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The best gardening books for beginners in 2021

Looking to get started on a garden for the summer but don’t know where to start? These books can help — and we found their most highlighted passages, too.
Woman holding a tablet in her garden
Gardening books can help new and experienced gardeners reference focused gardening content while answering questions that may not be readily available online.pixelfit / Getty Images

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As temperatures continue to rise across the country, people will likely head outdoors for vacations, get-togethers and some grilling adventures. For those hoping to better connect with nature, gardening may be on the list of activities to try this season, especially if you’re looking for a peaceful hobby in the midst of a bustling post-vaccine summer. But if you’re just starting out, finding the right tools, apparel and other gardening essentials may feel overwhelming — fortunately, gardening books can help advise and inform you when cultivating your own flower, vegetable or herb garden.

“No one starts out as an expert, and quite frankly we’re all playing catch up to understand nature,” said Ashlie Thomas, a professional gardener who runs the blog The Mocha Gardener. She added that being able to physically reference “words in tangible form” throughout the growing season is extremely useful. As for online references, while they’re “wonderfully convenient,” Thomas said books can “provide more robust and focused content that’s not just helpful starting out, but well into the gardening journey” and can be relevant “when you have specific questions with answers that aren’t readily available online.”

For anyone trying to figure out how to work with a small space, we consulted Amazon Books lifestyle editor Seira Wilson, whose specialties include everything from gardening books to cookbooks and coffee table books. She noted there are books on “both container gardening and vertical gardening” to help you out. And if you’re thinking of growing flowers, veggies or both, gardening books “can help you choose varieties that are optimal for what you want and the conditions — including the amount of time for maintenance — that you’re working with.”

6 gardening books for beginners

To help aspiring gardeners get started with some reference material and engaging reads, we consulted Wilson and compiled her picks for the most informative gardening books for beginners. “Beginning and experienced gardeners will find not only inspiration but options in these helpful (and beautiful) books,” Wilson explained. While there are heaps of books out there that can help you start and grow your own garden, Wilson suggested these helpful books for new gardeners featuring advice, guides and stunning photography. We also tapped into Amazon Books’ data to find the most popular quotes that Kindle readers highlighted while reading these.

1. Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: A Simple Guide to Growing Vegetables at Home

  • Goodreads rating: A 4.34-star average rating from 118 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "Other plants are best suited for direct sowing. Beans, squash, zucchini, peas, corn, carrots, spinach, and beets prefer being grown from seeds planted directly in the garden."

Vegetable and herb gardening can be a rewarding experience, especially when you’ve picked your first fully grown tomato or fresh arugula to throw into your salad. Author Jill McSheehy — who also hosts The Beginner’s Garden podcast — details easy-to-follow guidance on how first-time gardeners can grow their own food. In this book, McSheehy teaches you how to set up a good foundation for your plants such as constructing raised garden beds and mixing healthy soil, how to choose plants for your garden and how to pair companion plants and maintain plants year-round.

2.The Complete Gardener: A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening

  • Goodreads rating: A 4.5-star average rating from 360 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "Bear in mind that bees do not see red at all – so a purely red flower will be ignored by them unless it has blotches or stripes that lead the bee to the pollen and nectar. Blue, pink, green and yellow plants will always be the most attractive."

If you want to be a better gardener in practically every aspect, this book is comprehensive and includes various photographs to help you on that journey. The book features guidance from author Monty Don, who’s the lead presenter of BBC TV’s Gardeners’ World, about what he believes to be the most important aspects of gardening, from organic growing techniques to his own successes and failures in his garden.

3.Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space

  • Goodreads rating: A 3.74-star average rating from 389 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "Cucumbers, English peas, Malabar spinach, sweet potatoes, and pole beans need only a lightweight support like willow branches, netting, or string in order to climb. Other vegetables, such as edible gourds (including chayote), melons (especially cantaloupe), pumpkins (especially miniatures), squash (including climbing zucchini, vegetable spaghetti, and small winter types), watermelons, and yams (especially Chinese climbing) need stronger supports like tree branches, bamboo, and builder's wire."

For those who have smaller plots of land or simply hope to grow high yields while limiting the amount of labor, this guide on vertical gardening can advise you on how to shrink the space you need for your garden. Author and gardener Derek Fell explains his recommendations for readily available vegetables, flowers and fruits that work best for vertical gardening, how to properly use this system and the benefits of it (which include smaller garden beds to prepare and maintain and new plant varieties to try out).

4. Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms

  • Goodreads rating: A 4.7-star average from 185 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "To help conserve moisture, we add a thick layer of mulch around young plants once they’ve emerged from the soil. Shredded leaves, straw, or dried grass clippings are all great choices."

If planting beautiful flowers is your gardening objective, “Floret Farm’s Discovering Dahlias” written by world-renowned flower farmer and floral designer Erin Benzakein can guide you on growing, cultivating and arranging fresh dahlia flowers. In addition to advice and wisdom for planting these types of flowers, the book contains vibrant photographs that are not just pretty to look at, but can also teach you their different varieties and colors.

5.New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden

  • Goodreads rating: A 4.13-star average rating from 30 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "We need millions of people planting differently for a planetary purpose, even if that’s one thoughtful decision at a time."

For new gardeners interested in a basic introduction to ecology and plant biology, “New Naturalism” explores how a garden can foster positive environmental change and encourage diversity of plants and animals in your space. You’ll also find advice on how to upgrade existing gardens or plots of land to create a vibrant and visually appealing space for both humans and wildlife, while also guiding you on how to build meadows, prairies and other open spaces even in compact, urban settings.

6.Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty

  • Goodreads review: A 4.2-star average rating from 253 reviewers
  • Most highlighted quote: "The basic recipe I follow in the garden is 40 percent flowers to 60 percent vegetables."

Companion planting — planting vegetables and flowers alongside each other — can be a beneficial way to increase food yields and fight garden pests without pesticides. In “Vegetables Love Flowers,” author Lisa Mason Ziegler explains how adding flowers to your new vegetable and fruit garden can have multiple benefits, from increasing biodiversity and the number of pest-eating insects to enhancing pollination and brightening up your home. It also features beautiful photographs of healthy gardens and flowers that can make a good accessory to your coffee table.

More gardening books to consider

In addition to the books above, Wilson also recommended the following books for gardening beginners, including a guide on how to grow your own food and an informative read on growing and maintaining vibrant flowers.

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