I was recently asked by one of my Professional Planting Design students to recommend a list of garden design books.
There’s so many brilliant garden design books – all written by fabulous garden designers, that it’s hard to choose a shortlist. And there’s new garden design and planting books coming out all the time.
Some of the books I've included today are now out of print - so are either more expensive or you might need to source a secondhand copy (but think of all the brilliant gardeners that have had your book before you!)
It would be great to know if you’ve got a favourite book that you couldn’t garden without but here’s my list of the very essential classic garden design books:
RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
This is described as “the ultimate plant guide for gardeners” – and it’s a brilliant reference point for any gardener
It includes the details of 15,000 plants – classic and new favourites to help you identify plants and plan which plants you want to include in your designs and where to plant them.
Buy it on Amazon: RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
The Complete Garden Design Course, Hilary Thomas
I’m honoured to be marking and teach Hilary’s Learning with Experts course Professional Planting Design, and no list of classic garden design books would be complete without her Complete Garden Design Course book.
The book takes you through every step of garden design – from practical site surveys to choosing and combining plants and creating garden interest and colour throughout the seasons.
The Complete Garden Design Course book is excellent to use alongside the Professional Planting Design course, but I’d recommend it to any gardener looking to get started in garden design principles.
Buy it on Amazon: The Complete Garden Design Course, Hilary Thomas
Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden, Beth Chatto
This book is a lesson for all garden designers – you can create incredible ecological planting whatever your site conditions.
Beth Chatto spent many years gardening a dry stony garden in Essex, and, inspired by a trip to New Zealand and Derek Jarman’s shingle garden, she created a gravel garden from the car park. The garden is famously never watered.
Beth’s gravel garden design was a rich combination of plants, with colours and planting which flows through the seasons.
You can visit Beth’s garden and see more pictures online: Beth Chatto's gardens
Buy it on Amazon: Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden, Beth Chatto
Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden, Beth Chatto
Another Beth Chatto garden design book, and based on Beth’s famous gardens, is the Woodland Garden.
This book takes you through the challenges of creating a garden in shade – in this case the shade of oak trees.
Beth Chatto turns every garden challenge into an opportunity and shows you how to choose plants that will thrive in shade.
It’s really helpful for anyone designing planting for a north facing garden, or in areas of the garden that are shaded by walls or other plants.
Buy it on Amazon: Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden, Beth Chatto
The Green Tapestry, Beth Chatto
I make no apologies for including 3 Beth Chatto books in my list of classic garden design books – she covered such a variety of landscapes and her work is more relevant than ever.
Particularly “The Green Tapestry” which is subtitled: “A guide to a sustainably planted garden”.
Beth Chatto believed in the “right plant, right place” ethos and was careful to plant with an understanding of the preferred growing conditions for plants.
It also includes a valuable directory of Beth’s favourite perennials.
Buy it on Amazon: The Green Tapestry, Beth Chatto
Designing with Plants, Piet Oudolf
A garden design classic, Piet Oudolf’s book brought the concept of the “New Wave” of planting theory which was inspired by nature.
Piet shows how texture, light, movement and form in a garden is just as important as colour. This book gives you the practical knowledge to create and appreciate “New Wave” planting in your garden, from the plants to include and how to combine plants.
Piet appreciates and uses every part of a plant at every stage of a plant’s life in his garden design, and this book really will make you look at your garden in a new way.
Piet is also a fellow tutor (with his long term collaborator Noel Kingsbury) at Learning with Experts - his Piet Oudolf Gardens online course includes his garden designs for the New York High Line, Vlinderhof Garden and Hummelo.
Buy it on Amazon: Designing with Plants, Piet Oudolf
Gardening with Grasses, Michael King and Piet Oudolf
Grasses are such an important element of garden design, and this book shows you how you can integrate grasses in your designs.
Piet Oudolf (as noted above) was the founder of the “New Wave” of garden design, and Michael King is a distinguished garden designer with a specialism in grasses.
Michael King also teaches for Learning with Experts – see his Gardening with Grasses online course.
This book explains how to use grasses to give texture, movement and architectural-like features in your garden, and includes a directory of their recommended grasses.
Buy it on Amazon: Gardening with Grasses, Michael King and Piet Oudolf
Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Flowers, Christopher Lloyd
Perennial expert and an iconic plantsman Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Flowers book includes over 1000 plants.
The perennials are listed from A to Z – Acanthus to Zigadenus.
Each perennial includes Christopher’s advice on the plant including plant combinations, seasonal planting and his personal experiences and experiments.
Christopher was a huge gardening personality, and this is an entertaining, educational and inspiring read.
Buy it on Amazon: Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Flowers, Christopher Lloyd
Colour for the Adventurous Gardener, Christopher Lloyd
Another Christopher Lloyd classic “Colour for the Adventurous Gardener” looks at the role of colour in garden design.
Each colour has its own chapter, and the chapters include photos from the famous Great Dixter Gardens. You can also visit Great Dixter gardens: https://www.greatdixter.co.uk/
The book includes ideas to combine colours, and is a celebration of planting and gardening.
Buy it on Amazon: Colour for the Adventurous Gardener, Christopher Lloyd
Succession Planting for the Adventurous Gardener, Christopher Lloyd -
My final garden design book choice was written to follow on from Colour for the Adventurous Gardener – “Succession Planting for the Adventurous Gardener”.
One of the biggest challenges with garden design is succession planning their planting – between seasons and year to year.
Christopher Lloyd’s book is a practical guide to thinking about your garden border design – which perennials to include and how to use anchor plants.
Buy it on Amazon: Succession Planting for the Adventurous Gardener, Christopher Lloyd
I hope this classic garden design book list helps inspire you as much as it inspires me and my garden designs!
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