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Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006 01:56 am

Gardening book gifts

Who can refuse a good book about plants?

The Cornell Book of Herbs and edible Flowers by Jeanne Mackin, a great resource for gardeners

If you have a gardener on your holiday shopping list, consider yourself lucky. Gardening enthusiasts may be the easiest people to please when it comes to buying gifts: We’re always excited about the latest gardening gadgets, and we can’t refuse a good gardening book. With the vast selection of garden books available, where does the search begin?

I am privileged to have the Sangamon-Menard Master Gardener library, boasting more than 350 gardening books, at my fingertips. So what books do I commonly refer to? Here’s a list of some of my favorites. Keep in mind, I look for the educational value in a book, as well as great photos.

The Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers, by Jeanne Mackin; Cornell Cooperative Extension. A full-color book describing tips for using herbs and other edible plants, notes on history, and legends over the centuries. Plant culture is also discussed. A great resource for gardeners, cooks, and flower arrangers.
Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest, by Chuck Voigt and J.S. Vandemark; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This complete, accurate, and easy-to-use guide to more than 40 vegetables and 35 herbs under Midwestern conditions is available for $20 from your local University of Illinois Extension office.
Illinois Wildflowers, by Don Kurz; Cloudland.net Publishing. This book, by a professional botanist and nature photographer, offers color photos and description of more than 400 common and a few uncommon wildflowers found in Illinois. A unique feature is the grouping of plants with similarly colored flowers.
Armitage’s Garden Annuals: A Color Encyclopedia, by Allan A. Armitage; Timber Press. A professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, Armitage has a wealth of practical experience. Nearly 200 genera of plants are evaluated for their beauty and garden-worthiness. This easy-to-use book contains more than 1,300 color photos of annuals, biennials, and tender perennials.
Armitage’s Garden Perennials: A Color Encyclopedia, by Allan A. Armitage; Timber Press. In this comprehensive resource, Armitage describes 136 genera of perennials, including classic and cutting-edge cultivars. A great pictorial guide, it features approximately 1,500 color photos.
From Seed to Bloom: How to Grow over 500 Annuals, Perennials & Herbs, by Eileen Powell; Storey Publishing. This one-stop reference contains information on how to germinate and grow more than 500 flowering plants. Each easy-to-read entry contains information sowing seeds indoors and outdoors, germination time, and cultural requirements.
Native Trees for North American Landscapes, by Guy Sternberg with Jim Wilson; Timber Press. Sternberg — a landscape architect, arborist, and tree consultant who lives near Petersburg — and his co-author explain how to choose trees appropriate to a particular area. The book, which contains profiles, including flower, fruit, culture, and seasonal features of more than 650 tree species, is packed with stunning photos.
Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, by Michael A. Dirr; Timber Press. This author’s best-known book is Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Dirr, a retired professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, is a leader in his field. (He also taught at the University of Illinois.) This book is intended for gardeners in Zones 3 through 6. More than 1,600 color photographs highlight flower colors, fruit, and fall color.

These are just a few of my favorites; many more great selections can be found at your local bookstore. One thing is certain: A good garden book can help chase away the gardener’s winter blues.

Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.

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