The best books for beginner gardeners

Today is World Environment Day and it’s always an excellent opportunity to reflect on ways we can take better care for the world around us. Here, our food and gardening columnist Chris Gordon explains why a garden can be the perfect way to share joy and love, and shares some of her best bookish recommendations for those looking to start one of their own.


Like so many of us during this strange time, I’ve been walking and spending more time in nature than before. I’m noticing and enjoying the changing colours of trees and the gift of new growth in my own garden. Every couple of days I walk past a house that offers free vegetable seedlings adorably displayed on the fence in homemade newspaper containers, or even sometimes in repurposed beer cans. To me, this eco-offering is a perfect way to spread joy in the community. It’s a gesture that illustrates such wonderful optimism, and seeing these gifts always makes me feel happier with our lot.

If you’re wanting add hope with your own community, you would do well do consider cultivating a garden of your own. It is truly not difficult and you don’t need a lot of room – just consistent care and a little bit of sunshine. And is there a better way to celebrate World Environment Day than sowing some seeds?

There are some terrific gardening books available for beginners, whether you have your own plot of land or a mere window still.

From Liz Dobbs and Anne Halpin, Container Vegetable Gardening is a brilliant manual for making the most out of every corner of your outside space. I particularly like that it features a list of projects that only take a single day to complete, while still having tremendous visual impact. English gardener Isabelle Palmer’s Modern Container Gardening is similarly full of advice that is practical and beautiful – though I’ll admit that stencilling is not for everyone. One of my most recent favourites in this area is Gardening for the Zombie Apocalypse by Isabel Lloyd and Phil Clarke. A tongue-in-cheek guide for growing enough food to survive Armageddon (in whatever form it comes), this timely book will have you laughing out loud as you water your seeds… I promise.

For families with small children – I gifted Let’s Get Gardening to my young nephew and his family at the start of lockdown, and it’s proven to be worth its weight in gold. Suitable for ages 5-8, this book is bright and easily accessible, emphasising the important of taking notice and making small changes. Families with older kids and teenagers will likely find Field Guide to Urban Gardening just as rewarding. Kevin Espiritu has imbued his book with an urban guerrilla style as he demonstrates how to do everything from stringing up beans, to creating hydroponics. It’s full of of inspirational (aspirational?) photos and ideas.

Finally, for those that who simply want to sit quietly today and reflect, I recommend The Story of Gardening. In this work, acclaimed gardener, designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse gives an overview of how modern gardens have come to be, describing the most influential techniques from all over the world. Personally, I’ll be revisiting an all-time favourite gardening book: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. This classic novel is where the magic of possibility started for me, and surely that’s the type of love we all need now.


Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

Gardening for the Zombie Apocalypse

Gardening for the Zombie Apocalypse

Isabel Lloyd, Phil Clarke

$32.99Buy now

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