One of the best ways to relax in Rochester (now that the weather is nice again) is to lay down witha good book a lush green lawn. It’s a great way to be a part of nature without getting your hands dirty. However, if you are a person who does like to get their hands dirty in their garden, books can be a great way to get inspired for the upcoming season. Here is a short list of suggestions to get your gardening gears turning:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

This novel follows the life of Alma Whittaker, daughter of the traveler Henry Whittaker who made his great fortune in the quinine trade. Alma grows up in the beginning of the 18th century, when European botanists are importing exotic specimens from the new world. We share Alma’s triumphs and struggles throughout her life as she tries to enter the worlds of science and business at a time when women were not taken seriously in either field. Alma’s specialty is moss, and she provides an interesting and intimate viewpoint of an organism that isn’t often considered an important part of the ecosystem. The book also features beautiful, Victorian-era illustrations: all-in-all, it is a wonderfully immersive historical fiction.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Rodale book cover
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs c. 1987 by Rodale Press Inc.

This is my personal favorite reference book for Northern herb gardens. Surprisingly, this book features many perennials that I would not have considered herbs, such as Broadleaf Plantain (a common lawn weed). The format is simple, with A-Z entries of herbs, most with illustrations. The entries include the cultural significance and history of the plant, as well as the medicinal/culinary properties, toxicity, and cultivation guidelines. The encyclopedia also includes several sections of beautiful color photos, and several in-depth sections of how to garden with herbs, and how to use the herbs you have grown. The book is both informative and inspiring!

A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger

Part memoir, part history, and part science- Kassinger takes us through the history of botany as she seeks to shed light on the mysteries of the plant world. It all starts with a plant murder. Both humorous and instructive, this book will help turn even the blackest thumb to green.

McCall’s Garden Book: Deluxe Edition c. 1968 by Gretchen Fischer Harshberger book cover
McCall’s Garden Book: Deluxe Edition c. 1968 by Gretchen Fischer Harshberger

Another great reference tool for planning a garden project. The chapters lay out step-by-step instructions for everything from what tools to use, to how to identify and treat for common insects and pests. This book is great for a novice gardener starting from square one, or even for a more experienced gardener for a quick reference guide. The older editions are definitely a little dated (I am not sure if newer editions have been revised), and are written to be appealing to women home-makers. Nonetheless, the book contains information that is still relevant and useful.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart book cover
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

A delightful look at (some of) the plants that make up one of humankind’s oldest and most favorite things- booze! Beautifully accented with illustrations, Stuart lists the main botanical ingredients alphabetically and by classification, and gives us an in-depth look at their historical significance, and how they are turned into alcohol. With a smattering or cultivation tips, and some very tasty cocktail recipes- this book is sure to inspire your next garden cocktail party! (Amy Stuart was a featured author at the Broccolo Garden Center in 2015, and there are still copies of this book available there for purchase.)