Antonia Adezio knows a good gardening book when she sees one; here, she recommends reading from authors we know and love.
It’s been fun over the past couple of years to invite friends and colleagues to come to Marin Art & Garden Center to share their new books through illustrated presentations in The Studio. A good garden book can be a gateway to another world, with images of beautiful backyards or distant places, curated by the interests of the garden’s owner and viewed through the sophisticated lens of the photographer. These books are sometimes considered “garden porn” but they are a guilty pleasure of mine, for sure.
Click on any book’s title to purchase from local bookseller Book Passage, our partner for author events.
Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, with photography by noted Berkeley-based photographer Marion Brenner, is that kind of tour, through lush gardens in private settings around the Bay, including several in Marin. Susan and Nancy are New Yorkers who learned a lot about local customs—such as the firepit—and architecture (we do love our mid-century Modern!) while doing research for this book, following similar successes in New Jersey and New York’s Hudson Valley and their mix of wit and keen observation is delightful.
GardenLust, by Christopher Woods, is a journey around the world to visit newly-made gardens, both private and open to the public, on six continents. Innovative use of plants, color, and space is the thread that connects these diverse creations, all of which are strikingly attentive to concerns and best practices to deal with climate change. The photos are all by the author, a long-time public garden professional whose career has included development of the renowned Chanticleer Gardens in Pennsylvania.
Jason DeWees has long been the resident palm expert at popular Flora Grubb Gardens in the Bayview district of San Francisco, and he spent several years traveling around the US looking for examples of palms planted in gardens, doing their distinctive thing in combination with a remarkable assortment of other plants and in diverse settings and growing conditions. Designing with Palms has a palm for everyone, with detailed cultural recommendations and striking photography by Caitlin Atkinson.
Another kind of garden book aims to inspire us to do better in our own gardens, or to do it differently. Johanna Silver is the author of the recent Growing Weed in Your Garden, a specialty gardening book if there ever was one. Her prior book, the Bold Dry Garden, was a celebration of the life’s work of Ruth Bancroft, who created her dramatic and waterwise garden of cacti, succulents, and native California plants in Walnut Creek over 30 years. Ruth, who died in 2017 at age 109, was a hero and inspiration for many of us, her dedication, knowledge, and humility all remarkable. This book is delicious to look at but also filled with cultural advice from Ruth Bancroft Garden’s long-time curator, Brian Kemble. Here, too, Marion Brenner has documented the garden and Ruth’s unusual plant combinations and also created unmistakeable plant portraits to help the home gardener.
For all of us who want to do the right thing in our own green spaces, Kate Frey’s Bee-Friendly Garden is a bible for what to plant to attract and sustain pollinators, including the vast universe of native bees, wasps, and moths that have evolved to live with specific plants in our backyard environments. Kate has been teaching about gardening for years and her helpful style gives valuable guidance about selecting, siting, and nurturing these invaluable plants that support natural communities around them.