If you can’t garden, why not read about it? Books bring us comfort when the gloomy weather of winter is upon us. Even gardeners who love winter enjoy a good read.

Light a fire, pour a cup of tea and relax with one of these 11 books recommended by Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturists.

“The Gardener’s Atlas,” by John Grimshaw

This is a gem of information for gardeners who love to know the origin of all their favorite plants. It probes into the history and origin of an array of plants, and looks at who “discovered” them. The author’s tales of plant discovery since the 1500s are very entertaining, and the book also educates readers on how many of these ornamental plants were also used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. The book is filled with excellent photos and maps of plant origins to support the storytelling.

— Steve Reinquist, OSU Extension horticulturist

“Trees to Know in Oregon and Washington,” by Ed Jensen, Oregon State University Extension Service

This book is a good choice for anyone who has ever wondered “What kind tree is that?” The book contains both native and commonly planted ornamental trees in our area, as well as easy-to-use keys for identifying unknown conifers and broadleaf trees. A new edition will be published in early 2021.

— Heather Stoven, OSU Extension horticulturist

“Lab Girl,” by Hope Jahren

“Lab Girl” is a beautifully written and oftentimes hilarious memoir about the work and friendship of two scientists, and their absolute love affair with, and reverence for, trees. I love this book. It is a great science memoir, but also goes into plant ecology and physiology quite a bit.

— Gail Langellotto, horticulture professor and statewide coordinator of the OSU Extension Master Gardeners


“Planting Design for Dry Gardens,” by Olivier Flippi

For those obligated (or preferring) to garden with limited water (meaning what falls out of the sky), you can do no better than this book. It features beautiful, resilient groundcovers for terraces, paved areas, gravel and other alternatives to a lawn. The book provides a guide to garden design for Mediterranean regions of the world, focusing on adapting the garden to the prevailing climate of summer drought and winter rain. The book is lavishly illustrated and includes an extensive list of plants. This book is the most comprehensive discussion I’ve found on dry gardening and provides inspiration and solid principles to follow for the Pacific Northwest gardener.

— Neil Bell, OSU Extension horticulturist

“Botany in a Day,” by Thomas J. Elpel

You can quickly learn the pattern method of plant identification with this great book. Related plants have similar flower, leaf and stem traits. The book examines plant traits by family to provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the plant kingdom.

— Weston Miller, OSU Extension horticulturist

“Planting the Natural Garden,” by Pete Oudolf and Hank Gerritsen

A concise compilation of flora, most of it herbaceous, that would work well in a contrived meadow construct either somewhat rural or urban. It contains a tremendous number of plant options and eliminates the need to strain what is left of our gray matter after a horrendous year.

— Al Shay, senior instructor and curator of the Oak Creek Center for Urban Agriculture

“Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates,” by John Whitman

For eastern Oregon and Washington vegetable gardeners, this book is indispensable. It includes season extension and cultivar suggestions. This book is comprehensive yet easy to read, contains tons of great charts, tables and photos, and is the best book I have encountered so far for short- season vegetable gardeners. Worth every penny.

— Nicole Sanchez, OSU Extension horticulturist


“Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author is versed in botany and has a traditional ecological knowledge of plants, and she finds meaning in both of these ways of seeing human relationships with plants. As both an academic and an indigenous person, Kimmerer is qualified to explore where science and traditional ecological knowledge overlap, and where they don’t. Her writing inspires wonder and reverence for plants that readers won’t soon forget, and is a favorite of many avid gardeners and naturalists. “Braiding Sweetgrass” also exists as an audiobook read by the author, and she has a lovely, soothing voice.

— Elizabeth Records, OSU Extension Master Gardener coordinator

“Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees,” by Chuck A. Ingels

This great resource for home orchardists is very detailed, with science-based information and lots of photographs and illustrations to support the text. The chapters on training, pruning, budding and grafting are worth the price alone. It was written for California growers, but can be adapted for other climates/soils.

— Erica Chernoh, OSU Extension horticulturist

“The Bees in Your Backyard,” by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril

This is a great resource for anyone interested in backyard ecology. The book is very accessible for the amateur entomologist and is packed with color photos. For each group of bees, the authors provide the typical size, the geographic range and the time of year the bee is usually found. There is also a whole chapter on how to promote bees in your backyard with tips on providing nesting areas and plants that feed the bees.

— Brooke Edmunds, OSU Extension horticulturist

“Xeriscape Plant Guide: 100 Water-wise Plants for Gardens and Landscapes,” by Denver Water

What I love about this book is that it was written for landscape designers and includes photos of the individual plants in each of the four seasons. Each plant profile also includes a beautiful botanical drawing in color, and the information for each plant is extensive, including companion plants, water use, cultivars, best features and the disadvantages of each plant.

— Amy Jo Detweiler, OSU Extension horticulturist