Sure, we love the internet for quick access to specific information. But you really want a book if you want to browse through gorgeous photographs, have a ready reference in hand or just curl up with a volume that speaks from a personal point of view.


"Gardens in Detail"

In the search for inspiration, a picture often is worth a thousand words. Author Emma Reuss has collected photographs of 100 gardens around the world to illustrate universal principles of garden design and offer insight into their successful use.

“Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs,” published in 2014 by Monacelli Press ($45), examines an eclectic array of gardens from tiny California backyards to sweeping prairie gardens in the English countryside.

Unifying the book – and giving it purpose as well as eye-appeal – are copious pointers on how the featured gardens capitalize on such proven design tactics as balance, simplicity, proportion and repetition.  Looking for good examples of color harmony or high impact in small spaces? You’ll find them in these pages.

“Good gardens deliver at a subconscious level and, more often than not, we do not register why something is ‘right,’” Reuss says in her introduction.

In each of these gardens, the details of structure and plant selection are thoughtfully examined. Why they are “right” should become abundantly clear.


"Outstanding American Gardens"

The Garden Conservancy has released its beautiful coffee-table volume documenting “Outstanding American Gardens” – including two in Pottersville, NJ.

Subtitled “A Celebration: 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy,” the book marks the silver anniversary of an organization dedicated to preserving those fragile landscapes we call gardens. Edited by Page Dickey, the book features photographs by Marion Brenner of 50 public and private gardens that will make any gardener green with envy.

The two New Jersey sites are Bird Haven Farm, owned by Janet Mavec and Wayne Nordberg, and a second property owned by Andrea Filippone. Both have been featured in the conservancy’s Open Days Program which invites the public into marvelous private gardens on specific days during the growing season.

At Bird Haven Farm, Spanish landscape architect Fernando Caruncho designed gardens that give coherence to grounds surrounding a 19th century stone house now linked to a contemporary dwelling and greenhouse. Stone walls and gravel terraces frame vegetable gardens and views into an orchard of heirloom apples and peaches while boxwood defines a Monastery Garden of old-fashioned herbs. A spring-fed pond and woodlands complete the bucolic picture.

Filippone is a plant collector with a passion for boxwood – she is a noted authority on this species and has examples from many countries. Her 35-acre farm, formerly an 18th century dairy farm, features barns that have been converted to a home and a showroom for salvaged architectural antiques. Boxwood-lined courtyards create a series of outdoor “rooms,” one enclosing a narrow, Persian-style pool. A potager (formal vegetable garden) and an extensive glasshouse salvaged from Rutgers University are other attractions.

“Outstanding American Gardens,” published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in the fall of 2015, has a cover price of $50 but is available for $30 - $35 through such online sellers as and

"Trees Up Close"

Ordinarily we see trees in their majestic entirety, from afar or from a perspective beneath their spreading crowns, high above our heads.

It can be more difficult to view the details of the biggest plants in our world. “Trees Up Close: The Beauty of Bark, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds” (Timber Press, 2014) puts those details in your hand. This little book (a spare, square 7 inches tall and wide) is a marriage of Robert Llewellyn’s close-up photographs and Nancy Ross Hugo’s informative text.

The pair, who previously collaborated on two other volumes devoted to trees, focuses here on common backyard species.

Some photo series show an entire season’s worth of change, as in shots of maturing sweetgum leaves and gumballs. Others capture the delicate colors and intricate structures of tulip poplar, catalpa and dogwood flowers or the fissured geography of tree bark.

There’s a nice quote from Goethe in the book’s opening pages: “Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but not so interesting as looking.” With this book, you not only look – you see.

"Trees Up Close" is available through for $10 in paperback or $41 in a hardbound edition.


"The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias"

From midsummer until frost, dahlias are the garden’s glamour girls, flaunting their ruffled skirts and flashing their look-at-me colors in a seductive, nonstop show.

It would be hard to name another flower with such prolific bloom and diversity of form. There are daisy-like types and fat, multi-petalled kinds that resemble roses; spiky, cactus-flowered varieties and perfectly symmetrical pom-poms.  The huge range of dahlias is partly what brings out the collector’s itch, but there is no explaining devotion such as Andy Vernon confesses to in “A Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias” (Timber Press, $25).

“I think it’s important we get this right from the start. I don’t just like dahlias: I love them,” Vernon says upfront in his introduction.

This volume is part of a series published in association with the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in England, where plant fetishisms are raised to a high art. Vernon doesn’t disappoint, with chapters lovingly devoted to “understanding,” growing, propagating and designing with dahlias, as well as a look-book section featuring portraits and notes on 200 of his favorite varieties.

Dahlias are native to Central and South America, so understanding them includes knowing that they are strictly fair-weather friends that won’t tolerate frigid winter temperatures. Grown from tubers (fleshy, underground roots that look like sweet potatoes), they must be planted after spring has sprung and dug up after first frost if they are to bloom again another season. Even with the best kind of storage, some tubers will wither and die.

“My advice is not to worry too much or get overly hung up on the non-hardy nature of dahlias,” Vernon writes. “New plants are relatively inexpensive and quick to grow, so look at a rotten old tuber not as a loss, but as an opportunity to grow something new.”


"Cultivating Garden Style"

It isn’t easy to figure out how to make a garden as personal as your wardrobe or your home décor. 

A good volume to browse for advice is “Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Gardening Personality” by Rochelle Greayer (Timber Press, 2014).  The author, co-founder and editor of the digital Leaf Magazine, urges readers to make quirky, imaginative, playful gardens and “do whatever crazy thing you might have always thought wonderful.” We like that.

Greayer visits dozens of gardens that are very much the result of personal vision – a cottage-style garden in Oklahoma City; a lush apartment garden in New South Wales, Australia; a serenely modern garden near Copenhagen. (I do wish she identified all garden locations to allow the reader to judge the adaptability of plants and ideas.)

Along the way, Greayer showcases garden accessories for every style and discusses such topics as choosing trees, making paths, selecting outdoor fabrics, garden lighting and more. This is not so much about “how to” but a freewheeling exercise in “what if?”

"Cultivating Garden Style" is available for about $27 from online sellers or

"Gardens of the Garden State"

If you need proof that New Jersey deserves the title “Garden State,” here it is in a handsome, lavishly illustrated volume. “Gardens of the Garden State” documents 28 gardens, public and private, that authors Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry visited during an 18 month odyssey around the state.

The women, volunteers at the Conservatory Garden in Manhattan’s Central Park, already explored the near terrain in their “Garden Guide to New York City” and “Gardens of the Hudson Valley.” The pair’s speaking engagements and Lowry’s involvement with projects of the Garden Conservancy sparked their interest in what might lie west of the Hudson.

The authors looked for private gardens that showed passion and vision, and highlighted some of the state’s 65 public gardens and arboreta, many of them little known. 

“I’m not sure how we can talk about favorite gardens but there were favorite themes – the plants, the people, the history,” says Berner. “I found it deeply thrilling to explore the past at the New Jersey Botanical Garden surrounding an historic manor house, at Willowwood where the treasures of some famous Victorian plant hunters wound up and at the Van Vleck house where some very unusual rhododendrons were bred. So much history, so much character.”

Perhaps the most intriguing sections of the book are those that sneak readers into fabulous private gardens, lovingly captured by photographers Gemma and Andrew Ingalls.

There’s the garden created by noted garden writer Ken Druse and partner Louis Bauer, horticultural director of Wave Hill in the Bronx, on a two-acre river island. The tropical garden of Graeme Hardie and the sculpture-rich garden of Silas Mountsier located opposite one another on a leafy street in Nutley. The elegant fountains and artful perennial gardens at Kennelston Cottage in Far Hills. Linden Hill in Rumson where 45,000 annuals create a spectacular display every summer. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Published in 2014 by Monacelli Press at $50, the book sells for $37 at


"Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandias"

Many people think of air plants as the perfect species for the black-thumbed houseplant grower. Drawing moisture from the air, they can in fact survive for a while even when watering is neglected.

Zenaida Sengo, author of the new volume “Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandias” (Timber Press, 2014) explains that there is quite a bit more to this group of plants than meets the casual eye. They are epiphytes, plants that rely on tree trunks, branches and rocky cliffs only for support, absorbing nutrients and moisture through their leaves.

Since they don’t need conventional potting soils and copious moisture, this means you can do satisfyingly odd things with them – like suspend them from the ceiling in little cages, hang them on walls and windows or wear them as hair ornaments.

Sengo details the how-tos and provides information on how to properly care for these intriguing plants. Amazon sells the book for $16.