Bartlett on Gardening: Books for Gardeners



Many years ago, in a state of desperation, I sent my father a paperback copy of Square Foot Gardening as a Christmas gift. The following summer, I went out to California to visit my folks. Dad had turned his small raised-bed yard into a plumb, level and square garden such as I could not have imagined. He’d made square frames for every variation of seed-spacing known to vegetables. He was growing far more than they could use and giving the surplus to a local charity for the homeless.


Square foot gardening is still around. In February 2013, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew hit the bookstores. Over the decades the technique has been refined. The use of raised beds is now recommended because one can start out with better-quality soil. Vertical gardens are included in the second edition. This book is available in paperback.

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society came out this year. I have an earlier version of this one. It has been an invaluable resource. I especially like the information about attracting beneficial insects. The Xerces Society was founded in 1971 and is at the forefront of invertebrate protection. If you’ve a butterfly fan on your list, this may be the perfect gift.


Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis is about compost. The authors are just garden guys who love composting. They manage to teach about soil and how to assess problems in layman’s terms. The second half of the book is all about making and using compost. News you can use, even if you are still somewhat PTSD over that chemistry class. The book is now part of a trilogy about soil, published by Timber Press.

A personal favorite is the Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. This book has loads of practical information about caring for perennials and designing their space in the garden. There is also an “A to Z Encyclopedia of Perennials,” making this a one-and-done for the library. The author’s great love of gardening shines through as she affirms its value to each of us.


There are many handbooks and field guides to be had about specific plants or plant groups. These can be terrific choices for enthusiasts.

Books might not seem like a great gardener gift, but over the winter, we enjoy learning more about our favorite outdoor activity.

Native Californian Ann Bartlett never lets a lack of experience with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.


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