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The Flower Show

13 Gardening and Nature Books to Add to Your Reading List

January 25, 2024

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By Amanda Baez 

January, known as the month of new beginnings, inspires thousands of people to create new habits and reignite old ones each year. For avid readers, it’s the perfect time to curate a list of captivating literature to keep you occupied all year long. With many plant-related books available today, there is no shortage of options tailored to nature enthusiasts. Whether it's the awe-inspiring trees that make us feel small or the beloved houseplants that bring us smiles, there's a book catering to every earthly topic! 

"The PHS McLean Library concentrates on books that are of interest to mid-Atlantic gardeners so it’s no surprise that -- in addition to books on gardening indoors and out -- we have an enticing selection of books about nature and the outdoors," says Janet  Evans, Associate Director of the McLean Library. Here, PHS has curated a list of 13 must-read gardening and nature books that will leave you feeling inspired and entertained. 

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1. Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard 

An eye-opening memoir by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree delves deep into understanding the intimately beautiful world of trees. Bringing to light the inspiring process of how trees function, evolve, perceive one another, and learn to adapt to environmental changes, Suzanne tells a story of nature in its purest form and the lessons we can learn from some of the world’s oldest living beings -- our trees.  

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2. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmer explores multiple similarities between the world of nature and humanity by offering a unique perspective on how humans view the natural world. Intertwining indigenous wisdom with scientific plant knowledge, Robin offers relevant takes on crucial environmental issues, while also emphasizing the importance of cultivating a connection with nature. By delving deep into the multiple thought-provoking stories, Braiding Sweetgrass will encourage you to reflect on how you see the world and the steps you can take to make it a better place.  

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3. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees by Douglas W. Tallamy 

A world of wonder emerges from a single oak tree in Pennsylvania as it captivates the mind of educator Douglass Tallamy in this knowledgeable page-turner, The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees. Dividing the chapters using a monthly timeline, Tallamy describes the seasonal cycles of oak trees throughout the year and offers a unique perspective on each cycle while teaching you how to care for an oak.  


4. How to Read a Tree: Clues and Patterns from Bark to Leaves by Tristan Gooley 

Unpack the wondrous natural clues that hide in plain sight in How to Read a Tree: Clues and Patterns from Bark to Leaves. Go in-depth to read about the uniquely fascinating world of how tree bark, buds, stump, and flowers stem from a tree’s branches and other intimate details that often go unnoticed.  


5. Lessons from Plants by Beronda Montgomery 

Beronda L. Montgomery investigates the robust and creative lives of plants and organisms whose actions are often referred to as predictable and normal. She refers to plants as ‘masters of adaptation’ as they are aware of what and who they are as living beings. Lessons from Plants delves into the botanic experience and hints at how we as humans have the possibility of improving our society by better appreciating not just what plants offer to us, but also how they achieve their own specific purposes.  




6. The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith 

Have you ever wondered if gardening could truly play a role in changing a person’s life? Often seen as a safe haven, the garden acts as an escape for many people to forget life’s worries and enter into a world that is calming and enjoyable. The Well-Gardened Mind offers a unique perspective on the powerful impact gardening possesses in reshaping a person’s life for the better. Read along as Sue Stuart-Smith navigates the many ways in which our minds and nature can interact in the most comforting and unusual of ways.  

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7. The Hidden Histories of Houseplants: Fascinating Stories of Our Most-Loved Houseplants by Alice Bailey and Maddie Bailey 

Accompanied by beautiful illustrations, each page of The Hidden Histories of House Plants takes the reader on a timely adventure through history and culture, told by some of the most binding objects in an average house from London to Beijing – houseplants. Discover the untold world of houseplants and how these small yet powerful organisms can hold their own history and stories.  

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8. Wild Philly: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Philadelphia by Michael Weilbacher 

This illustrated guidebook, Wild Philly: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Philadelphia by Michael Weilbacher, starts with an overview of the natural history and biogeography of Philadelphia, its founding between two rivers and along a “Fall line” which made it a desirable area both for the Lenape people and the Europeans who arrived in the 17th century. Weilbacher then describes 101 plants and animals to know, with tips on where to find them. He concludes with a chapter on 29 field trips (even some literal fields!) for all ages and seasons, in and around Philadelphia. 

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9. Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper 

Christian Cooper is a self-described “Blerd” (Black nerd). He’s one of Marvel Comics’ first openly gay writers and editors, and he has a life-long love of birding. If his name rings a bell, you may recall seeing the 2020 viral social media video of an altercation in Central Park between birder Cooper and a dog owner. Better Living Through Birding is described as “equal parts memoir, travelogue, and primer on the art of birding.” In it, Cooper explains how “birding shifts your perceptions, adding new layers of meaning and brokering connections: between sounds and seasons, across far-flung places, and between who we are as people and a wild world that both transcends and embraces us.”  

If Cooper convinces you to take more time to explore the avian world, check out even more eBooks: Sheila Buff’s Birding for Beginners: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Art of Birdwatching; and David Allen Sibley’s What It's Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing -- What Birds Are Doing, and Why

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10. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds (The Illustrated Edition) by Merlin Sheldrak 

When Merlin Sheldrake’s book first appeared in 2020, it caused quite a lot of buzz, garnered numerous nominations for literary prizes, and won the 2021 Wainwright Prize for nature writing. The one element Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds lacked was sufficient numbers of fungi illustrations, which can depict these marvelous organisms for what they are – truly striking, sometimes weird and other-worldly looking, and often remarkably beautiful. Sheldrake has remedied that undersupply of images in his new, illustrated edition, in larger format than the first edition, providing gorgeous, captivating photographs for readers. 

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11. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams 

We humans are animals, and as such we have an innate yearning to be out of doors. Journalist Florence Williams set out to write a book that “explores the science behind what poets and philosophers have known for eons: place matters.” In The Nature Fix, she provides ample evidence that supports the notion that being in nature feeds our soul, clears our head, and calms our frayed nerves, counteracting the negative effects of too much living indoors and online.  

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12. The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals – And Other Forgotten Skills by Tristan Gooley 

At 402 pages, The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs is a comprehensive manual on wayfinding in nature and is fun to dip into and find answers to questions such as: “What does the color of mud mean?,” “How can I use tree leaves as a compass?,” “How can I tell the time using the stars?” and, more crucially for the city dweller, “Why are there cafes on only one side of the street?” 

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13. The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson 

The Feather Thief, a remarkable story of obsession and crime, began in the 19th century when naturalists captured, killed, and collected exotic birds and housed the specimens in the Tring Museum, located about an hour from London. There the bird specimens stayed until the 21st century when an amateur thief stole these immensely valuable feathers to create and sell Victorian salmon fly-ties (fishing lures) – a hugely profitable and illegal sub-rosa business that happens mostly online. PHS’s book group loved discussing the stories in this tale of compulsions that can drive otherwise unremarkable and, to all appearances, upstanding citizens to commit crimes. 

Interested in adding any of these books to your 2024 reading list? If so, all these books can be found at the PHS McLean Library and are readily available for checkout to PHS Members.  

Looking for books on children and nature? See this subject guide, Children and Nature for read-aloud storybooks and projects adults can do with children. We hope you enjoy this fresh literary start to 2024! 

Interested in utilizing the PHS McLean library to your benefit? Become a Member today!