For anyone infected with the gardening bug, an early symptom is the intense desire to learn more about the subject. While television and radio programs can be informative, they are by their nature fleeting and hardly ever accessible when a problem or query arises. The obvious answer is to build up a specialist personal reference library and have these texts close at hand. While garden books are often informative, they are expensive, so care needs to be taken in choosing titles that are well-written and their content suitable for your climatic conditions.
There are literally hundreds of garden books published each year in Australia and around the English-speaking world. They can be loosely divided into a number of sub-categories: how-to books, plant IDs, horticultural textbooks, plant monographs, garden profiles and the eclectic basket of “miscellaneous themes”.
Like cooks, the gardener needs to have a few entry-level texts as an introduction to all aspects of the craft. While most how-to books are big and well-illustrated, there are some that should be avoided. Many multinational publishers produce garden books aimed for the British, North American and European markets. Their information is general in nature and often unsuitable for Australian climates.
For me, the best all-purpose book available locally is the Yates Garden Guide. First published in 1895, this book has been updated more than 50 times during its long history and is packed with accurate information suitable for all our climatic areas. If you must have only one garden book in your library, that book should be Yates Garden Guide. As a must-have book, it makes an ideal housewarming present when a new garden awaits.
All gardeners want to learn the names of plants growing around them, be they ornamentals, vegetables, trees and even weeds, and there is a plethora of books available for such a purpose. There are several weighty tomes brimming with photographs of plants, which can be very useful for identifying the name of that sickly perfumed plant growing over the neighbour’s fence or the large red-flowered bush growing in the backyard.
My personal favourites in this category are Stirling Macoby’s, What Flower is That? and the Readers Digest Garden Encyclopedia. Identification in both these books is based on plant type and variety of flower, which is illustrated in thumbnail photographs. While these guides are suitable for the non-botanist, specialist identification guides are essential for those with some intermediate or advanced technical plant knowledge, such as the five-volume Horticultural Flora of South Eastern Australia by Roger Spencer.
Of the many books used in teaching horticulture, there are two works that have stood the test of time. Soil science, I must confess, was never my strongest subject when I was a horticultural student, so I relied heavily on Kevin Handreck and Neil Black’s Growing Media for Ornamental Plants & Turf for technical help. Despite the dry title, this book is essential for the serious gardener or horticulturist keen to lean more about the science behind plant nutrition.
While knowledge of soil science is not essential for every gardener, knowledge of plant health is, so every gardener should have a copy of Judy McMaugh’s, What Garden Pest or Disease is That? Thanks to the detailed photographs and text, the reader can clearly identify all the major pests and diseases found in Australian plants, and ways to eradicate them. As pest and disease management has changed much in recent years, readers should try to locate a recent edition.