Words, Words, Words

When I wrote my post on Honest Scrap, one of my “honest confessions” was  the fact that I have over 500 gardening books.

Please excuse the quality of these pictures, they were taken on my phone!

I have been collecting them for a long time. It all started when I inherited my grandmother’s New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening.   This consisted of 14 volumes of all the gardening facts you could want all handily alphabetized.

These books were published in the 1960’s.

T.H. Everett was the assistant director and curator of education for the New York Botanical Gardens at the time.

There are also contributions from twenty horticulturists from the  US         and Canada.

Beverley Nichols is also a  man who I can point a finger at. I took Merry Hall out of the library, and I was hooked. I had to read all of his books. (One of my most exciting moments when I found a huge stack of his books in the bookshop in Sissinghurst village, they were 50 pence!)

I know that I have doubles of some of them, would you turn one of these down for 50p.

This started me on the road to ruin (financial that is, those gardening books can be expensive.)

At the beginning, I was buying books willy nilly, after all I didn’t have any, I needed them all.  It has only been in the last few years that my buying has slowed down, not for lack of space or desire, but through lack of interesting books.

My favourites are what would be classified under garden essays. I especially like it when someone writes about the history of their garden. After Bev, I moved to Vita, and Margery Fish,  then into more modern-day authors like Rosemary Verey and Penelope Hobhouse. 

My current favourites are Roy Strong, David Hicks and Paul Bangay, a young (and oh so brilliant) designer from Melbourne, Australia.

When we lived in London, there was a wealth of charity shops and second-hand book stores, and they all had gardening books. Since my favourites were always the English ones, I stocked up. How can you turn down a book for 1 pound? And I didn’t. Luckily my husband’s company was paying for shipping our personal effects back to Canada, there were 5 (ok, ok, it was more like 10) large boxes of books!

They make such a delicious display on the shelves my father in law built us!

66 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Hello Deborah 🙂
    500 gardening books! Amazing! Those ‘5’ large boxes must have taken quite some time to unpack.
    I think I have about three very practical books for novice gardeners (read: gardening for dunmmies!)

  2. 3

    gardeningasylum said,

    Hi Deborah, I share your gentle madness – with the advent of Amazon, it’s way too easy to get whatever I want, now! I’ve got a similar gardening bookcase, but I do think these books are useful to have, not just empty acquisitions. Or so I tell myself…

    • 4

      Cyndy, they are useful, some more than others, I will admit. I tend to order most of my books on-line now, the gardening sections in most bookstores gets smaller every day.

  3. 5

    Edith Hope said,

    Dear D, What a superb library of gardening books. Believe me, I had out my magnifying glass to run along your shelves to see EXACTLY what you have. This is a most interestin and varied collection and I can see that in many instances we share the same taste!

    I had a great friend, MB, who dealt in second hand garden books, first from a shop on Kew Green and then later by mail order from her retirement home in Wales. Much of my collection came through her and so has particularly fond associations.

    • 6

      Sorry, Edith, I wish the pictures had been better. I did not realize how bad, until I went to the post and realized how many titles were out of focus. Lucky to have a friend who dealt in second hand books, I think that I would be in serious trouble!

  4. 7

    Laurrie said,

    Deborah, that is an amazing collection. Just the visual of the chock-a-block bookshelf is a beautiful composition in itself… then think of all the wonderful knowledge inside. It’s a garden of books!

  5. 9

    fairegarden said,

    What a wonderful collection you have, Deborah! Merry Hall was my first Bev book as well, what a great one to start with. I can imagine you shopping in England at the used book stores, like a kid in a candy shop! All are welcome and wonderful. 🙂

    • 10

      Isn’t it wonderful, Frances, I think that everyone should read it. Everywhere you went there were second hand book stores, Ian got very tired of me saying, “Just for a minute?”

  6. 11

    Deborah – that’s quite a collection you have there – now I know where to go for some inspiration. And I thought I was bad with my collection of 25 gardening books and countless cookbooks.

  7. 13

    wow… I am amazed at your wonderful gardening book collection. I am just starting to collect books. Thanks for the authors names and the ones you really like. 🙂

  8. 15

    Wow Deborah, what an impressive collection, and they are so beautiful in the lovely bookcases. 10 boxes! Must have been a lot of fun to shop for all of them. 🙂

  9. 17

    miss m said,

    Make than 500 minus 1 now ! (he-he)
    Fabulous collection, Deborah ! Seems you scored big time in England ! Must be lots of fun browsing through some of the older publications.

  10. 19

    And I thought my collection of fifty or so gardening books was excessive! I see I have a long way to go. I know now what you do during your long winters. I do love my gardening books and read them over and over. I have run out of room and need more bookshelves!

    • 20

      That is why we built the shelves in the library, Deborah. The fiction is in the library, the gardening books on the upstairs landing and the non-fiction is scattered all over, maybe I need some more bookshelves myself, lol.

  11. 21

    commonweeder said,

    You are a woman after my own heart. Your Beverley Nichols college has made me green with envy. My collection might rival yours, books, I’ve bought, books that have been gifts, books bought at library book sales and books inherited from my mother, and dear friend Elsa. And yet, somehow, I always have to go to the library for more garden books to read. Or ask for at holiday time. My cookbook collection is of equal size, alas.

    • 22

      OK, I agree. we are very much alike. I actually borrowed Gordon Hayward’s “The Intimate Garden” from the library, and liked it so much that I had to buy it. I would love to see a post on your collection.

  12. 23

    Every once in a while i find a clever comment (this time yours on Wendy’s blog) that leads me to a new find (this time you).

    i, too, gravitate to the gardening essayists and story tellers. Mirabel Osler is a favorite. And have you read Des Kennedy? Crazy About Gardening is a hoot.

    • 24

      Wow, ricki, I am flattered. I will have to go back and check Wendys blog, and see what I said that was so witty! I do take the time to read other comments as well, they can be so interesting.
      I love Mirabel Osler and Des Kennedy! Have you read Stony Ground by Douglas Chambers, it is the story of making a garden on a family farm, very interesting.
      And thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a fabulous comment, I hope to see you again soon.

  13. 25

    I’m so glad I’m not the only book-hoarder, but on the gardening front, you definitely have me beat! Local libraries do suffer from my lack of patronage though. If a book really interests me, I tend to buy it, especially if it’s related to topics I enjoy like gardening, or cooking, and I can find a good ‘deal’!

    • 26

      I do that too, I love to refer back to a book, time and time again, can’t do that if it is at the library! I also have a lot of cookbooks, funny the number of commentators who said the same. I wonder what the relationship is between cooking and gardening, besides the obvious.

  14. 27

    teza said,


    Oh my Sweet Jesus….. that entire case is dedicated to gardening books! And to think I was going to do a post featuring my bookshelf….. luckily I stopped here first. Like E, I was more than curious to see some of the titles, but without the magnifying glass, I had my nose against the screen- did you know there is a great deal of static electricity floating around the computer system. Gave me quite the jolt, but it was so well worth it!

    Mirabel Osler’s philosophy pervades throughout Teza’s Garden – I’m all for chaos of one form or another – but then you know me well enough that I need not bring it to your attention. I haven’t been able to get in touch with Douglas Chambers regarding a visit, but left a message with a fellow garden writer who seems to have his finger on the pulse of Ontario gardens/gardeners to see if he has heard anything.

    Something tells me I would be torn between the bookshelf and the garden. So many vicarious garden visits thanks to such a diverse yet thorough collection. How lucky to have found so many at such bargain prices. They are getting more and more expensive – while wages in the industry seem to be dwindling….. go figure! A wonderful peek at a true treasure! I shall have to peruse them when we meet up this summer!

    • 28

      Teza, you should be torn between the bookshelf, the garden and MY fascinating conversation!!!
      Books are getting really expensive, but I love visting second hand book stores, so many lovely ones in England. Not as many in Canada, but I still manage to sniff them out(always musty, lol). If there is a book I must have (and when isn’t there), I have to find it on line and order it.

  15. 29

    What a treat it must be in the winter months to read through a book or two…or 10 (!) and dream. What a nice thing to collect!

  16. 31

    Grace said,

    My hats are off to you, Deborah! I do believe your shelves hold more books than what makes up the entire garden section at my local library. 🙂 In my years of gardening I’ve been entranced with some of these authors too. The books are treasures.

    Is there a particular book you’re looking for? I can be on the lookout here in my neck of the woods.

  17. 33

    Joy said,

    Deborah girl .. I have them in bookcases .. boxes .. under my bed .. in my closet .. I think I have been afraid to acknowledge how many I have .. but you have made me strong ? and I can face my addiction proudly ? LOL
    If only I had thought of that when I was living in the Netherlands .. but I was busy collecting other things at those amazing flea markets ..
    You have a fantastic collection girl : )

  18. 35

    Rosie said,

    I had to turn my laptop on its side to see some of your titles and I’ve read some of the books on your shelves too. I love gardening books too – but don’t have a collection like yours Deborah. I too find it hard to get inspiration these days from the books and its been ages since I last bought one. I see alot of stock photos used that have been taken from garden shows – and you know how I feel about those gardens that have been made for just a few weeks viewing. Thats why I love garden blogs – so many tips and ideas from gardeners and no photoshop jobs done on the photos to make the grass look like the same lovely dark colour of green. Now I see why you needed all those bookcases in your newly decorated room.

    • 36

      Rosie, I hate stock photos!!! I want to see something new every time, isn’t that why you buy a book or a magazine. Thank goodness for the internet, always something new.

  19. 37

    Tatyana said,

    Very impressive! Snow outside, shelves of gardening books inside, gold in Olympics hockey… You, Canadians, have it all!

  20. 39

    kimberly said,

    Fantastic collection! I wish I could have more, but my small abode and family don’t leave much extra space. I DO love the library, though!

  21. 41

    Impressive collection, Deborah. I have almost no gardening books… isn’t that strange? I learned so much from observation and a patient mentor, that I never got into the books… but all this garden blog reading has made me wonder if I ought not give them a try. Where would you recommend starting, for someone who loves thoughtful gardening essays (the more personal, the better)?

    • 42

      Oh Meredith, I had to really ponder this one. I have so many I could recommend. Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols, is a classic, for something a bit more up to date I really enjoyed Duck Hill Journal by Page Dickey, or Stonyground by Douglas Chambers. You could aldo try The Jewel Garden by Monty Don, The Laskett by Roy Strong or Our life in Gardens by JOe Eck. I hope that you will enjoy any of these, please let me know.

      • 43

        mew said,

        Thanks so much for the recommendations, Deborah. I’ve written them all down in my little book (goes with me everywhere) and hope to track some of these at my local library. If not there, perhaps the nearby University library will have them. And I’ll let you know my impressions! 🙂

      • 44

        Thanks Meredith, I would be happy to know.

  22. 45

    Nell Jean said,

    I started out with gardening books because they were there, and more was better. Now I choose books written for the climate in which I garden. Better choices made on the advice of southern gardeners makes for fewer mistakes, so the garden budget can go for more books.

  23. 47

    Jess said,

    Holy wow. I agree with you on the garden essay type book. I also love fiction that has gardens as a main setting or even a character.

    • 48

      I do too, I just finished reading The White Garden by Stephanie Baron. The lead character is a garden designer who goes to Sissinghurst for research, but stumbles into a mystery. Very interesting. Do you have any recommendations?

  24. 49

    I wonder just how many words there are there in all those books!! Millions I would guess! Very handsomely presented and I love reading about your favorites, as I share them with you. I envy you some of your treasured finds at such prices… and the Sissinghurst village bookshop … well I drool thinking about being there! I am trying to read your titles but my head is not quite right yet to turn it at the needed angle! lol! Great post!! ;>)

  25. 51

    Anna said,

    Now I thought that I had the gardening book bug Deborah but you beat me hands down. I imagine that you must keep them in some logical order so that you can lay your hands on what you are looking for 🙂

  26. 53

    You have quite a library! I have been curiously passing by books by Beverley Nichols, you have convinced me to give him a read.

  27. 55

    Karen Sloan said,

    Loved your favourites, Deborah. And, what a wonderful collection!
    I love visiting second hand book stores, (when I’m in Toronto), as well as garage sales in the hopes of picking up a good gardening book. Whether it’s new or just new to me, it’s like finding a treasure. : )

    • 56

      Thank you Karen, it is such a shame that second hand book stores are getting harder and harder to find, the internet has really changed things. I love going in them, and always walk out with something!

  28. 57

    catmint said,

    Hi Deborah, what a wonderful collection. I have thought of collecting books but so far have been (relatively) constrained. Do you have any books by or about Edna Walling? She was, still is, my favourite and probably my main influence, like countless other Melbourne and Australian gardeners. I eventually will get round to writing a post about her. cheers, catmint

  29. 59

    Paul said,

    I found your site while searching for more info about the “stony ground garden” by Douglas Chalmers. I haven’t finished the book yet, but you might be interested since his garden is almost in your neck of the woods.

    What is your favourite gardening book?

    My favourite is “a Blessing of Toads” by Sharon Lovejoy.

    • 60

      Paul, I was out for a drive and screamed when I saw the rock with Stonyground on it at the end of his driveway. However, I hear through the grapevine that he is ill and the garden is not open, hopefully that is incorrect.
      I think my favourite (although hard to pick) would have to be Merry Hall by Beverly Nichols. I shall keep an eye out for A Blessing of Toads though, love the title.

  30. 61

    You have me beat. Truly. I thought I had plenty of gardening books…but you my dear have me beat. WOW….

    • 62

      When I was living in the UK, I hit every charity and second hand book store I could find. I supported the British economy singlehandedly. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it,lol.

  31. 63

    Sandra Jonas said,

    Cicero said “If a man has a garden and a library, he has all he needs.”

    Would you believe I have more books than you? Looks like my library is a duplicate of yours, And yes, Beverly Nichols is a must read. So is Jekyll and Vita Sackville West.

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