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garden essay reading list
reading lists:
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video reviews
book reviews



lawn thoughts
Gardeners write about how they garden and what they learn doing it. Writers explore various scientific, cultural, and philosophical aspects of gardening.
("more info" links to the book's Amazon page)

Bormann, F. Herbert; Diana Balmori; and Gordon T. Geballe.
Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony (ISBN: 0300086946)
Three environmental experts document the adverse environmental effects of extensive, traditionally maintained lawn and discuss more ecologically sound ways to landscape.
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Browning, Dominique.
Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener (ISBN: 0743246659)
Browning’s narrative offers a peek into a charming and circuitous mind. Peopled with Helpful Men, the True Love, the Boys, and other characters, the loosely chronological text portrays the relationship that she developed with her somewhat dilapidated garden over a couple of decades and the comfort she drew from it during times of personal turmoil.
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Chotzinoff, Robin.
People With Dirty Hands: The Passion for Gardening (ISBN: 0156005158)
Series of unrelated stories featuring oddball gardeners and their outrageous adventures. Includes a chapter on where they find all those ladybugs that they sell in the garden catalogs, and another on rose lovers who steal cuttings from old homes and cemeteries. Chotzinoff writes, “...given the choice, I prefer to write about gardeners. They are much more interesting than real people.”
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Fish, Margery.
We Made a Garden (ISBN: 0375759476)
The title is at once ironic and triumphant, as Fish and her husband clashed on many issues during their years of sharing a garden. The book is written after his death, and she pays ample tribute to his foresight and logic even as she gleefully pursues many of the ideas he squelched.
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Hadden, Evelyn J.
Apprentice to a Garden: A new urban gardener goes wild (ISBN: 1419614169)
Desperate for privacy and winter scenery, a new homeowner begins a garden that invigorates her landscape and her thinking. Written by the founder of LessLawn.
updated and illustrated digital edition
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Jenkins, Virginia Scott.
The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession (ISBN: 1560984066)
This 1994 classic delivers on its title's promise, documenting the forces that shaped America's adoption of uniform, close-cropped lawn as the standard home landscape and as the default landscape in public places.
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Jenkins tackles another controversial American favorite in her most recent book, Bananas : An American History (ISBN: 1560989661).
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Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan, and Robert L. Ryan.
With People in Mind : Design and Management for Everyday Nature (ISBN: 1559635940)
Two of the foremost researchers in environmental psychology present their guidelines for creating healthy communities. Guidelines are described, and the supporting (mainly experimental) evidence summarized, in simple, straightforward language. Officials, activists, and landowners can use this book to improve how their surroundings affect people's attitudes, comfort, and interactions.
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Kellaway, Deborah (editor).
Virago Book of Women Gardeners (ISBN: 1860491537)
Pithy and poetic quotations from leading female gardeners and garden writers over the last two centuries, many excerpted from works that are out-of-print.
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Lloyd, Christopher.
The Well-tempered Garden: Wisdom and Advice from a Legendary Gardener (ISBN: 155821593x)
This gruff, opinionated, and informative book is a several-hundred-page stream of advice on which plants to use, for what purpose, and how to maintain and harvest them. Lloyd covers hundreds of specific varieties of perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables. The book includes detailed suggestions for propagating different kinds of plants.
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McHarg, Ian L. and Frederick R. Steiner (editors.
To Heal the Earth: Selected Writings of Ian L. McHarg (ISBN: 1559635738)
This scholarly yet readable volume presents a collection of essays by architect and community planner Ian McHarg, with introductions and explanatory notes that place each work within the larger context of the movement toward ecologically sound land use and development. Describes the planning and implementation for many of McHarg’s specific projects.
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Messervy, Julie Moir.
The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning (ISBN: 0316567922)
Messervy describes several systems for analyzing a gardener’s style, landscape archetypes such as caves and promontories, and landscaping techniques that influence the feel of a place, all with the larger purpose of prompting readers to discover the “big idea” they are trying to express in their gardens. The inward garden is the reader’s imagined garden, and Messervy offers guidance in both conceiving and building it.
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Mitchell, John Hanson.
The Wildest Place on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness (ISBN: 1582430462)
Wander with Mitchell through Italy and his boyhood landscapes as he explores the idea of wilderness--why we seek it, where to find it, what it means.
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Nollman, Jim.
Why We Garden: Cultivating a Sense of Place (ISBN: 0805045619)
Nollman uses anecdotes and short, almanac-style sections to describe his large country garden. Between these sections, he uses a series of metaphorical gardens to discuss social responsibility, spirituality, and politics. Nollman relates to his garden viscerally as well as intellectually, and he shares ideas about how gardeners can improve their sensory and intuitive communication with nature.
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Osler, Mirabel.
A Gentle Plea for Chaos (ISBN: 155970439X)
Osler mingles adult wonder with a child's carefree joy as she describes what happens in her English garden and how she feels, acts, and reacts. She avoids general discussions of world politics or spirituality but advocates garden practices that will spread her own values: more beauty and more pleasure taken in gardening.
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Osler, Mirabel.
In the Eye of the Garden (ISBN: 0025940651)
More of Osler’s rambling garden commentary, loosely arranged into chapters (such as “The Persuasive Oleander”) that cannot restrain her nimble and curious mind. Set mainly in the town garden she moved to after her husband died, her stories of present-day gardening joys and chores are mixed with fond reminiscences.
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Page, Russell.
The Education of a Gardener (ISBN: 039472920x)
To illustrate his tenets about the "art of composing a garden", Page uses examples culled from years of designing gardens around the world. This book is a mix of personal stories about design solutions and general design principles based on vast experience--a comprehensive manual for creative gardeners.
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Eleanor Perenyi.
Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (ISBN: 0394717147)
The author's conversational tone delivers seventy-two meditations on topics from Belgian Fences to Poppies, incorporating the author's extensive travels and experiences, laced with the distinct flavor of her current Connecticut garden. "Gardens like mine," she writes, "which go by the unpleasing name of 'labor-intensive,' are on their way out and before they go, I would like to contribute my penny's worth to their history."
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Pollan, Michael.
Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (ISBN: 0802140114)
Intellectual in tone, this oft-quoted classic discusses contemporary American gardening in the context of humankind’s separation from nature. Pollan proposes that the garden can be a middle ground between the wilderness without people that we idealize and the metropolis without nature that we create.
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Pollan's 2001 release, titled The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (ISBN: 0375501290), highlights human history through our interactions with four plant species: apples, potatoes, cannabis, and tulips.
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Rappaport, Bret.
"As natural landscaping takes root we must weed out the bad laws: How natural landscaping and Leopold's Land Ethic collide with unenlightened weed laws and what must be done about it", an article reprinted from The John Marshall Law Review, Volume 26, Issue 4 (Summer 1993)
Attorney Rappaport argues the benefits of natural landscaping, attacks popular objections to it, and summarizes key court decisions regarding "weed laws". Free to view or download.

Stein, Sara.
Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards (ISBN: 0395709407)
This breakthrough book puts the ecology back into gardening. It describes basic components of natural environments, explains their benefits and their fragility, and urges gardeners to design landscapes that are closer to the local pre-settlement ecosystems. Stein champions "wild gardening" as a way to create lower maintenance, more natural-looking landscapes and at the same time preserve native species of plants and animals.
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Stein, Sara.
Planting Noah’s Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology (ISBN: 0395709601)
By popular demand, Stein wrote this sequel to Noah’s Garden. It lays out steps for injecting “wildness” into your yard, whether you live in the city, suburbs, town, or country. Stein explains how to accomplish major projects—find and start a group of wild gardeners, order plants wholesale, plant large quantities quickly and effectively, and create different types of natural communities (woodland, wetland, grassland)—but doesn’t neglect the details like moving heavy rocks, sowing wild seeds, do-it-yourself soil analysis, and more. A thorough and instructive guide that contains many motivational stories and color photos.
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Stewart, Amy.
From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden (ISBN: 0312287674)
This book captures the coming of age of a gentle and thoughtful gardener. Stewart describes her mistakes and discoveries as a young gardener in a small town in southern California. She went on to write the wildly popular Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities and Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects.
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Streed, John C..
Garden Revisions: Poems for Gardeners True & Honest (ISBN: 0963912607)
This amusing collection of poems is laced with insights about the gardener's dilemmas and delights.
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Tallamy, Douglas W.
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (ISBN: 0881929921)
This book spurred a national discussion in the U.S. about traditional horticultural and landscaping practices. Entomology professor Tallamy presents a series of shocking statistics and research results about animal extinctions and animal-plant interactions. He ties them together into a flashing neon arrow that points to humble gardeners (and their urban and suburban landscapes) as the saviors of our planet.
Read the LessLawn Editor's detailed review.
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Wasowski, Andy with Sally Wasowski.
The Landscaping Revolution: Garden with Mother Nature, Not Against Her (ISBN: 0809226650)
Wacky visuals combine with opinionated text to keep this book lively as it presents the who, what, and why of natural landscaping.
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Wasowski, Sally.
Requiem for a Lawnmower (ISBN: 087833811X)
A collection of essays by one of the foremost thinkers in the natural landscaping movement. She's opinionated, and she's educational, and she's entertaining.
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Williams, Carol.
Bringing a Garden to Life (ISBN: 055309680X)
Down-to-earth advice on maintaining a garden over time, written in a sure and poetic voice. Discusses how plants grow—their behaviors and life cycles—and how gardeners can work with the knowledge of these natural processes to make healthy and beautiful gardens.
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