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The 10 best garden design books

If you’d like to learn more about garden design, here are our “Top 10” picks for design books. Many are not new, but thanks to the miracle of Amazon and eBay, there are still lots of second-hand copies around. Garden design years to learn and the more you do, the better you become. Inspiration from leading garden designers from around the world can be yours with these great books.

1. John Brookes Garden Design, Dorling Kindersley, © 2001.

John Brookes is the grand patriarch of garden designers. He has had his own practice for more than 40 years and has a string of Chelsea Flower Show gold medals. And if you have heard the term “garden room,” it was coined by Mr. Brookes. We particularly like Chapter 5, “Design & Styling Solutions,” and Chapter 8, “Ingredients of a Garden.” If you have the interest, patience, and willpower, this book is considered the Bible of garden design. If you buy one book on garden design, this is the one to get. It is also billed as the world’s best-selling garden design book—and it does not disappoint.

2. Before & After Garden Makeovers, Vicki Webster, Sunset Books, © 2008.

If you have trouble envisioning how your front garden or backyard could be different from what you have now, this is the book for you. Through a series of before-and-after photos, this book clearly shows how garden design can add enjoyment to your property as well as adding to the resale value of your house. This book is about organization of space, plantings and hardscape (stone patios, wood decks, trellises, etc.) that enhance the house, no matter how much of how little space you have. What we love best about this book is that some backyard garden designs are so great, we are pretty sure they are the highlight of the entire property.

3. The Royal Horticultural Society Garden Book, David Stevens and Ursula Buchan, Conran Octopus, © 2001.

An inspirational sourcebook of garden styles, plus expert guidance on the principles and practice of garden design and planting. More than 500 photos of gardens all around the world. Includes 12 original garden designs for a range of gardens types. Practical advice on incorporating all the elements of a garden from pergolas to potagers. Step-by-step instructions for all key horticultural techniques. Includes a directory of the 100 best plants for your garden. Over 50,000 copies sold in the UK.

4. Gardens by Design, Noel Kingsbury, editor, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, © 2005.

Gardens by Design gathers together the design principles and tricks of the trade of the world’s greatest garden makers including: John Brookes, Beth Chatto, Isabelle Greene, Steve Martino, Piet Oudolf, Dan Pearson, Nori and Sandra Pope, and James van Sweden. We particularly like Chapter 2, “Working with Space,” that clearly shows the relationship of plantings and voids when designing a garden. The interviews with Julie Moir Messervy on “Open Spaces” and “Difficult Spaces” with Jill Billington are particularly noteworthy.

5. Designing Gardens, Arabella Lennox-Boyd with Caroline Clifton-Mogg, Frances Lincoln Limited © 2002.

A wonderful, garden design book featuring lots of photos of different types of garden structure (from steps and terraces, to paths, pergolas, furniture and garden art), plus plants and planting suggestions for a variety of garden styles (formal knot gardens and clipped topiary to loose cottage plantings). This book features a number of Ms. Lennox-Boyd’s planting plans and summer-winter photos of the same gardens, so you really get an idea of how important garden design is to make a garden interesting in the winter.

6. The Garden Planner, Robin (Templar) Williams, Frances Lincoln Ltd., © 1998.

This is a brilliant little book that gives you endless ideas for how to organize your garden and divide up the space, for any shape of property you have: large, small, square, rectangular, narrow and deep, shallow and wide, L- pie-, or irregular-shaped. If you believe you have no creativity and yet want a great garden, this is the book for you. His field of expertise is in concept and spatial design, coupled with hard landscape design and detailing. Mr. Williams has won seven medals, including 4 gold medals at RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows. He has designed more than 1,200 gardens. He is a current Fellow and past Board Director of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD). For many years, Mr. Williams has been instrumental in garden design education, having both created and taught garden design courses and workshops at many of the UK’s well-known garden design and horticultural organisations, including: RHS Wisley, the SGD, BALI and APLD USA.

7. Soma Basics: Garden Design, David Stevens, Conran Octopus Limited, © 2000.

A gem of a little book and one we return to again and again for inspiration. Mr. Stevens is a genius at dividing and structuring space and turning the smallest property into a total delight. David Stevens is the winner of 11 RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medals. One of the best features of this book is the pairing of existing photographs of a garden and Mr. Stevens’ garden design overlays, so you really get an idea of how every garden can go from “ho-hum” to outstanding.

8. Town Gardens: Successful gardening in one hour a week, David Stevens, Conran Octopus, © 1989.

David Stevens guides homeowners through a simple, practical process of: What do you have? What do you want? And, anything else you would like in a garden? The “Design Solutions” chapter is the best part of the book, giving homeowners practical garden designs for front gardens, basement gardens, courtyards, long “tunnel” backyards, roof gardens, and balconies. Plus, Mr. Stevens provides planting plans for low maintenance gardens, although you will have to adjust them for your growing zone.

9. Really Small Gardens, Jill Billington, Whitecap Books, © 2002.

Jill Billington does a brilliant job applying the principles of garden design, such as focal points and plant textures, into a how-to book for city gardeners with postage-stamp-sized properties. There is a whole chapter, “Illusion,” on using optical illusions (such as false perspective, mirrors, and painted scenes) to give the impression of more space in backyards, front yards, side yards, and basement gardens.

10. Best Garden Design: Practical inspiration from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Chris Young, Firefly Books, © 2010.

The next best thing to attending the famed Chelsea Flower Show and having all the best ideas collected in this guide. Less a “how to” garden design book and more a book about how contemporary British garden designers combine materials such as wood, plastic, metal, terra cotta, glass, and recyclables as well as water features and plant material to create gardens of very different feeling. This book is a tribute to garden designers’ creativity and an idea sourcebook for years to come. Makes a great gift for serious gardeners.

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