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FROM GLAMOROUS French estates to earthy advice on potting up edibles, autumn gardening books are both practical and inspiring. There are books for dreaming and books for planning, a perfect mix for the offseason.

The charming “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life” by Marta McDowell (Timber Press, $24.95) will be the gift book of the season. You may well want to buy a copy to keep and several to give to friends you know will find it as appealing as you do.

Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books, owned Hill Top Farm in the Lake District of England. McDowell’s well-researched book (including plant lists) is nearly as good as a visit to the farm. From a watercolor of Jemima Puddle-duck hiding from a fox among the foxgloves, to sepia photos of Potter strolling the garden paths on a frosty morning, the book is a visual delight.

The book captures her intimate connection with her garden, and how she turned her appreciation for its creatures, seasonal changes, mushrooms and minutiae into art beloved by generations of children.

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A very different but just as personal a book is “To Eat: A Country Life,” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25), by Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterrowd. Their latest little book chronicles the satisfactions and challenges of growing your own food. Keep in mind that these guys are master gardeners who start their vegetables from seed in cold Vermont winters and are fascinated by the history of beets. With chapters ranging from cows to carrots, the authors (Winterrowd died while the book was in progress) share recipes, expertise, their lives and passion for their land, and all they raise, grow and eat.

If you have a small garden, are new to gardening or hope to plant beautiful, delicious edible containers, “Grow Your Own in Pots” (Mitchell Beazley, $14.99) is for you. “Anyone with a windowsill or access to the space on which to stand a few pots can grow a little food,” writes author Kay Maguire. And she proceeds to tell you how, step-by-step, complete with clear, detailed color photos.

“Louis Benech: Twelve French Gardens” by Eric Janse (Gourcuff Gradenigo, $55) is a book designed to defeat a Kindle with its grand-scale photos, its heft, the creaminess of its paper. This is a volume you need to hold and leaf through the pages.

Benech has designed more than 300 public and private gardens around the world, but the guy isn’t a showboater. His work has great subtlety. Some gardens are more naturalistic, others are formal, depending on the architecture of the place. His gardens lie somewhere between modern and traditional, each well-suited to its site. All are about space, light and shadows, forms and shades of green. This is the book to curl up with and dream the winter away.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at

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