Best Garden-Adjacent Books of 2018?


The editors at The American Society of Landscape Architects Magazine and blog The Dirt don’t read many gardening books, as residential landscapes are a rather small specialization within the profession. But I’m fascinated to learn what they’re reading, especially the Best Books of 2018 chosen by editor Jared Green, and some are relevant to actual home gardeners like us.

  • Of course I love trees, but books about trees have been known to put me to sleep. To my surprise, Jared found Around the World in 80 Trees “delightful,” which got my attention. By email he then called it “fantastic. Highly recommend!”
  • Overgrown: Practices between Landscape Architecture and Gardening” by a South African writer looks interesting but I checked with Jared to ask if it’s maybe too academic for the lay reader. The answer is that it’s “a bit academic but there are some very interesting ideas – I think it’s well worth a read.” So I’ll make that a maybe on my to-read list.
  • GGN Landscapes, 1999-2018 from Timber Press only caught my attention – something the cover design sure failed to do – because it’s about the firm of a prominent landscape architect I’d observed presenting her designs to review boards here in D.C., and admire her as a woman who Leans In. Jared told me it’s “one of the best monographs we came across this year because it gets into the actual design process.” After googling “monograph” I decided that the actual design process isn’t something I’m probably going to grasp, anyway, so I’ll skip that one.
  • Design as Democracy here is pretty far afield from gardening but interests me entirely because I live in a planned city that could have used a bit more collective creativity in its planning stage. Jared tells me the book “was put together by a group of very socially-engaged landscape architecture professors.” I like the sound of that.

Several books on the ASLA list deal with water – how cities relate to their rivers, and two books about saving shorelines, a pretty huge topic these days.

When asked what are the hot topics that landscape architects are writing about these days, Jared said “Health benefits of nature remain a big focus area, as our audience is very interested in the latest research on that.” The big focus stems from their clients’ big focus on health benefits, proof of which must certainly help with funding.

(Hey, landscape architects, here’s one about landscapes that people can actually garden in: BBC’s “Gardening Could be the Hobby that Helps you Live to 100.”)

Jared also mentioned that last year the ASLA had “invested a lot of time in revamping our set of four sustainable residential design guides, covering plants, water, materials, and energy use. If you haven’t seen, I think your audience would find them interesting.” So here they are:

This week the New York Times also released its Best Book lists, including one by Dominique Browning that used to be called Best Gardening Books and is now called Best Outdoors Books, a change that stokes the usual worries about a decline in gardening. Some take-aways:

  • The one duplicate from ASLA’s list is the 80 Trees book, which makes it even higher on my to-read list. From her review we learn that “Leyland cypresses owe their popularity to issues of privacy, class and property rights; in 1990s London, strife over these hedges was responsible for a suicide and at least two murders.” And wouldn’t a lot of love to murder a few Leyland cypresses ourselves?  
  • Three books about Japanese Forest Bathing? I guess it’s a THING.
  • Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower: A Master’s manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.  Coleman’s reputation probably earns him that one spot on the list about gardening.

And four great-looking wildlife books:

  • Secret life of Bats
  • Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees
  • Our Native Bees  
  • Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature, which Browning calls “seductive,” so I’ll definitely check it out.

Got a Book to Recommend?

If you’ve enjoyed any nature- or gardening-related books this year, let us know in a comment!


  1. The Unnoficial Country Side, by Richard Mabey, is not from 2018, but will fill nights and days with pleasure, stimulating information
    regarding flora/fauna in the urban context in London.

  2. I love your descriptive term “garden-adjacent”! There are so many topics that intersect with gardening in some way. Here’s a book that’s on my reading list, a novel: The Overstory, by Richard Powers, which tells stories of people and trees, but from the trees’ perspective. It’s popular enough that even though my library system has 7 copies, I’m on a waiting list to get it.

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