There are a few main subjects such a book should cover, such as:

  • the seasonal dependence of various plants (which can grow when, and when can one grow what),
  • descriptions of the specific care different plants need (how/where to plant, how often to water, when to prune),
  • nutritional information of the crops described (which to combine for a complete diet),
  • climate dependence (which plants can grow where).

Ideally such a book would have an index of some kind where one could look up information about crops and alike (so that one could for example look for chives in the index, and find information such as that they thrive in well-drained soil with a pH of 6-7 and full sun, and should be planted in the early spring).

Do some or any of you have experience with books of this kind, and which ones would you then recommend (and why would you recommend that book)?

2 Answers 2


I haven't seen any single book that provides all of the information you're looking for, but you can get most of what you want with a small collection of reference guides.

  • The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch has broad coverage of plants commonly found in North American yards: from vegetables and small fruit to bulbs, shrubs, and trees (both shade and fruit). Applying your test, I looked up Chives in the index, and see that pp. 396-397 it says "full sun or part shade, in rich, fairly moist but well-drained soil" and that you can start them from seed but it's easier to start with a piece from a neighbor's clump. There's no significant discussion of nutrition. Coverage is broad meaning it covers various plant types but doesn't get into anything that isn't typical North American mainstream.
  • The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Ed Smith focuses just on vegetables (and herbs you'd typically find in veg gardens). Again the coverage here is typical North American mainstream, and there's no structured discussion of nutrition. (He says, for example, that broccoli is nutritious and parsley has lots of vitamin C, but there are no charts or structure to be able to compare foods or anything that would be useful for dietary planning.) The second half of the book provides about a page per vegetable, with each veg having a reference box that provides when to plant, pH requirement, days to germinate, spacing, water/light/nutrient requirements, rotation considerations, companions, and seed info. I frequently reach for this when I'm deciding when I should start a certain crop or what I should be using for fertilizer. If I were to recommend a single book to someone focused on vegetable gardening, it would probably be this one, but with the questions you've asked I don't think it will provide quite enough info.
  • For a discussion of nutrition, you can reach for John Jeavons' How to Grow More Vegetables. The center of the book has several pages of charts that show spacing, nutrition, and information on seeding and transplanting for the Jeavons method of planting. There are a few sample garden plans in the second half of the book. These are set up with the idea that you could grow much of your own food. The first part of the book has a lengthy discussion of nutrition and considerations you should make in getting the most out of your garden. (He talks about "calorie dense" foods that pack the most calories per pound you eat like potatoes, and "area dense" foods that produce the most calories per square foot of garden space. You need both, but you also need to take care of rounding out nutrients and having variety, which other vegetables provide.) Jeavons takes care to consider providing continued soil fertility through cover cropping and composting, whereas Smith and Damrosch seem to take for granted that you will be importing fertility. You don't have to buy into the whole methodology (I find the spacing to be really tight for some plants), but it is very useful as a planning resource. It is lacking the plant-specific info that Smith or Damrosch's books provide -- i.e. I doubt it has specific information on growing chives or even potatoes for that matter.

Those three books will cover most of the info you're looking for. My copies of these books are much more worn than any of my other books -- the covers are worn from use and they have stains from dirty fingers where I've come in from the garden to look something up.

  • Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest provides good info on how to harvest through winter in cold climates. Keep in mind that he's a market farmer and much of the discussion is of production at scale, but the advice should still be useful to the home cold-climate gardener. In warmer areas, much of what he's doing (in Maine, northeast USA) will be unnecessary -- I doubt anyone in Florida or tropical areas will need double coverage of their cold-hardy kale. If you don't get extended periods of freezing temperatures in the winter, you can skip this book. Coleman's other books are also useful, but remember that he's a (commercial) market gardener and his advice is given with a focus on production at scale.
  • It's not specifically a gardening book, but Root Cellaring talks about how to store your harvest through the winter, again focused on cold-weather North American climate. This speaks somewhat to your seasonal/timing information. There is some limited discussion of particular plants, but except for the discussion of harvest & storage, the other books have better coverage.
  • For a different perspective Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts provides what is, to some extent, almost the opposite of what Jeavons recommends. Solomon is in a dryer, warmer climate. Except for the fact that it contains a different perspective, you could skip this book, though it does have some useful advice on seed saving. (But don't buy it just for seed saving info, a better reference there is Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.)

I'm still looking for books that have deeper coverage of climate dependencies, with a good organization so that I can find special-purpose cold hardy plants. Some of the permaculture books discuss this, but that's moving away from a focus on "vegetable" gardening looking more at creating an ecosystem.

  • Plants for a Future has a database that has a decent search tool; note that their terminology for what is hardy appears to be UK-centric.
  • Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden has many lists of plants for specific purposes, many of which are edible. The focus is on perennials, and many of the plants are tropical/subtropical and won't work in cooler climates. (Though there is enough there to be useful to me where we have frosts during 8-9 months out of the year.)
  • Sepp Holzer's Permaculture is an interesting read, and might talk to some of your questions about seasonal timing, but isn't terribly well organized and doesn't go into much detail about any single topic. Worth reading, but I'd probably recommend borrowing a copy instead of buying it. There's not much in there that you're going to refer back to.
  • +1 You can't go wrong with Coleman and Damrosch as cited here or any of their other books. I'd start with those two for sure.
    – Tim
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 2:10
  • Do some of the books you recommend has a good section for seeding? I am having problems such as this. I'd like to have a book that covers and explains about seeding problems just as these ones.
    – Red Banana
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 14:57

Bstpierre's list is excellent. I'd add three more possibilities:

  • The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya Denckla is very close to what you are looking for. It is a terrific reference for plants and garden issues and remedies.
  • How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons, which bstpierre mentioned, is awesome, but if it is too technical for you, he has also writted The Sustainable Vegetable Garden, which I'd consider a light version of How to Grow More Vegetables. It is way less technical, but still has very good info.
  • Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. He recommends some things that are just unnecessary for most gardeners (like wholescale soil replacement), and his system is way more rigid than I think gardening should be, but the spacing and basic growing information he provides is a good starting place.
  • Do some of the books you recommend has a good section for seeding? I am having problems such as this. I'd like to have a book that covers and explains about seeding problems just as these ones.
    – Red Banana
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 14:57

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