The best gardening books to buy for Christmas 2020, picked by our experts

We've rounded up our top picks for garden books to buy during the festive period, from growing vegetables in pots to tours of royal gardens

best gardening books christmas 2020
Cleve West, one of our chosen authors, offers a provocative view on ethical veganism Credit:  Clara Molden

From a meditation on oak trees, to an exploration of the intellectual milieu of Sissinghurst, to controversial – but potentially planet-saving – ways of delivering ethical veganism, our experts reveal their favourite gardening reads of 2020. 

American Gardens

By Monty Don and Derry Moore (Prestel, £35)

American Gardens By Monty Don and Derry Moore

A follow-up to this year’s BBC TV series of the same name sees Monty Don expand on his experiences travelling the country’s vastly diverse gardens and landscapes, in collaboration with photographer and longstanding travel companion, Derry Moore.

Contemplating what defines a quintessentially “American” garden, Moore’s beautiful photography mirrors Don’s ever-eloquent and honest text, as the pair whisk us from flashy Florida to the arboreal gardens of the Pacific Northwest, and almost everywhere in between.

Chosen by Matt Collins, head gardener at the Garden Museum

Tokachi Millennium Forest

By Dan Pearson with Midori Shintani (Filbert Press, £40)

Tokachi Millennium Forest By Dan Pearson with Midori Shintani 

Plantsman Dan Pearson documents his 20-year involvement with the Tokachi Millennium Forest, romantically situated below the Hidaka Mountains of Japan’s northernmost island.

Invited by owner and media entrepreneur Mitsushige Hayashi to contribute a layer of bold yet intimate planting to the forest, Pearson creates spaces as harmonious with nature as they are revitalising for visitors. Packed with gorgeous imagery, planting plans and insights from head gardener Midori Shintani, this is a book to be savoured.

Chosen by Matt Collins, head gardener at the Garden Museum

The Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

By Tamsin Westhorpe (Orphans Publishing, £20)

The Diary of a Modern Country Gardener By Tamsin Westhorpe

Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe, former editor of The English Garden, has become a bit of a star of the muddy-gardener literati.

The diary element of this book charts with great charm her personal, hands-on gardening year at Stockton Bury, the four-acre Herefordshire garden, open to the public, that has been in her family for 100 years. Punctuated by tips, tasks and techniques and peppered with outdoorsy insights, this book deserves a place on every gardener’s bedside table.

Chosen by Helen Yemm, Telegraph agony aunt

Secret Gardens of Somerset

By Abigail Willis (Frances Lincoln, £22)

Secret Gardens of Somerset By Abigail Willis

This luscious book on Somerset gardens does exactly what it says on the cover. Through Abigail Willis’s insightful pages, gorgeously illustrated with Clive Boursnell’s pictures, the reader visits the county’s most spectacular gardens and and gains access to the insights of their owners, custodians and head gardeners.

On the tour are gardens mellow and historic – Hestercombe, East Lambrook Manor – and startlingly modern – The Newt, Hauser & Wirth, Yeo Valley. (Look out for my Somerset Gardens tour in September 2021).

Chosen by Helen Yemm, Telegraph agony aunt

On Psyche’s Lawn: The Gardens at Plaz Metaxu

By Alasdair Forbes (Pimpernel, £50)

On Psyche’s Lawn: The Gardens at Plaz Metaxu By Alasdair Forbes

Like Stowe, Little Sparta, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack and Prospect Cottage, Plaz Metaxu is a celebrated garden of ideas, hidden away in a Devon valley. Its creator, Alasdair Forbes, is an art historian, inspired by “literature, psychology, myths, philosophy and goodness knows what else”.

He believes a garden should be “a vale of soul making”, that uncertainty principles are part of the experience and that melancholy matters. All challenging stuff – but this is a garden where you are made to think.

Chosen by Mary Keen, writer and garden designer

Humphry Repton

By Tom Williamson (Reaktion, £35)

Humphry Repton By Tom Williamson

Humphry Repton, from Jane Austen’s world, took a totally different approach. An elegant new life of him by Tom Williamson sheds more light on his working methods than earlier studies by Dorothy Stroud and Stephen Daniels.

Repton bridged the gap between Capability Brown and the high horticulture of the Victorians and was the first to call himself a landscape gardener. Comfort and practicality were his watchwords and he was as interested in small places as grand ones. There is a lovely chapter on “Domesticity and Cheerfulness” and many useful design precepts.

Chosen by Mary Keen, writer and garden designer

The Garden Of Vegan

By Cleve West (Pimpernel, £20)

The Garden Of Vegan By Cleve West

Why is a cheeseboard ­disgusting? Is it cruel to eat honey? What is veganic gardening and why not use human waste as fertiliser? West claims unswervingly that ethical veganism is the only solution for our planet in crisis and appeals to gardeners to spearhead a crucial change in behaviour. West’s book is raw in both style and content – and it may change your life.

Chosen by Non Morris, garden writer and designer

Grow Fruit & Vegetables In Pots

By Aaron Bertelsen (Phaidon, £24.95)

Grow Fruit & Vegetables In Pots By Aaron Bertelsen

After reading Cleve West’s courageous and provocative The Garden Of Vegan, you may want to retreat into Aaron Bertelsen’s Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots as you contemplate your position. Bertelsen is vegetable gardener and cook at Great Dixter, where he has developed a handsome and productive container garden next to the kitchen.

The book is charming, brilliantly clear for beginners and generous with precious pared-down lists of favourite seed varieties. Seductive recipes – fig leaf ice cream and basil pavlova – are beautifully photographed by Andrew Montgomery.

Chosen by Non Morris, garden writer and designer

On Landscape Design

By Charles Aldington (Intramuros Books, £40)

On Landscape Design By Charles Aldington

One welcome surprise this year was coming across On Landscape Design by Charles Aldington. Aldington, a distinguished international banker married to a German historian of gardens, shares the inspirations for the landscapes he has made in Kent and Tuscany.

But he does this in a unique way, by quoting the epithets of his favourite “Masters”, from Pückler-Muskau to Russell Page. And each of their observations – from the use of water, to expense – is wittily discussed in the best set of illustrations of the year.

Chosen by Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum

Sissinghurst

By Tim Richardson (Quarto, £30)

Sissinghurst By Tim Richardson

“I wanted to take the eye beyond flowers,” explains Aldington. So does Tim Richardson in Sissinghurst: The Dream Garden. He lingers on old roses and the silver petals of the White Garden, but this is really a book about the lives and interests of Harold and Vita.

Each room is unfolded to reveal their intellectual, literary, and sexual interests, and influences from Bunyard to T S Eliot. Completed while the writer was recovering from long Covid, this book draws together Richardson’s thinking on gardens in a way that has changed garden writing for good.

Chosen by Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum

The Oak Papers

By James Canton (Canongate, £16.99)

The Oak Papers By James Canton

How often have you walked past an oak tree without giving it a second glance? Not so, James Canton. During a turbulent time in his life, Canton spent two years sitting with and studying the 800-year-old Honywood Oak. In The Oak Papers, he explores our long relationship with the oak, a tree deeply rooted in our identity.

Conversations with experts in the fields of science, history, religion, ­arboriculture, and literature add depth and insight to the subject. Aptly, this is a book not in a hurry; in the same way that Canton immersed himself in the attentive activity of observing the oak, this is a book to return to again and again.

As Canton found solace through spending time with nature, through the pages of The Oak Papers you see more and more, then you forget yourself, then you find out who you are.

Chosen by Troy Scott-Smith, head gardener at Iford Manor

How to Attract Birds to Your Garden

By Dan Rouse (DK, £16.99)

How to Attract Birds to Your Garden By Dan Rouse

This is a comprehensive guide to attracting garden birds. I like the way Rouse explains where different species nest and feed, and how beak shape determines the type of food eaten.

There are plenty of practical projects to get involved in, including making fat balls and digging a pond, plus chapters on planting, making and erecting nest boxes, cleaning bird feeders and identifying common species. Just one gripe: I would liked a greater emphasis on caterpillar foodplants, as it’s these most garden birds feed to their young.

Chosen by Kate Bradbury, wildlife writer

Losing Eden

By Lucy Jones (Allen Lane, £20)

Losing Eden By Lucy Jones 

In her call to arms, Losing Eden, Lucy Jones explores the many ways nature aids our mental health. I wholeheartedly relate to her need to be outside and in nature – there’s a wonderful anecdote about a pear tree that resonated with me – and I love her writing style.

As well as sharing anecdotes, Jones gives us the facts we need, citing examples from prisons to mental health units to show that nature heals us, improves our mental health, calms us down and makes us behave better. This is an important book and one I’ll refer back to.

Chosen by Kate Bradbury, wildlife writer

Royal Gardens of the World

By Mark Lane (Kyle Books, £35)

Royal Gardens of the World By Mark Lane

Having written two books on the subject myself, I have a penchant for royal gardens. They often combine grandiose size with superb quality: for many kings, queens and emperors their gardens were a statement of their power and they could afford the best.

Mark Lane’s Royal Gardens of the World certainly presents his gardens with suitable grandeur and an eye for detail. His selection stretches from Europe to Asia and the Far East and there is a healthy mix of old favourites with lesser-known strangers that will be familiar only to the most avid horti-royal watcher.

Chosen by George Plumptre, chief executive of the National Garden Scheme

100 20th-Century Gardens and Landscapes

By Charlton and Harwood (Batsford, £25)

100 20th-Century Gardens and Landscapes By Charlton and Harwood

100 20th-Century Gardens and Landscapes presents a catalogue of private and public gardens and landscapes that well illustrates how garden design and landscape architecture emerged together during that century.

I particularly enjoyed the industrial and urban landscapes, many of which will be unfamiliar to garden enthusiasts – they are no less interesting for that. Both books have a theme, one royal, the other a period, but both are collections of individual places that might have benefited from some more overall story.

Chosen by George Plumptre, chief executive of the National Garden Scheme

Windcliff

By Daniel J Hinkley (Timber Press, £26.99)

Windcliff By Daniel J Hinkley 

We can’t travel by plane at the moment, but we can still travel by book. Daniel J Hinkley’s Windcliff takes you to an exposed bluff on the Pacific Northwest coast of America, where 20 years ago the author decided to begin afresh in an epic landscape of mountains and sea.

The photographs are breathtaking, and the text a masterclass in adventurous planting design as one would expect from this celebrated plantsman, nurseryman and plant hunter.

Chosen by Stephen Lacey, writer and plantsman

Uprooted

By Page Dickey (Timber Press, £21.99)

Uprooted By Page Dickey

Page Dickey’s Uprooted is also about starting again, this time on the opposite side of the country in Connecticut. Her new garden, and indeed her book, is a quieter affair, as she turns away from the “showcase” gardening of her previous plot to learn more about ecosystems and native plants. Her woods and meadows contain many species familiar to British gardeners – with the added frisson of an occasional black bear.

Chosen by Stephen Lacey, writer and plantsman