much about the Destination as it is about the Journey.” He discusses various materials – grass, cobbles, concrete – with which to make Paths and examines the various functions of Paths, so you can only imagine how deep his book delves into flowers and fruits.

The book is very detail-oriented. For example, it has lengthy discourses on gardening implements and why which tool is to be preferred and for what purpose. As another example, it goes into minutiae, such as the hows and whys of taking box cuttings. An encyclopedic knowledge of gardening and nature is also self-evident, such as in the sub-section about natural ‘companion plant’ pesticides. Did you know you can protect roses from aphids by growing the pungent-odoured garlic close to the sweet-scented rose?

The ‘meat’ of the book is surely the parts that deal with flower gardening. Don has divided his garden into flower sub-gardens by theme, yet keeping it all integrated and ‘holistic.’ The idea is to create various smaller sub-gardens, themed by heights, shades and tones, floral size and type, and such. One wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the book consideration is also given to complementary and clashing floral scents!

Within a single passage sometimes one finds a rich mix of personal narrative, opinions, how-tos, tips and tricks, and insightful observations tending to, what one might call, ‘Gardening Philosophy.’ Get this: “If a weed is no more than a plant in the wrong place, the pest is only an animal eating the wrong food.” Properly ‘holistic.’ 

Don also advocates Organic Gardening – make that ORGANIC Gardening. We are advised to garden without pesticides and herbicides and even chemical fertilizers in the interest of organic-cum-holistic gardening. And this is the key: gardener-author Don treats and even sees flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs (and, yes, paths) as only components of an integrated whole. Just as Duke Ellington’s true instrument is said to have been his whole orchestra, to Monty Don, the true flower is the whole garden.

The index is as comprehensive as can be, as befits a deluxe book. Every main subject has various sub-heads indented within it; ‘hazel’ has four sub-heads and ‘onions’ has six!

Apart from everything else, and last but far from least, this big book is beautiful. It is a truly gorgeous coffee-table book that would be appreciated not only by gardeners but, by book lovers and aesthetes in general. It is lovely just to leaf through while sipping a cup of coffee.

Pros

  • In general an exceptional gardening book, it may well be best-in-class where flowering plants are concerned.
  • Imbibing the viewpoint of an organic, holistic garden can raise your approach to gardening to another plane.
  • Gorgeous, ravishing, lovely, beautiful . . . you get the drift.

Cons

  • We said it’s a ‘tome’ so if you get the hardcover edition, this big book will be bulky and heavy.
  • As a personal, unstructured account, not the most useful for a systematic 1-2-3 approach to gardening.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

How To Garden When You’re New To Gardening

Whoever is hesitant to take the plunge into gardening could do not better than getting this book ‘for absolute beginners’ to get a flying start to green-thumbdom.

How To Garden When You’re New To Gardening, subtitled The Basics For Absolute Beginners is attributed to the Royal Horticultural Society (R.H.S.) and published by DK in 2018. This 256-page hardcover is a dual-category bestseller. The title of the book identifies its target readership and the book’s thrust. It is an entry-level how-to and is a compendium of the essentials that builds, within reason, the widest and broadest possible foundation but not necessarily the deepest one.

Surely even novices know a little something about soil, a subject treated at length in this book, but how many gardeners, even knowledgeable ones, know the ins and outs about the direction that a garden faces? This important but oft-overlooked consideration is the very first chapter in Section 1: ‘Getting Started’. The following sections are: ‘Flowers & Foliage,’ ‘Lawns,’ ‘Climbers,’ ‘Shrubs,’ ‘Grasses,’ ‘Small Trees,’ ‘Vegetables,’ ‘Herbs,’ ‘Fruits,’ and ‘Practicalities,’ with each colour-coded section identified by an icon – for example ‘4: Climbers’ is colour-coded lilac and has an Ivy icon. Each section is sub-divided into several chapters coming out to a total of 80-plus, culminating with “Know your garden friends.” 

In keeping with its purpose, this book extensively covers all the basics. The fullest treatment is given to sowing seeds, planting bulbs, watering growing plants, moving a plant to a new location, and similar fundamentals, but over and above that there are dips into interesting and advanced gardening activities. Thus, as you would expect, this book offers guidance on potting and pruning but it also teaches you how to “make a hanging basket.” In sum, How To Garden When You’re New To Gardening takes you through the A-B-C’s of creating a basic garden for beginners, and then selectively builds upon it by providing instructions for a small number of “more ambitious projects,” such as making climber towers and rose arches.

As this book is about Basics For Absolute Beginners, it omits advanced topics and also does not treat some of the subjects in depth. What it does cover is presented in easily-digestible pieces and capsules, augmented by an array of helpful illustrations. On which note, though there are many (very) ‘pretty pictures’ of flowers including two-page spreads, one of the highlights of this entry-level guidebook is the excellent how-to ‘action’ photographs that allow a rank novice instantly to grasp the correct technique for a variety of gardening operations and tasks, including preparing trays, watering seedlings, transplanting from pots, testing soil type, pruning climbers, and more. For the major part, the book’s format comprises of good-sized photographs coupled with just-enough, clear-cut, information.

This book is so lucid, so well presented and organised, so easy to follow, and so expertly illustrated that even a child could utilise it to create a proper garden – and this is meant as a high compliment. For the greenhorn who is just starting out on his/her gardening adventure, How To Garden When You’re New To Gardening is the ideal first book. Moreover, it is priced so very low that it was a toss-up as to whether this book or the eventual ‘winner’ would get the Value Pick slot. If you’re a novice who is not interested in vegetables but want to get a first-class ticket for your gardening journey, then this bargain buy is your Value Pick.

Pros

  • For any greenhorn who is attracted to general gardening but doesn’t know how or where to start, the ideal first book.
  • Presentation and textual content are such that they will neither bore nor overwhelm, but will attract and engross the novice.
  • One-of-a-kind how-to ‘action’ photographs that explain or teach at a glance.

Cons

  • Really and truly specifically for beginners; intermediate gardeners may feel it is simplistic or lacking in advanced topics, such as pests and diseases.
  • Positioned as an entry-level book but has no glossary of fundamental gardening terms and lingo.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

Secret Gardeners: Britain’s Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries

Dazzling visits to ‘private sanctuaries’ await you in this book, but you will also learn about vastly varying outlooks on gardens and even find inspiration.

A book of revelation and inspiration, Secret Gardeners: Britain’s Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries may be considered the gardening equivalent of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. This 2017 coffee-table book has 272 pages and is published by Frances Lincoln. It is authored by Victoria Summerley and features photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas. You will not find any guidance let alone how-tos here; what you get is an unfolding of private gardens, by turns enchanting, ravishing, and, in one or two instances, nearly paradisiacal.

Though this book has no how-tos it features plenty of hows-and-whys – how one owner did this and why another gardener did that. This information and the accompanying anecdotes provide interesting, sometimes fascinating, context to the photos. Which is just as well because this art book is littered with photos, photos, and more photos by the talented Rittson Thomas. Sadly, Frances Lincoln’s dodgy printing lets the photographs down. 

The table of contents comprises nothing more than the names of the 25 financially-fortunate owners whose gardens we are made privy to. These names include some instantly recognisable ones such as Branson (fils), Terry Gilliam, Jeremy Irons, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sting. (Didn’t we say ‘Rich and Famous’?) The gardens shown off in the book make for some intense contrasts. Witness the Bransons’ preference for a range of delicate pastel shades and gentle hues as opposed to Rhys-Jones’s near-exclusive focus on foliage and shades of green, and compare both of those to the Evanses architectural approach to gardens.

A few of these owner-gardeners seem to have decided to let a parcel of their land ‘go to nature’ and this strategy has ‘reaped’ rich dividends, for there are some random yet delightful hodge-podges of foliage that only Nature can come up with. That said, you will encounter a few man-made curiosities including what can only be called a ‘topiary edifice.’ Did someone ask, “What about labyrinths?” Well, if you like M.R. James’s ghost stories, a couple of the gardens presented in this book will remind you of some or another Jamesian story set in a country estate with a ‘private sanctuary’ garden. In Summerley’s book, you may well find a garden or two that you link to innocuously-titled but hair-raising tales like Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance and The Residence at Whitminster

Summerley says that her favourite gardens are those whose owners gave her tea or wine, and mentions one who “sat [her] down” in the kitchen and “made [her] a cup of tea.”  Well, if your ‘cup of tea’ is stunning images of richly-tinted blooms in large stone pots as well as richly-tinted bricks in long stone walls; perfectly-manicured putting-green lawns and also un-manicured rustic country lawn-fields; then Secret Gardeners is the perfect book for you. Sit back, open the book, and gaze in admiration (okay, with a ripple or two of envy). But it may even offer up some inspiration: you may feel motivated to create your own miniature version of some wonder that you encounter in this unusual book.

Pros

  • Provides very interesting and revealing insights into how the ‘other one percent’ lives with respect to gardens, grounds and acreage.
  • Experienced gardeners who’ve ‘been there, done that’ will discover ideas galore in this book and find it a source of constant inspiration.
  • Those who are into gardening, photography, and the countryside are in for a triple treat.

Cons

  • The colour balance and printing are let-downs, especially for a high-end book, as a few too many photographic images are insufficiently saturated (making the photographs seem over-exposed or ‘washed out’).
  • Two or three gardens seem to have been included not because of the gardens’ intrinsic qualities but because of the name recognition of their owners.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

The New Complete Book Of Self-Sufficiency

How to provide for yourself and your family off a plot of land without needing to buy any essential – that in a nutshell describes this Bible for preppers.

The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by the late John Seymour is most aptly sub-titled The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers. This 2019 hardcover edition of the 2003 bestseller is published by DK and has 408 pages.

Englishman Seymour was a fervent proponent of the idea and practice of ‘living off the land’ in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Seymour’s philosophy can be summarised as, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, “Every man his own farmer.” The author’s concept of the self-sufficient farmer and his relationship to Mother Earth is revealed by an out-of-fashion word he uses: husbandman. This valuable book’s mission could succinctly be described as trying to convert every gardener into becoming a husbandman.

The out-of-fashion cottage garden is a cornerstone of self-sufficiency. The book teaches you to live off your cottage garden, dividing it into ‘plots’ for different vegetable combinations, such as potatoes on their own and cabbage, broccoli, and turnips as a family. As you may expect, the heart and soul of the book is about growing produce (including herbs) and raising livestock. How, though, to use the appetizing veggies and fruits that you harvest? The answers are found in Chapters 6 thru 8: In the DairyIn the Kitchen, and Brewing & Wine-Making. Preceding these chapters are The Meaning of Self-SufficiencyFood from the GardenFood from AnimalsFood from the Fields, and even Food from the Wild – foraging! Chapters 9 thru 11 are about Energy & WasteCrafts & Skills, and Things you Need to Know. The word ‘complete’ in the title is no exaggeration.

Seymour’s preference for words like ‘spuds’ and ‘muck,’ his pithy expressions, and belief in principles such as ‘The Law of Return’ identify him for what he is: an unpretentious man of the earth part-writing about and part-worshiping The Good Earth.

The author advocates the benefits of not only crop rotation but crop-and-farmyard-animal rotation as used to be practiced in Europe a few centuries ago, called ‘High Farming.’ But do not be misled into thinking this book is all about ‘high’ theory and principles that you may not be able to apply; it has an abundance of concrete nitty-gritty. For example, 11 steps with 11 illustrations over a full page explain just how to make bread. Likewise for cheese, preserves, bottling, and so much more – including slaughtering, butchering, and cutting up pigs!

As befits a book that is about self-sufficiency (and not just about growing veggies and fruits) Seymour also focusses on trees but from a utilitarian perspective. How fast which trees grow, how close to plant them, when to coppice them, and how to season the wood – all this and more is covered for good, solid, self-sufficiency purposes: preparing firewood for your hearth and making planks for building purposes. The how-tos are not limited to the Plant Kingdom, you are taught all about raising livestock; for instance, the sub-section on hens includes information about the best breeds, particulars about their diet, arks and hoppers.

The scenics and the setting illustrations are stylised in single-hued, block colours, some of them reminiscent of children’s books that we all read during our respective childhoods. The illustrations of plants are like those in botanical atlases and field guides. The illustrations of tools and implements in the ‘Clearing Land’ chapter are suitably old-fashioned and rustic.

Large sections of this book are fascinating just to read for their wealth of observations, experience, insights, and forgotten wisdom surrounding Man’s relationship to the Earth; symbiotic and respectful among the ‘primitive’ peoples but fraught and even adversarial in the Post-Industrial nations.

A very detailed (and fascinating) Glossary and an extensive Index five pages long close out this one-of-a-kind book. For the independent off-gridder who wants to live off the land, this trove of nuts-and-bolts information and philosophical wisdom is all he will ever need.

Pros

  • Self-evidently written by someone who was authentic, passionate and an expert in the field.
  • Simply perfect, a bulls-eye, for smallholders, ‘off-gridders,’ and preppers who may well call it their Bible.
  • Greenfingered wonder? Don’t worry – you’ll still learn a lot from this book, and will love it too.

Cons

  • Gen-Xers and hard-core city dwellers may find the text ‘preachy’ or feel that the outlook is communalistic. (And snowflakes may swoon.)
  • Will not appeal to persons who are not industrious by nature and are accustomed to easy living.
Buy Now From Amazon UK

About the author

Kersasp 'Kersie' Shekhdar

Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.

Leave a Comment