A Few Thoughts On Books and Learning to Garden

As Cicero is quoted as saying, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

No doubt, Cicero was referring to a library full of books about everything but gardening. Those non-gardening books, let’s call them “the classics” for simplicity sake, can teach us values that we can apply to the garden – values like: hard work, patience, generosity.

But the “classics” don’t teach us the difference between a Viburnum and a Hydrangea, or the botanical names of all the vegetables in our garden, or the twelve orders of soil taxonomy.

For that kind of information, we seek out gardening books.

Gardening books can indeed teach us about shrubs, growing vegetables, and soil. They can inspire us with pictures, with stories of the successes of other gardeners, and with descriptions of mouth watering tomatoes that we can grow in our very own gardens, if we have a bit of good dirt in some full sun and enough warm days, but not too many hot nights, for the tomatoes to ripen.

Gardening books are good to have in our libraries.

But learning about gardening from books is not the same as learning how to garden in a garden.

To learn to garden, we need to set aside the books, both the classics and the gardening books, and even the classic gardening books, take up our spades and go out into our gardens and start digging.

That’s the only way to truly learn to garden, to become a gardener.

We need to sow seeds, watch them grow, harvest the fruit, clean up the garden after the frost, as the last of the squash bug nymphs scurry out of reach. We need to dig, prune, weed, and sometimes re-dig, say oops when we prune the wrong branch, and then say frass when we pull out a plant we thought was a weed but turns out to be the very plant we carefully planted just the week before.

That’s how we become gardeners.


  1. The classics also don't have pretty pictures in them that inspire us to go outside and create same.

    Silly classics. Who needs 'em? ;-D

  2. I'm with Cicero all the way (I'm a a retired librarian) but it is true that the way to learn to garden is by getting out in the garden, getting dirty and failing from time to time.

  3. I'm so happy to find your site. I'm slightly obsessed with gardening books (my shelves are overflowing). But then again, I love all books as much as I love gardening! I also have been known to "weed" an intentionally planted flower...and quickly stick it back in the ground with an apology and fingers crossed that it will survive. Now, off to the garden!

  4. You have expressed a very great truth here. All the books in the world cannot replace action and experience.

    So I am not the only one who has pulled out a "weed" that was carefully planted three days earlier!?? Whew. That's a relief.

  5. So true, Carol, although I am a confirmed book addict. I've probably learned as much from fellow gardeners as I have from gardening books, though.

    Darn! I just realized I forgot to put my name in the drawing for your book giveaway. Oh well; good luck to all the other contestants. It's pouring down rain here this morning; I hope you're getting some, too!

  6. The knowledge of gardeners both living and gone is emcapsulated in books. The Western Sunset Book on gardening is a reference book I cannot bewithojut and I've noticed it is the book alll the nurseries around here consult.

  7. Uh yes, you've mentioned the two "oops" I had just recently! I find that I do that type of thing when I'm in a hurry. So it's telling me I should slow down and enjoy my time in the garden. It's the only way to learn.

  8. At this point, I have shelves full of how to garden books, but my favorite books for some time now are about how and why individual people garden. Sometimes, I pick up a tip I didn't know in them, too.

    I think it was Eisenhower who said, "Success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration." That works about right for gardening, too.


  9. I went to school to learn how to garden. And nothing can replace good old experience.

  10. True - action is the best teacher. I find that with gardening trial and error is often the case...for me at least. I'm already making a list of things to do/change for next year. Another thing is that gardening varies so much from region to region. It's not like you can just expect the same methods and plants to grow in every state.

    TheGardenCloche.com | Keeping Your Plants Safe


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