My top six garden references

Mid-winter is a great time to spend a little extra time in your home library. Catch up on your reading, and include a few great horticultural titles in the process.

I’ve spent a lot of years gardening in Texas and writing and talking about it, too. Out of all of that, I can count on two hands the books I refer to regularly. Oh, I have scores (probably hundreds) in my library, but these few trusted resources are my go-to books when I really need help. Many are out-of-print, but, with Internet searches being as easy as they are today, many show up in rare-books listings, so I thought I’d tell you why these are my very best pals.

Bailey’s Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. Liberty Hyde Bailey was arguably the best individual horticulturist in American history. At least, he was one of our most prolific writers. I have three different editions of this 3- or 6-volume set. One of them was my father’s as he taught botany and range management. All were published in the first half of the 1900s, so their historic perspective is wonderful. So is the depth of horticultural information.

Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest. Written by Dr. Robert Vines and published by U.T. Press, this early 1960s work gives great detail of all native woody plants in Texas and the surrounding states. Long out of print, it still is my favorite volume for native plant information.

Sunset Western Garden Book. This was written for the West Coast and Desert Southwest, but it’s the best overall contemporary garden reference for horticultural plants that grow in our state. It and my own book are the only two volumes I take with me mike-side as I broadcast each weekend. I have 7 different editions of this book dating back to my high school years.

Hollies and Azaleas, both by Fred Galle. This gentle man was a friend and an incredible horticulturist at Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. Mr. Galle was the world authority on each of these plant groups, and these incredible books should be an inspiration to any research horticulturist. The detail by which he catalogs thousands of varieties of each plant is beyond belief. Both are from Timber Press in Portland, Oregon. Their books are outstanding. Oh, if only they would publish one for our beloved crape myrtles. Maybe it will happen.

Perennial Garden Color for the South by Dr. William Welch. You read Bill’s Season to Season column in each issue of our magazine. However, you really need to see his fine books on perennials, antique roses and other related topics to appreciate his incredible knowledge and to see his ability to communicate it to all of us. When it comes to perennials, I reach for Bill’s book. It is a product of Taylor Publishing.

I use many other books and perhaps I’ll tackle my next shelf another time here. For now, though, if I could have only six, these would be my picks.

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Posted by Neil Sperry
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