9½ books that would make great gifts

I love giving and receiving books as gifts. Even with the abundance of information available online, nothing can replace a book where everything you might want to know about a specific topic is contained in a one neatly contained package.

Below are nine garden- or plant-related books that resonated with me this year. Eight were published in 2021, the other one (Private Gardens of Santa Barbara) in 2020. Like my interests, they cover a wide spectrum. Maybe you'll discover a title or two that's up your alley or that would make a nice gift for a plant friend!


Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids by Jeremy Spath and Jeffrey Moore

🕮 Read my full review

Simply the best book on agaves available right now—and most likely for years to come. Covers all but the most obscure species. 2,000+ stunning photos, many taken in habitat. In-depth information on everything you've always wanted to know about agaves, such as taxonomy, cultivation, propagation, use in landscaping, and pests. Also covers the most popular cultivars as well as old and new hybrids, including mangaves.

↪︎ Buy directly from Jeremy Spath or Jeff Moore

Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl

🕮 Read my full review

Loree 'the danger garden' Bohl's manifesto reassures readers that it's OK to break the rules and encourages them to follow their own heart instead of listening to the dictates of others. Garden the way you like, plant what you love, and be proud of what you achieve. There's only one person you need to please: yourself. 

“Garden visits” interspersed throughout the book illustrate how gardeners in the US and the UK have made their own vision come to life.

A must-read book with a message that will stay with you.

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Field Guide to Manzanitas by Michael Kauffmann

This is the second edition of the most comprehensive reference on manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) in print. It contains descriptions of all known species, photos of the flowers and fruit, as well as revised and updated range maps. In addition, Kauffmann describes 28 geographical hot spots that have a particularly heavy concentration of species; for me, this alone is worth the price of the book. 

This is a field guide and doesn't go into cultivation of manzanitas or use in landscaping. However, it's essential reading for anybody seriously interested in manzanitas. 

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Maverick Gardeners: Dr. Dirt and Other Determined Independent Gardens by Felder Rushing

A love letter to all the “determined independent gardeners” (DIGrs) out there—the unsung free spirits who march to their own drum, whether they collect garden gnomes, make planters out of old tires, or paint their fences eye-popping colors. 

At the heart of the book is the story of Dr. Dirt, a quiet man from a small town in Mississippi who created the ultimate folk garden replete with riotous flowers and art “made of things other people threw away.” The author and Dr. Dirt became unlikely friends and co-hosted a NPR radio show for 10 years.

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Striking Succulent Gardens by Gabriel Frank

🕮 Read my full review

This is an easy-to-read primer on how to use succulents to striking effect, both in the ground and in containers. Basic design information is complemented by detailed descriptions of popular succulent families (stonecrops, aloes, agaves, yuccas, cacti, etc.) and their use in landscaping. Step-by-step projects interspersed throughout the book use a plant-by-number method to illustrate various designs—a thoroughly accessible approach for less experienced gardeners.

The photographs by Dan Kuras are spectacular.

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Private Gardens of Santa Barbara by Margie Grace

This book showcases 18 gardens designed by author Margie Grace, ranging from large estates to more modest homes. These are gorgeous spaces, often set against jaw-droppingly beautiful backdrops. This book is the closest most of us will ever get to living in Santa Barbara, one of the most spectacular (and expensive) places on the West Coast. It's the best kind of eye candy: inspirational and aspirational in equal measure. At the same time, the gardens sensitively reflect the realities of geography and climate: lack of water and constant threat of wild fires.

This is the kind of book you buy to sweeten your gardening dreams.

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Private Gardens of the Pacific Northwest by Brian D. Coleman

Unlike Private Gardens of Santa Barbara, which focuses on the work of one designer, Private Gardens of the Pacific Northwest showcases 20 gardens created by a variety of designers (or the gardeners themselves). The spectrum ranges from small spaces in the city to multi-acre gardens in the country, and from contemporary to naturalistic. Standouts include Loree Bohl's danger garden in Portland, nature photographer Art Wolfe's Japanese garden in West Seattle, and Craig Quirk's tropicalesque showpiece in Portland. Each garden is given a generous allowance of 10-15 pages, allowing for unhurried exploration.

Throughout the book, there are occasional issues with baffling plant descriptions and incorrect IDs, but the photography by William Wright is consistently excellent.

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Under Western Skies: Visionary Gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast by Jennifer Jewell

Insightful portraits of 36 Western gardens—large and small , public and private—that reflect the realities of geography and climate and a deep sense of place. Jennifer Jewell explores the connection between the gardeners (and designers) and the gardens they have created. This is a big book, and each garden gets the attention it deserves. Caitlin Atkin's photographs harmoniously complement Jennifer Jewell's sensitive writing.

I've been waiting for a book like this for a long time!

↪︎ More info on Amazon.com

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens by Dan Hinkley

Located on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound west of Seattle, Washington, Windcliff is the private garden of eminent plant explorer and collector Dan Hinkley. His previous garden and nursery, Heronswood, was a destination for plant nerds from all the world. This book chronicles the evolution of Windcliff, the hard-won challenges, and the eventual triumphs of creating what is considered one of the greatest gardens in the western US. The images by renowned Australian photographer Claire Takacs show Windcliff at its most evocative throughout the year.

A book full of inspiration even for gardeners who live in a hotter and drier climate.

As for the “½” in the title of this post, it's a different kind of book—one where you provide the words:

Spiral notebook with pen holder

I like to carry a notebook with me wherever I go. I even use it in the garden, making plant or task lists or jotting down ideas. I know many people record notes on their phones now, but I prefer an old-fashioned paper product.

I've tried all kinds of notebooks. What works best for me is a spiral-bound notebook so I can flip the pages easily. It also has to have a pen holder, otherwise I'm constantly looking for something to write with. This notebook is exactly what I want, and it comes in two sizes—medium (5.6×7") works great for me. The sticky notes are a nice extra although I don't really need them. At $14.99 for a 4-pack, it's a good value.

© Gerhard Bock, 2021. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. I wholeheartedly endorse this post! Thanks for including Fearless Gardening as part of your list. Interesting that Private Gardens of Santa Barbara is from the same publisher as Private Gardens of the Pacific Northwest, it hadn't occurred to me that they were doing a "series"... or at least a loosely based one. I also love that notebook and might have to buy a pack for Andrew, he is so hard to buy gifts for!

  2. Thanks for the book list. Always on the lookout for something new.

  3. What a great list! I have several of these but I wasn't aware of the one focused on Santa Barbara by Margie Grace. I love her work so this will go on my personal list to Santa ;)


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