Gifts for Gardeners: The British Book Edition

British garden books are a whole different flavor from American ones. I think the ones below would make great gifts for any gardener on your list.

These books are my current British favorites. Some I was sent through the American arm of their publisher while others I purchased for myself. As I looked over all the books this year, I kept wondering how the British are able to afford to publish such big, beautiful tomes in these days of cutting publishing expenses. Perhaps, it’s because they are a nation of gardeners, and gardening books sell better there. I don’t know, but I will bask in the richness of their photography and page length.

Cover of Virginia Woolf's garden. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Virginia Woolf’s garden. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber

Although my first choice is titled Virginia Woolf’s Garden, (Jacqui Small, LLP 2013), by Caroline Zoob, and photographed by Caroline Arber, it’s really about Virginia’s husband, Leonard, who was the hands-on gardener. At Monk’s House, he made a sanctuary for Virginia where she could lift her spirits and write uninterrupted. As a writer, I wonder what it would be like to have a little cottage at the end of a fragrant path in which to think, plan and dream. I probably wouldn’t ever make to the computer because of all that beautiful distraction.

Virginia Woolf's Garden. Photo used with permission. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber
Virginia Woolf’s Garden. Photo used with permission. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber

This book is great for anyone who loves Virginia Woolf’s work. I’m not in that camp, but as a writer and gardener, I appreciate Leonard’s inspired choices. The book is beautifully laid out with panoramic views, garden plans and lovely full-page photographs. It is scrumptious. Here is another review of the book from a Virginia Woolf enthusiast.

Cover of RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.

The Royal Horticultural Society Companion to Scented Plants (Frances Lincoln Limited 2014), by Stephen Lacey and photographed by Andrew Lawson, is a revised and expanded edition. The more you garden, the more you wish for scented plants. As you may know, I’m a huge rose aficionado, and a few years ago, I concentrated on red and yellow roses, along with more highly scented ones. I’m very glad I did. Although my roses have taken a beating from Rose Rosette Disease in the last few years, I still have many, and I don’t know what my garden would be like without their wonderful presence.

Rosa 'Grace' has a strong and complex perfume according to the RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photo used with permission from publisher. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.
Rosa ‘Grace’ has a strong and complex perfume according to the RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photo used with permission from publisher. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.

Roses, however, aren’t the only plants in a scented garden’s repertoire. Our olfactory sense is our oldest and most long-lasting so a book like this would be helpful in planning for more fragrance. This is a great and extensive guide with beautiful photographs. I was glad they explored scented tulips and narcissus too. There are plenty of scented options here. Note, however, if you live in a hot climate, some of the suggestions may not work for you. Check out the growing conditions, and if they say partly shaded, you’ll need to grow them in shade.

Cover of The Writer's Garden. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of The Writer’s Garden. Photograph copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.

The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired our Best-loved Authors (Frances Lincoln Limited 2014), by Jackie Bennett and photographed by Richard Hanson. Of all the garden books I read this year, this one touched me the most. Seeing the landscapes that were muses to many of the greatest British writers, was simply fab. The photographs are gorgeous.

Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's home and garden.  Photographs copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.
Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s home and garden. Photograph copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.

The information in the book is wonderful, and there’s even a section on favorites, Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. Buy this book for your garden-loving, loved one. They will thank you. Rock Rose did a review on this book too. I now think we need a similar book with American authors as its focus. What a grand book that would be.

Cover of Sissinghurst. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Sissinghurst.

Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden (St. Martin’s Press 2014), by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven. You might wonder how Vita could co-author a book since she’s been dead since 1962. For fifteen years, she wrote a column for the Observer about plants. She also wrote some introductions to books and articles for Country Life and the RHS magazine. Who better to pull together Vita’s observations than her granddaughter-in-law, Sarah Raven. You may be familiar with Sarah’s online videos and her books. I’ve written about her book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden, which is one of my favorites, here before. Sarah gives a brief history of Sissinghurst Castle and then arranges the chapters around themes in the garden. Vita’s sparkling wit is sprinkled throughout. This is a book to read by the fire where you can make notes on what to plant next year and beyond. It is easy and fun to read. There are photos, but not that many. It is not a coffee table book like some of the others, above.

Cover of Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life.

Okay, this last one isn’t a British publisher or author, but its subject is British. As of this posting, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales (Timber Press 2013), by Marta McDowell, is only $16.96 at Amazon. I paid far more for my copy, and it won the Garden Writers Association’s Gold Award for Best Writing in 2014. I love this book. It’s the next best thing to traveling in The Lake District of Great Britain. One day, I will get to Hill Top Farm–I think I can. I think I can. The author, Marta McDowell, is a garden historian and horticulturist. Unlike many gardening books, her writing is in narrative style, and very readable. I can’t say enough nice things about this book.

Let me know if you’ve bought any of these British and American gardening books and what you thought of them. Sorry I’m so late with this British version of the gardener’s gift book list. Here is my American gift books guide. Merry Christmas Everyone.




  1. Sigh…I’m drooling with the photos and the idea of paging through those beautiful books. Thanks for the recommendations! I’m especially drawn to “The Writer’s Garden.”

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Beth, it’s really good. I think you’ll love it. Now, if only someone would write and publish one on the gardens of famous American writers. I can think of several right off the top of my head.

  2. Lynn HUnt says:

    I have been to the Lake District, Dee, and will look forward to reading the Beatrix Potter book. Also the Writer’s Garden. When I lived in England I was so taken with British gardens and gardeners. Even the smallest flat had a lovely little plot.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lynn, I’m still so taken with British gardens. It’s fun to see what they’re up to across the pond. So jealous you’ve seen the Lake District.

  3. Dee there are some wonderful treats to read here.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I sure enjoyed every one of them. Merry Christmas.

  4. VP says:

    … and Sissinghurst – how could I forget I got to read some of Vita’s garden notebooks whilst I was there!!!!

  5. VP says:

    Merry Christmas Dee! These are all great books. Of the ones you’ve mentioned it’s Jackie Bennet’s book which touched me the most. That’s because I’ve attended one of Jackie’s courses on writing and also because I spent many a happy hour immersed in the archives of Bateman’s when I volunteered with the National Trust.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I really, really enjoyed Jackie’s book too. I’ve gone back to it several times in fact. Merry Christmas Michelle!

  6. indygardener says:

    I have them all and am enjoying all of them. Great choices, Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Carol. I can’t wait to see what you write about them.~~Dee

  7. Hi Dee, I did an interview with Caroline Zoob about her book for the Independent, so I’ve taken the liberty of posting a link here, in case anyone wants to read it and find out more about the book. Happy Christmas!

    1. Jenny says:

      I just read this piece Victoria. Loved it and now I really must have the book. I’m wondering why we missed Monk’s House when we were visiting those gardens in Kent and Sussex.

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Victoria! Thank you for posting your link. I hadn’t seen your post, and that really adds something to my post, above. Merry Christmas!

  8. Jenny says:

    I did not know about the Monk’s House garden book. I’m not a particular lover of VW but am reading a NF book at the moment called the The White Garden, which is about VW and her suicide. There is reference to her house and garden. A mystery is woven around the White Garden at Sissinghurst, another book you reviewed. Beatrix Potter. Who doesn’t love her; I’ve been to Hilltop and hiked that area of the Lakes, which is so dear to my heart as I grew up not 50 miles from there. I think I shall put that on my Christmas list if it is not too late.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jenny, I’ve read The White Garden. I thought it was a clever tale.

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I read the Beatrix Potter book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to get a couple of these you have writtten about. They look like good winter reading.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes Lisa, they are great to read while the snow blows about.

  10. Dee–Hilltop is worth whatever effort you must make to get there! And while you’re in the Lake District, add Levens Hall, Holehird (home of Lakeland Horticultural Society), and Hutton in the Forest to your list. There are other excellent gardens in the area, but these are my favorites. I would add one more new book to your list: The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre (head of the National Gardens Scheme). It’s superbly organized and packed with wonderful detail on 25 of the best country house gardens, from the long celebrated (Hidcote, Sissinghust, Great Dixter) to contemporary masterpieces, including Scampston Hall, which I plan to visit in June. In the mean time, I’ll be looking for the Lacey book; I haven’t run into that one yet. Happy Christmas to you and your family.

    1. Jenny says:

      Yes, yes yes. Levens Hall with its wonderful topiary, Holehird and Sizergh castle too. Tea at Levens Hall is a must. If you time it right you can visit Arabella Lennox Boyd’s fabulous gardens, Gresgarth Hall, Caton near Lancaster.

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Oooh Marian and Jenny, thank you both. They are on my list too. I think I need that book also.

  11. Patrick says:

    I’ve never understood why the deep love of all things gardening made it half way around the world to my native Australia but couldn’t make it across the Atlantic to the good, old US of A. When I left in ’78, there was something wrong with you if you didn’t have a front garden and so were shocked when front yards in KS were foundation shrubs and bluegrass. Shouldn’t be surprised but am in awe of such quality books but one being published in the same year. Oh by the way, Merry Christmas my dear friend.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Merry Christmas to you too Patrick. I hope all is well. I think there are several factors which prohibit people gardening in parts of the U.S., but a comment wouldn’t even come close to covering it.

  12. A great list! The only one I haven’t got yet is the scent garden. I think gardening books are as much an obsession for me as gardening. Living in UK for a while I became very interested in British gardening, I am still a member of the RHS and love the magazine that comes with the membership. One of my favorite blogs is Bug Woman – Adventures of Gardening in London
    Merry Christmas Dee to you and your family!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Laurin for the link to Bug Woman’s blog. I’m always up for a new blog that’s a treat to read. Merry Christmas to you too! You know I’m obsessed by all things growing.

  13. commonweeder says:

    A friend gave me Virginia Woolf’s Garden which owes a LOT to Leonard Woolf. Wonderful book with lots of inspiration. We just have to remember the british climate is not the american climate.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You’re so right Pat. Most of the U.S. is a large and complex continental climate. We can’t grow everything the Brits can in their maritime climate. We live in a big country, and it’s hard to use advice from anywhere not close to your own locale. Unless, you allow for things of course. Merry Christmas.

  14. Tina says:

    Nation of gardeners, to be sure. I’ve become quite attached to many British gardening blogs as well. There’s something about their writing style and deep love and appreciation for gardens and nature that is unmatched. The only book on your list that I’ve read is the one about Beatrix Potter’s garden by Marta McDowell and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m adding a couple of others to my must read list though. Thanks for the list!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Tina, I hope you enjoy the others. I really loved them. Thanks for commenting. Comments make me smile.~~Dee

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