BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!
If there is one truly under priced product in the market, it is a good book. Often, for the low sum of $18.95 you are able to purchase distilled and concentrated knowledge, slowly and painstakingly collected and experienced by masters in their field over decades of trials and errors, all presented in a neat, illustrated and sturdy package.
So what’s it’s gonna be buddy? A lunch at that greasy and kinda clean buffet or hundreds of beautifully illustrated and eloquently presented pages packed to the brim with drought resistant Xeriscape wisdom? You and I, we both know, that you had enough buttered shrimp this month so go ahead now; get ya some books.
One of the issues with gardening books is that there is a great need for filtration. There are far more poor gardening books than the really outstanding ones. Furthermore, a lot of beautiful and thorough major gardening books originate in England, and although they have their own merit, their evergreen cold temperate style is completely out of place in our fiery Texan environment. I present you with a list and review of my favorite books on the subjects so far. I own all of them and highly recommend you dedicate a spot on your bookshelf for them. Below are my xeriscape book reviews.
Best books about Texas Native Plants, Drought Resistant and Tolerant Landscapes
Xeriscape Landscaping, Southwest-Central-Texas Regional Landscaping and Gardening
You can’t be more regionally specific than this. Published in 2011, this gem is a revised and improved version from previously published books (Xeriscape Landscaping In The Austin Area, Xeriscape For Central Texas). Among its 246 dense pages you will find the theory and methodology of xeriscape design and installation practices, appropriate turf choosing and lawn drought tolerance guidelines, outstanding plant lists for any want and need and a beefy resource list to really get the point across.
True, she is not the prettiest gal in the neighborhood with her spiral bounded plain stock paper and the sparse black and white photographs. Walls upon walls of text containing extremely concise and relevant content more than compensate for that fact. Jane might be plain – but there’s plenty of wisdom to gain.
Creating A Drought-Resistant Garden In Central Texas is an outstanding, thorough and extremely relevant read. This is the book for someone who really wants to dive in and truly understand Xeriscape design in Austin, Texas. Major respect to AgriLife Extension and the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. Y’all rock!
Landscaping With Native Plants Of Texas
George Oxford Miller
George Oxford Miller is a third generation nurseryman and a fourth generation Texan. The author is absolutely in love with our native plants and it really shows. The book is 192 pages long and reads like a breeze due to its many large, colorful, and beautiful pictures on most pages. Wonderful and thorough individual Texas Native plant profiles with ample of fascinating lore and information. The outstanding charts at the appendix are a solid addition that really helps to sort things out.
Landscaping With Native Plants Of Texas is a great read and I highly recommend it.
Texas Home Landscaping
Roger Holmes and Greg Grant
The book is authored by two masters in their fields with ample experience to share of what works and what doesn’t. This book is highly popular and already in its third edition for a good reason.
A good sized chunk of the book is dedicated to various installation projects like pathways and walkways, laying a patio, ponds, retaining walls, fences, arbors and more. Texas Home Landscaping also features a nicely described and illustrated list of all the plants used within the book which is quite extensive (over 200). Although this book is not about drastic drought resistant landscaping and extremely low water Xeriscape designs, there are ample plants in use that will suit that category.
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the outstanding professional Landscape designs which are the central piece of the text. 48 Landscape designs for an array of different landscape styles and conditions. If you just want to have a nice looking and clean foundation plantings, or if you have a huge shady area, or if you posses a more formal English type symmetrical and evergreen affinity this book will have something for you to work with. Each landscape design features a spectacular illustration (Steve Buchanan really nailed how the landscape will mature and presented it in a truly spectacular manner) accompanied by an easy to understand aerial view layout. Each individual plant that was used has a little charming explanation.
I highly recommend Texas Home Landscaping for the DIY type of readership and for more visual learners.
Easy Gardens For North Central Texas
Steve Huddleston and Pamela Crawford
The authors of this beautiful book are both seasoned veterans in their fields. Steve Huddleston is a senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanical Garden and the president of a landscape company. Pamela Crawford is no stranger to books, having written eight of them. She is a distinguished designer and gardening author.
Easy Gardens For North Central Texas is pleasant to handle and has a coffee table book charm. The layout is great, the font is pleasant and the pictures are absolutely spectacular.
Although mostly aimed for North Central Texas (Dallas), our hippy Austinite gardeners will find plenty of relevant information and plant selections. The meat and potatoes of this book are the detailed individual plant profiles with clear symbols that convey if the plant attracts butterflies, resists deer, lives on rain water (although Dallas and Austin annual rain fall may differ) and even average weeks of color – truly priceless information.
Beautifully presented, Easy Gardens For North Central Texas is great eye candy for the visual learners among us. The plant profiles are superb and eloquently written. This is a book that is really a joy to flip through.
Plants for Dry Climates
Mary Rose Duffield and Warren Jones
Native Plants For Southwestern Landscapes
Texas Gardening The Natural Way
Native Texas Plants
Sally and Andy Wasowski
Southwestern Landscaping With Native Plants
Edible And Useful Plants Of Texas And The Southwest
Top books about Edible Landscaping, Fruit, Nut and Berry Landscapes,
Vegetable gardening, Permaculture and Food Forests:
You might be surprised to find edible landscaping and vegetable gardening books on a website that is dedicated to scruffy indestructible plants. The thing about a lot of good edible gardening books is that some of them tend to be very advanced and a level above and beyond in their serious discussion about how nature and plants work. Yes, vegetable production is way more intensive in labor, water needs and fertility inputs than ordinary landscape plants. Doubly true here in Texas where the heat burns up organic matter faster and rains are scarce. But trust me when I say, that most serious edible gardeners know a startling amount of knowledge about soil dynamics, clever water conservation techniques and creating microclimates for their benefit. As you read these books, that knowledge will slowly transcend and spill over any plant related endeavors you might have. Some of the books below offer almost a college level discussions about property generated fertility for a truly sustainable food production. If nothing else, you will truly understand the importance of good deep organic soil in any type of scenario and environment.
Creating A Forest Garden
A very serious and mature discussion on the magical craft and art of Forest Gardens. Forest Gardens are a true wonder to behold; there are cleverly arranged plants (mostly trees and perennials) in such a way where they greatly benefit each other and where one plant’s output is another plant’s input. Here you will learn how to calculate exactly what ratio the nitrogen fixing plants versus fruit bearing plants should be.
Although the author is English and some of the plants may not work in our Texas climate, the book is nonetheless relevant and a highly important piece of work. After thoroughly reading through its 384 pages you will know how to create from scratch, from a barren and infertile piece of scrubby and flat land, a real Garden Of Eden, with shade canopies drooping with ripe organic fruit, exotically intoxicating berries from different realms, mushrooms sprinkled about and curious perennial vegetables tucked away in moist corners. You’ll learn how to arrange all of this vast botanical wealth in such a manner that will provide you with flavor, pleasure and nutrition 12 months out of the year. You’ll learn the rhythms and logic behind forest ecosystems and how to apply that knowledge to your own benefit. You will be able to create full, intricate multi-layered food forests, from sprawling ground covers, to climbing vines, shrubs, the low canopy and the high majestic canopy. Yes Please.
Be forewarned though, as a good and mature forest garden can take up to a decade to truly “click”. Many trees take many many years before they bear fruit and your acre generated fertility will work surely but slowwwly. In a world where we are perpetual transients, and hop from place to place every few years, it’s a real challenge to have the foresight and resources to set roots for decades.
Another warning is that Permaculture advocates plenty of plants that are considered invasive in different zones and climates. Permaculture calls them “opportunistic” instead, explaining they are filling niches that were disturbed or removed by man. Do your research, talk with fellow gardeners, deeply study the plant in question and then weigh the ups and downs before you attempt using a potentially invasive species. A good example is Russian Olive (Elaeagnus Angustifolia); An outstanding nitrogen fixer that also provides ample edible fruit for both humans and bird to share. However, the city of Austin considers it invasive in its “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants”.
This is one of the best books for folks with a good sized piece of land (quarter an acre and above) who are committed to long term thinking and sustainability as a major goal. Creating A Forest Garden could also be used as a subversive coffee table book in disguise as it is masterfully illustrated and the amazing photographs of nature’s bounty really captivate and inspire you. A bored suburbanite guest might flip through the book while you are on the phone, and by the end of that week you may discover that guest is no longer bored, has quit his job, rid himself of possessions, and purchased 400 acres in Wyoming. Dangerously inspiring.
Gaia’s GardenToby Hemenway
This review wouldn’t be complete without digressing a bit;
Permaculture. What is it? Originally Permanent + Agriculture, it has shifted later on to Permanent + Culture. What originally started as a solid system and methodology of using mostly perennials and tree crops for indefinite subsistence in human settlements is now an all-encompassing term for progressive and ecological energy conservation and production, housing, finance, human relations, and more.
Permaculture started in the seventies by Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren, both from sunny Australia. The movement seemed to really explode in popularity and quality content available in the last decade or so. Mollison and Holmgren observed forests for many years and came to the sound conclusion that mature forests are one of the most diverse, abundant and resilient systems nature offers. By studying and emulating all those intricate relations one can create a system that provides food, energy and income on a relatively small amount of space where, after first establishment, the system requires no further outside inputs and creates zero waste. Waste is an un-utilized output and Permaculture always finds an unmet input requirement and tries to match the two, for a truly closed loop. Another concise explanation for Permaculture is Applied Ecology.
The bible of permaculture is “Permaculutre, A Designers’ Manual” by Bill Mollison. The book is 576 pages long, packed to the brim with small font of ecological insights. It is quite intimidating, costs a hundred bucks and weighs 3 pounds. The truly epic and beefy tome can probably be used to kill a small deer in a time of need. It is a bit dry in its style, the pictures are very sparse, and overall the book is a pretty challenging read cover to cover. Don’t get me wrong: If I were ever to be banished to a desolate island, and could take one book with me, this will be it. It is very broad yet thorough, chapters include: Concepts And Themes In Design, Methods Of Design, Pattern Understanding, Climatic Factors, Trees And Their Energy Transactions, Water, Soils, Earthworking And Earth Resources, The Humid Tropics, Dryland Strategies, Humid Cool To Cold Climates, Aquaculture and the bombastic “The Strategies Of An Alternative Global Nation”. As you have probably realized by now, this is not the sort of book you can flip through leisurely while sitting on the couch. This college level text book needs utter concentration and commitment to finish.
So with this lengthy introduction about Permaculture and a completely different book we can start reviewing Gaia’s Garden. Gaia’s Garden is one of my all time favorite gardening books. It has a good balance between pictures, charts and illustrations, coupled with an accessible and pleasant writing style. You will learn a bundle and won’t grind your teeth while doing so. The book really demystifies a lot of Permaculture terms and provides you with enough knowledge and tools to start doing neat stuff as soon as you finish.
Gaia’s Garden will explain and show how the zone system works and how to place components in your landscape in the most efficient way. The book will show you the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio in common mulch and compost materials. (Achieving optimal rate between the two is key for efficient and fast composting). Great charts of Dynamic Nutrient Accumulators (Plants with deep tap roots that harvest and concentrate certain minerals, thus bringing them to the surface where other plants with shorter roots can utilize them). Awesome compilation of Nitrogen Fixers (there is more to N fixers than clovers and legumes, there are an array of perennials and trees that achieve N fixing as well). Gaia’s Garden explains nurse plants in a succulent and concise manner. The book provides outstanding charts for Host Plants For Beneficial Insects (and shows how to plan in a staggering blooms manner which allows year long source of wildlife food and insect nectar). The Useful Plants For Birds chart are also quite useful, especially the Plants That Provide Poultry Forage list (tired of buying store feed for your chicks?). The chapter and charts about constructing your own plant guilds was especially illuminating and eloquently explained; You’ll feel competent experimenting with your own guilds.
The last chart, with all the useful plants is just dripping with awesome-sauce. It conveniently divides the plant list to size, so you may start with the large elements and slowly fill the gaps with smaller components. It is also quite extensive and explains the hardiness of each plant, sun requirements, what parts if any of the plant are edible, if the plant is useful for forage, birds and insects and other interesting uses (N fixer, Dye, Fiber, Fragrance, Nutrient Accumulator, Insect Repellent, Soap, Windbreak, Wood and more!). Just this chart alone is worth the price of admission.
Although the book is not particularly aimed to Texas climate, if you got some sass in ya, you can easily find out what will grow in our fiery temperatures, what is considered invasive, and what has worked well for other folks in our area in the past.
Highly, HIGHLY recommended. I loved it so much I ended up buying a total of seven copies. SEVEN. Seven copies. The style is enjoyable, the charts are incredible, and the book is nicely illustrated and laid out. If you want to learn more about different uncommon and amazingly useful plants, Gaia’s Garden should be in your hands. It will really open your eyes and you will learn to appreciate and enjoy Nature so much more. A simple walk in a woody park will never be the same, once you understand how all the different vegetation works in unison for the greater good of the forest as a whole.
Landscaping With Fruit
The New Organic Grower
Designing And Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally
Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening
This is an ongoing list. More books will be thoroughly reviewed. Please feel free to comment and recommend other books or discuss about this list. Your input is invaluable!