The top 15 best gardening books for beginners

Best gardening books for beginners on shelf

Are these the 15 best gardening books for beginners only?

I’ve called this post 15 of the best gardening books for beginners. But really, these are just 15 great gardening books – among the best gardening books I know.

It is a selection of top gardening books for beginners, because it covers the range of things that it is useful to know when you start gardening and as you develop your interests, skills and confidence over time.

So, technicaly, these are not specifically books on gardening for beginners, in other words they are not books specifically aimed at gardening beginners. They are, instead, books that in my experience will enable new gardeners to gather all the knowledge they need to garden well over the long term.

This means that this is also a selection of the best gardening books for all gardeners, because the information in the pages of these books will inform, inspire and educate you for as long as you you garden.

I come back to these gardening books constantly and, although some are out of print, they are all worth tracking down in my view, both for the knowledge they contain and for the simple pleasure that it is to own them.

The top gardening books on plants

Obviously, there are hundreds if not thousands of books on plants – books on growing individual species of plants, books on flowers, books on shrubs, books on perennials and so on. So, this is an especially subjective selection of some of the books I have have found most useful or most influential.

The Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants is the most comprehensive listing of plants that I have ever come across. It covers more than 15,000 plants, with full colour photographs and detailed growing notes. It also includes detailed introductory material on plant botany. This is the foundation of my gardening library and my plant knowledge. It is costly, but worth every penny.

1. Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

See also a version published for the US market:

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

If the encyclopedia is the foundation, then the next two books have been the building blocks of most of my gardens in the last twenty years.

The first, Architectural Plants by Christine Shaw, inspired the planting in this urban garden and in part of this garden and is full of the sorts of striking and exotic plants that were highly unusual in UK gardens 20 plus years ago. These are the plants like palms, bamboos, ferns and grasses that are grown for their shape and their foliage, rather than their flowers.

The book is associated with the Sussex nursery also called Architectural Plants – which remains my favourite plant nursery and is, to my mind, one of the most exciting places to visit on earth. The book is now, out of print, I believe, but worth tracking down if you love the exotic, the unusual and the architectural.

2. Shaw, C. (2005) Architectural Plants. Collins

best gardening books for beginners - architectural plants
Planting in one of my gardens inspired by Christine Shaw’s book Architectural plants

The second of these great inspirational plant books is quite a contrast to the first since its focus is naturalistic planting, largely with flowering perennial plants. Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudorf and Henk Gerritsen, is a guide to over 1200 perennials, annuals and grasses that fit in the Oudorf/ Gerritsen style.

This book is a treasure trove of plants, some that are familiar, and some not so, that will provide huge inspiration for anybody who wants to garden in a similar way. These are the tried and tested plants that these innovative designers use, so it is a fantastic reference work for the home gardener.

3. Gerritsen, H & Oudolf, P (2013). Dream Plants for the Natural Garden. Frances Lincoln.

Soils and science for the gardener

Nothing in the garden is more important for the gardener than the soil. To my mind, it therefore makes sense to understand this precious resource as fully as possible. I also like to try to understand the broader science behind everything we do in the garden, because this helps me to work out what to do if I face a new problem or challenge in the garden that I haven’t come across before.

These two books have gone a long way to educating me on both soil science and horticultural science more generally. Both are written for the gardener and are not overly technical, but they both go beyond the basics that you’ll find in gardening magazines and most websites (not this one).

4. Ingram, D. S., Vince-Prue, D., & Gregory, P. J. (Eds.). (2015). Science and the garden: the scientific basis of horticultural practice. John Wiley & Sons.

5. Handreck, K. A. (1993). Gardening down-under: better soils and potting mixes for better gardens. East Melbourne, Vic: CSIRO Publications.

Botany for gardeners

On the theme of wanting a deep understanding of what is around me in the garden, this is where a turn for all I need to know about the classification, structures, properties and biochemical processes of plants:

6. Capon, B. (2022) Botany for Gardeners, Fourth Edition: An Introduction to the Science of Plants. Timber Press.

Gardening principles and techniques

Next are two tremendous reference books for gardening techniques and principle. Hugh Johnson’s book in particular, although now out of print, is a classic. Beautiful written and artfully presented, yet precise and horticulturally correct, this is a book to keep for life.

7. Johnson, H (1983) The Principles Of Gardening: The Science, Practice and History of the Gardener’s Art. Mitchell Beazley.

8. Brickell, C. (2012) RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening: The Royal Horticultural Society. Dorling Kindersley.

Pruning for the beginner

What to prune, why to prune, how to prune, when to prune – what more do you need to know?

9. Brickell, C. and Joyce, D.  (2017). RHS Pruning and Training: Revised New Edition; Over 800 Plants; What, When, and How to Prune. DK

Propagating for beginners

Propagation seemed like the dark arts when I first started gardening. Division, layering, cuttings, grafting? It all sounded quite unpleasant. The truth is propagation is a kind of magic, but it is actually more Dumbledore than Voldermort. These books will give you a horticultural wand.

10. Toogood, A. (2019) RHS Propagating Plants: How to Create New Plants for Free. RHS,DK.

11. Hodge, G & Ward, R. (2011). Propagation Techniques. RHS/Mitchell Beazley


Weed books tend to be specific to particular regions, since whether or not a plant is considered to be a weed very much depends on local conditions and local beliefs. In fact, for some people there are no weeds, only plants that are more or less desirable in a particular place or at a particular time.

Wherever you stand on the subject, it is worth understanding weeds, because the defining characteristic of the plants we call weeds is that they will take over your garden given just the hint of a chance. So, these books will be useful.

For weeds in North America, check out the books listed on this page, or consider the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Common Weeds of the United States .

For gardeners in the UK, who want to control weeds organically, John Walker’s book is a great resource:

12. Walker, J. (2016) Weeds: An Organic, Earth-friendly Guide to Their Identification, Use and Control, Earth Friendly Books.

Vegetable gardening books

I’ve read and seen a lot of books about growing vegetables.

Many of them have seductive images of perfectly growing vegetables in manicured plots, with aspirational text that is bound to make you feel like a failure when your efforts, inevitably, don’t match up. You probably know the kind I mean – they’re like Instagram on paper.

It is perhaps not fair to be quite so dismissive. Some of these books can be quite useful, and even include most of the information you will need.

But absolutely none of them match the understated brilliance of Joy Larkcom’s ‘Grow your own Vegetables‘.

This modest paperback has no photographs, no coloured charts, and no pictures of lifestyle raised beds tended by would-be self-sufficient bankers. Instead it has absolutely everything the vegetable gardener could possibly want to know about growing vegetables packed into about 350 logically structured and well-indexed pages of brilliance.

As you can tell, I recommend it.

13. Larkcom, J.(2002). Grow your own Vegetables, Frances Lincoln.

Growing fruit

Although, now out of print, another no-nonsense RHS guide is my go-to fruit growing resource:

14. Baker,H. (1999) Growing Fruit (RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening). RHS

Pests and diseases.

Like weeds, pests and diseases can be local and ever changing topics. Some of the books I’ve relied upon in the past are now becoming less helpful. Here is where I look for help these days:

15. Greenwood, P & Halstead, A. (2018) RHS Pests & Diseases: New Edition, Plant-by-plant Advice, Keep Your Produce and Plants Healthy. DK/RHS.

What are your choices of the best gardening books?

These are the most valued gardening books that come to mind for me as I write this post, though I will inevitably think of some other books that I should never have left out.

I’d be really interested to hear the recommendations of readers. What are you most treasured gardening books?

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