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I may not be the best gardener in the world, but boy howdy do I like to pretend that some day I will be. In the long cold “off-season” of wintry zone four, my favorite thing to do is cuddle up with gardening catalogs, a good old-fashioned notebook & pen, and plot out how I will conquer the gardening world in the growing season to come.

My second-favorite thing to do is check out stacks and stacks of gardening books from the library system and read obsessively on how to grow, how to harvest, how to preserve, how to propagate… pretty much anything related to seeds, stems, produce, whatever.

The library is and will always be my favorite gardening resource, but there’s a handful of books that are so incredibly valuable that I want them on hand for reference more than just two weeks at a time. Below I’ve listed my favorites (with intentions to expand this list over time… expect updates to this post from year to year!). Enjoy!

“The Fruit Gardener’s Bible” by Lewis Hill & Leonard Perry

I think of all the grow-your-own fruit books I’ve ever read, “The Fruit-Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in Your Home Garden” by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry is the most nearly indispensable.

One thing I really appreciated was the section on nuts. Granted it’s not real in-depth, but after all when most people think “fruit” they think “fruit.” Nuts are sort of extra — but boy did I appreciate that extra.

(Now on the other hand, some of the “extras” in this tome I could have done without; beekeeping is for beekeeping books, in my opinion, but I know I don’t speak for all gardeners out there.)

Another big plus was the images. I am a sucker for a good visual, and the photographs are SO HELPFUL. Photos, diagrams, give me that stuff and I’ll give you a happy gardener.

Frankly, most of the pre-2000s books have more detailed information, but without a visual reference I’m kind of lost. I’d love to see someone take an old book and modernize it by adding photographs that explain what exactly they are talking about. Of course that would probably triple the size of the volume, but who cares?

But I digress. Buy this book. You won’t regret it.

“Grow Fruit” by Alan Buckingham

If there’s one book that’s inspirational for the hobbyist fruit farmer, this is it. “Grow Fruit” by Alan Buckingham.

I was beyond impressed when I first checked it out from the local library, and since then it has earned every bit of the purchase price. Let me just say it now — WOW.

Mr. Buckingham has a phenomenal amount of know-how and advice packed into this book, and the gorgeous full-color photos are so helpful that if I was the crying type, I’d cry tears of joy. Let’s face it; some of us (myself being first and foremost) can read miles of descriptions of fire blight, scale bugs, and more, but without visual aids it still leaves us scratching our heads and wondering.

I highly recommend this book; it doesn’t have everything (one thing I would have appreciated would have been a review of highbush vs creeping cranberries; highbush isn’t even mentioned that I saw), but there’s a great foundation of information here. Some more on exotics and the lesser-known fruits would have been welcome, but particularly if you are looking for tree fruit, this is your reference.

“Growing Tasty Tropical Plants” by Byron E. Martin and Laurelynn G. Martin

The full title of the book? It’s a mouthful! “Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere (like lemons, limes, citrons, grapefruit, kumquats, sunquats, tahitian oranges, barbados … black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, and more…)“.

**I have gone through this book in both ebook format and paperback copy, and I suggest the physical, paperback version is the way to go. Yes, I’m old school; I really struggle with using ebooks for nonfiction. I just can’t find my place fast enough. I realize this is a fault on my end, not the format, but call me a dinosaur: I just like the physical version better. For this book specifically, I LOVED the paperback version, and I do feel that some readability and some of the lovely graphics were absolutely lost in the ebook version.

The book itself is a great low-key introduction to growing warm-climate fruits (and some spices) on a windowsill, even in northern climates. It doesn’t have extensive instructions or information about any given plant; it gives a quick summary of each type, with some basic care guidance, and moves on to the next. As I flipped through the book, I got more and more suspicious about the author, because I recognized almost each and every plant as sourced from the Logee’s catalog… I couldn’t stop thinking, this person has grown every edible plant from Logees’ entire stock!

Well, surprise surprise, when I flipped back to look at the cover, it turned out the authors actually OWN the Logees greenhouse. All of a sudden the choice of plants within the book made sense! I like knowing that the authors have experience – extensive experience – with the plants they write about.

There’s a nice selection covered of both major-league, easily recognizable fruit (lots of citrus, plus other tropical and subtropical fruits like the avocado, the pomegranate, and many more), big-name spices (cinnamon! vanilla! black pepper!), plus some highly unusual warm-climate fruits like the Barbados cherry, and more!

Overall, I would highly recommend the book for beginning windowsill gardening or anyone who is considering adding some tropical or subtropical variety to their indoor “orchards.” Although I have grown windowsill tropical fruit for many years, I enjoyed the book’s rapid-fire summary of a wide variety of fruits and spices; I found some new ones that I want to try… just as soon as I can carve out space in my already-overloaded wish list.

However, if you are looking for extremely detailed information on how to grow each of these species, you probably are going to end up needing to do a little more research. This book gives great foundational info to get you started, but there’s just so many different fruits and spices covered, there’s just no way they could have given that level of detail without spilling into a thousand or so pages.

I did get this book from the library, but I was happy enough with it that I’ll be buying my own. Highly recommended as a fun gift or personal reference guide!

“The Culinary Herbal” by Susan Belsinger & Arthur Tucker

New favorite herb book! I’m a sucker for good pictures (although I’m a rotten photographer myself), and this book is a visual goldmine. There aren’t as many different herbs covered as I would like, but the gardening how-to information for each one is super helpful.

Please do note that I primarily chose this book based on visuals. There are other magnificent herb-gardening books out that with MUCH more information — but I value the visuals higher than the growing info, because as long as I have the basics I can muddle along a bit.

I haven’t read it cover to cover — cumin, I do not love thee — but I certainly read most of it. Surprised me that poppies are illegal. Surprised me that sesame seeds come in more than one color. (Yes, I’m blonde. So?)

Some of the information isn’t entirely accurate, I suspect; some of the zoning information looked overly broad. I grow some of these herbs as perennials that were listed as hardy only to zone 6 (I am in zone 4). Overall, it’s a great resource for identification and general growing habits. I’m certainly happy I found it!

“Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation” by Tradd Cotter

Love, love, love this book.

I am determined to conquer mushrooms this year. Of course, I say this every year (and why didn’t I post about it, you ask? Well folks, there are some fails that are just too awkward to post about publicly. Moldy sawdust and coffee grounds ain’t exactly photogenic).

But this year I actually will. King Stropharia is my ultimate goal, but I will keep plugging along with oysters until I feel like I know what I’m doing. This book inspires me to try again.

And this book is an awesome confidence-booster. Lots of handy tips and suggestions for real live people, rather than for those with million-dollar cleanrooms and equipment. Advice from a realist to people living in the real world is a bit of a rarity. The guy sounds like he knows what he’s doing, too, which is a plus! I’ve read lots of mushrooming how-to books, but this is hands-down my favorite.

There are a thousand wonderful gardening books out there and I certainly don’t mean to dis any of them — but the fact remains that I simply haven’t found them all. Of the dozens that I’ve read, these are the best gardening books that I’d want on my bookshelf if the library vanished forever. I fully expect to keep adding to this list, so stay tuned!

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