Garden reference books are popular, but so are garden-related fiction and biographies. Photo by BrewBooks on Flickr.
In an ongoing search for great garden books, this multi-part series has traveled everywhere from the city lights of Toronto (Part II) to remote Nova Scotia and historic Philadelphia (Part I). This time, we’re heading to the Northwest, specifically the scenic city of Seattle.
Robin Haglund is a professional garden coach and award-winning garden designer, who is passionate about cultivating beautiful and sustainable outdoor spaces. Although she has gardened, ranched and farmed in Virginia and all over California, Robin is now settled in Seattle (Zone 8).
For more than a decade, Robin has created gardens everywhere from the parking strip in front of her house to the driveway in the back. She says, “As with every garden, mine is a labor of love, always in progress.”
As passionate about reading as she is about gardening, Robin admits, “I always have a mountain of books piled on my bedside table, by the sofa and loaded into my iPhone book apps. I gravitate to literature for a good read, while reference books are used for just that … reference.”
Although Robin agrees with Helen Battersby that Michael A. Dirr’s books are excellent, adding that Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs should be a “must-have book for any serious hort-head,” she selected a biography as one of her favorite garden books.
The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and The Business of Breeding Plants by Jane Smith
This mix of history, botany and biography was the recipient of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize for the best book in Western American history. It tells the story of plant breeding legend Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, California, who was the world’s most famous gardener a century ago.
“This biography of intrepid plant breeder Luther Burbank is a can’t-put-it-down tale of Burbank’s amazing life story,” reports Robin. “I have a hard time agreeing with the idea of plant patents and ownership of nature. But reading this book gave me a stronger appreciation for the work that goes into developing new plants.”
She adds, “I understand now why a breeder deserves credit and money for their developments. They can take decades and can transform what we eat for generations.”
After reading this book, Robin now believes that “transforming food, through plant cultivation, isn’t always a bad thing. Each time I bake a russet potato (the most widely grown cultivar in U.S.) or yank out yet another self-seeded Shasta Daisy, I think back on this fun read … whether I’m enjoying a delicious meal or cursing Burbank for those darn stinky daisies.”
Another favorite is The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs: Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw
Robin hosts a couple of honeybee hives with Corky Luster of Ballard Bee Company, so she certainly knows more than most about pollinators and insects.
Still she admits, “It’s taken me years to find an insect guide that really works for me. Many guides let you look up insects by names to determine whether they are good or bad, and how to deal with them.”
This book does that too, according to Robin, but what really differentiates the guide is the “fantastic set of photos showing insects in all stages of life.”
“You can match a photo in the book to the critter you just pulled off the shrub,” explains Robin. “You’ll easily find your way to useful details on insect life cycles, controls, host plants, predators and more. If that isn’t enough, the index gets down to the nitty-gritty.”
Last fall, she found a shiny, gold beetle, so she looked up “golden bugs.” Voila! Within minutes, she had identified her insect as “a bindweed-eatin’ Golden Tortoise Beetle. Fantastic!”
Stay Tuned: Seasonal Wisdom is off to Northern California to share more great garden books.