My Favorite Plant Books

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

This post combines two of my favorite things - reading and gardening! Here, I'll share some of my go to books that have been either uniquely helpful or wonderfully inspirational.

Each of these selections brought me great JOY! I hope you find the same.

Essential Succulents - The Beginner's Guide by Ken Shelf

This was my very first succulent book. I had owned succulents before reading this book, mostly as takeaway gifts from weddings and spontaneous checkout stand buys from grocery stores. However I hadn't been wildly successful in keeping them alive. But after living in West Texas for a couple of years and trying to keep tropical plants alive in the desert (you grow what you know!), I was ready to try something more zone appropriate. This book started my deep dive into the wide world of succulent cultivars and how to take care of them. After reading this book, my collection quickly grew! For anyone looking to learn more about succulents, I'd suggest starting here.

The Indoor Plant Spotter by Dr. D.G. Hessayon

This book was suggested by Jane Perrone in one of her On the Ledge podcasts for its "Key to the House Plant Groups" plant identifier tool. One of the most common questions I'm personally asked is "what is this plant?". Folks receive plants as a gift or buy a cute one in a store that doesn't have a care tag. Or perhaps the plant is marked with the general label of "foliage", rendering no specifications helpful for particular plant care. This tool is a great way to figure out what your plant is, which is a helpful step in knowing how to care for it. The author is also renowned in the world of plants, and it felt like my book collection would be incomplete without some of his work.

Xerophile - Cactus Photographs from Expeditions of the Obsessed by Cactus Store

This book SPEAKS TO ME! Cacti are among my favorite succulents, with their whimsical features and ability to thrive in the harshest of conditions. In the last few years, I've grown quite fond of furry ones, blue ones, columnar ones, and the flowers that sprout from them all. The rarer... the better. As a collector with more than 450 plants myself, this book about people who travel to the most remote places to lay their eyes on (and photograph) rare cacti stirred something in me. I feel like I'm on the expedition with them. It's like a trip in a book. I'm thankful that they shared these beautiful plants in photographs, and left them in the wild for others to find.

Also, just collecting this book has a story in itself. It was out of stock online, and out of print. When I was in LA for a friend's wedding, I went by the Cactus Store (who authored it) to see if I could find a copy there. They were out, but gave me a list of a few places that once carried it. After checking with a couple of spots, I found ONE LAST COPY at the MOCA. Their bookstore had a copy left over from this book's launch party. It wasn't set out on display, rather it was wrapped in kraft paper to be kept perfectly crisp for someone like me who would seek it out. It was ceremoniously handed over to me by the team member who had carefully tucked it away for a moment such as this. WHAT A FIND!

The Bold Dry Garden - Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden by Johanna Silver

To say I was inspired by this book is an understatement. I feel such a kinship to Ruth Bancroft, without even knowing her. She grew her garden out of curiosity and with a desire to learn about the plants she acquired. Ruth appreciated a wide variety of plants, however took a deep dive into the world of succulents - inspired by their whimsy and how they thrived in her climate. She kept excellent records of her garden, including drawings of plans, care notes, and opportunities to improve plant health in future years. Her persistence with plants and learning from what didn't work is truly the secret to what folks call "the green thumb". (All gardeners kill plants. The ones with thriving gardens just keep trying.) Decades later, her garden is now preserved by the American Horticultural Society for the public to enjoy. There's even a nursery where you can purchase plant offspring from her collection.

I was most inspired by Ruth's vision for the future. Once, people tried to discourage her from planting one gallon containers of desert fan palms, noting that they take so long to reach maturity that she'd never live to see them at their peak. She said "Well, who cares if I'm around or not? Someone will be around. And if I don't plant it then nobody will get to see it." YAS! Gardening is just as much about a legacy you leave behind as it is about enjoying it in the moment. Also... she lived to be 109, and DID see the trees reach maturity ;)

Cut Flower Garden - Grow, Harvest & Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein with Julie Chai

I adore flowers. I love giving them, and I love receiving them. At my wedding, we took all of the royal inspiration from Harry and Megan's wedding with the most beautiful whites and greens!

However, if you ask me what my FAVORITE gifts are to give and receive, and where I tend to focus my energy with my business, I'm a sucker for succulents and plants that last. I have a century plant that I got from a nursery in South Texas on an anniversary trip with my husband, and have cuttings from my mother-in-law's rubber plant and schefflera that mean the world to me. These things have a special place in my heart.

Cut flowers had not been on my radar for gardening! Especially with the wide variety of flowers that struggle to grow in my climate. However, one day when I was ordering more books, Amazon suggested books I might like based on my purchase history, and I was intrigued simply by the preview of pictures I saw for this book. I hadn't seen some of the flowers she grows (and I'm a florist y'all!).

After reading her book, I was hooked. We decided to have a 2020 victory garden during the coronavirus pandemic, and since we already had a lanai of pretty annuals and earth-kind roses, a vegetable garden in the back, and a greenhouse of succulents - we focused on a cut flower garden for the addition. My husband built a raised bed for me and it's been beautifying the alley behind our house ever since! I have to say that I never imagined being able to grow these kinds of flowers in Midland, and I'm so thankful that Erin opened my eyes to the joy of a cut flower garden. Our kitchen regularly has an arrangement of fresh cut flowers on display, and it brings us great pride to say we grew them!

Urban Jungle - Living and Styling with Plants by Igor Josifovic and Judith de Graaff

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the urban jungle gardeners in this book, who make my plant inventory feel not so extreme. It grew my wish list for rare plants, and inspired me to learn others tips for care (such as using leftover bath water to water plants). Sometimes I feel like I need a few acres to accommodate my greenhouse and crop dreams, however this book reminds me that you can work with what you already have to create a plant dreamscape - indoors or out.

Leaf Supply - A Guide to Keeping Happy Houseplants by Lauren Camilleri + Sophia Kaplan

Still feeling inspired by Urban Jungle, I wanted to dive deeper into the world of unique plants and ways to display them. Leaf Supply lengthened my wish list for plants, made me want to paint my plant studio walls white, and add more shelving to accommodate more and more! Do you ever look at these books and wonder how they get their lighting just right? I use grow lights in my plant studio to help in darker corners. Someday, maybe I'll build a house with East-facing windows and skylights to make natural light possible in every corner!

The Ultimate Rose Book by Stirling Macoboy

This year, Dr. Steve George came to talk to our Permian Basin Master Gardener group about earth-kind roses. I already had an interest in planting roses, as I see them standing at the end of each hot and dry summer in Midland while other plants have already burned up and withered away for the year. However I wasn't sure I could fit any more shrubs at my house. BUT THEN I learned about climbers - roses that can vine and be trained onto vertical structures - and also dwarf shrubs that can grow merrily in containers. This would work for my space. My obsession with roses was born.

I've read a few books on roses this year, and this one is probably my favorite. It has the most variety I've seen. It doesn't have all of my favorite roses in it, but it does have some of them - including New Dawn.

Being new to roses, I was also new to its insect enemies. Macaboy summarizes this perfectly, sharing that "Queens tend to have enemies; it is one of the problems of queenhood. The Queen of Flowers is no execption..." I appreciated the sections of this book dedicated to care and cultivation, particularly pests and diseases. I chose varieties that had proven successful in my climate with trial studies, so they were already hardier than many varieties (remember, I live in the desert) and thus typically more resistant to pests and diseases. Even still, I did encounter a few bouts of aphids and this book helped me know I wasn't alone!

Get ready - this book is ginormous. If you're the kind of person who wants to see a wide variety of options before finalizing your personal choices, this book is for you with its large selection of plant profiles for rose cultivars.

We are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and Kids

This book is a must have for your kiddos if you garden together! I love the themes of persistence with plants and fun with family and nature. It’s a favorite of mine to read with my nephews and niece. Knowing that even the Gaines family has killed off house plants and had to start over with gardens (be it aphids or their favorite animals making the tomatoes their lunch) was such a normalizing experience. The setbacks in the gardening world can be trying - even for celebs with the most beautiful garden posts 💚 Another reminder that the lovely gardens we see are a result of not giving up!

What are your favorite plant books? Who inspires you to try something new?

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