We are headed into garden-reading time. Except for dealing with leaves, whether you rake or not, outdoor tasks are done (or ought to be).

Here are some books that I have enjoyed over the past year.

“Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering and Enjoying,” by Martha Stewart with Kevin Sharkey, Clarkson Potter, large-format hardcover, 290 pages, $45

This book is everything Martha Stewart is known for: beautiful, colorful, striking and overwhelming.

Over the course of one growing season, Stewart conducts readers through three gardens she owns: Lily Pond on Long Island, Skylands on Mount Desert Island and, the one featured most in the book, Cantitoe in Katonah, New York.

For each flower she describes the varieties she likes, how to grow it from planting to harvest, how to treat the flowers for arranging as well as how to arrange them. Stewart describes herself as the grower in these gardens, while Sharkey is the cutter and arranger. Most of the hundreds of photos in the book are of arrangements – and they are lush, even though my wife, Nancy – a flower show judge – thinks many lack creativity.

In the Signs of Spring section she covers daffodils, tulips, rhododendrons and azaleas, lilacs and peonies. For Summer’s Bounty, it’s roses, poppies, clematis, delphinium, hydrangeas and lilies. For early autumn, it is dahlias, sunflowers and rudbeckia.


One paragraph, in the Early Autumn section, especially struck me.

“With our climate in such flux due to global warming and the usual idiosyncrasies of nature, it is rather difficult to plan a garden that will respond to a reliable calendar. Some flowers that we remember blooming only in September in the Northeast now appear as early as August, while others that should bloom in October are in full flower in early September.”

Stewart says in the introduction that she has just begun work on a new garden, her seventh. That probably means a new book is on the way.

“A Big Garden,” text by Gilles Clement, graphics by Vincent Grace, Prestel, 17 by 12 inches, hardcover, 32 pages, $24.95

Clement describes a year in his life as a gardener, with lyrical descriptions of what a gardener does and how the plants and soil responds. More art and poetry than technical information, “A Big Garden” also displays just a bit of “Where’s Waldo?” Each month gets a page of writing on the left, including instructions to find hidden parts of a complex illustration on the right-hand page.

“A Big Garden” is translated from the French, so the dates are off for Maine – with snow arriving in November and peas blossoming in April. January has the melt, but maybe that is appropriate, given climate change, a topic Clement addresses:


“How shall we face climate change? / Well, those Earth dwellers who have built their houses by the seas and rivers will have to learn to swim, build boats or move elsewhere. / Their gardens are vanishing under water. / Is it possible to create a marine garden? / Without doubt, but who would be the gardeners to tend it?”

This has the look and feel of a children’s book, but it will take an adult to understand a lot of it.

“The Sound of Cherry Blossoms: Zen Lessons from the Garden on Contemplative Design,” by Martin Mosko and Alxe Noden, Shambala, paperback, 160 pages, $19.95


Mosko is president of a landscape design company; he is also a Zen monk. In “The Sound of Cherry Blossoms,” he explains how he uses Zen principles to create gardens where people can become more self-fulfilled. It involves meditation, which is then used to explore ideas.

Gardens created by his principles will make people feel better, he and Noden write. “The garden wants to share itself. Without overwhelming or demanding too much attention, it should allow relaxation and space for insight and realization. Simplicity draws our attention to details and allows us to appreciate subtlety.”

Mosko uses many traditional landscaping methods such as hide and reveal, taking advantage of views, and using steps or rough paths to make visitors to a garden slow down and view things. The Zen philosophy helps explain why they all work.


“The Rodale Book of Composting,” edited by Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin, Rodale Books, paperback, 304 pages, $18.99

J.I. Rodale’s 1979 treatise was last updated in 1992. Now we’ve got another update, and comprehensive barely captures its scope: it contains anything anyone would want to know about composting, on any scale, and covers updates in techniques and new sources of information.

The hardest part of composting is to get the carbon-nitrogen ratio right, and the book lists the correct percentages for, well, everything people might compost. Manure is the most important ingredient of compost, Gershuny and Martin write, but they list alternatives, too.

“The Rodale Book of Composting” injects a bit of philosophy into its practical advice: “Compost is more than a fertilizer, more than soil conditioner. It is a symbol of continuing life.”

Parts of the book may already be out of date. For instance, it cites 2012 statistics saying that only 2 percent of food waste is recycled, meaning composted. Fortunately, thanks to operations such as Portland-area Garbage to Garden, which started after 2012, those numbers are increasing.

It’s interesting that this Rodale update was published the same year that Mainer Eliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower,” which also preaches the benefits of compost, was updated. (I wrote about Coleman’s book Oct. 14.)

“The Wellness Garden: Grow, Eat and Walk Your Way to Better Health,” by Shawna Coronado, Cool Springs Press, large format paperback 160 pages, $24.99

“The Wellness Garden was actually published in 2017, but after my books roundup appeared last November, so I’m sneaking it in this year. In 2015, when Coronado finished harvesting 3,000 vegetables from her garden, donating 500 pounds to a food pantry, she found she was unable to move. She hadn’t merely pulled a muscle – it turned out she had severe degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine.


In “The Wellness Garden,” she describes how she regained her health. She learned to eat better, walk more (in gardens and elsewhere), change her gardening methods – and enjoy her garden in different ways.

She writes, for instance, about comfort gardens, where seating areas are placed near native grasses that make calming rustling sounds in the breeze or exercise gardens, where the distances between plants or other features are measured out to let people can know how far they have walked.

All gardeners know their hobby is healthy. Coronado helps explain why.

My favorite garden book this year was the subject of a column I wrote in August. It is “Native Plants for New England Gardens,” by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe, Globe Pequot, paperback, 232 pages, 100 photographs, $21.95. As I wrote at the time, “This is a book that will remain on my shelves for the rest of my life and, I am sure, be pulled out regularly for perusal.”


TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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