Book for Christmas? These could be a good introduction to Garden Design.

There is an endless supply of books on garden design, gardening, plants and every possible associated subject. WARNING: its an addictive hobby, once you start collecting them…

These books aren’t the very latest releases, but I found them to be useful, easy to dip into, and between them, cover a decent range of subjects. Someone with little or no knowledge of garden design wouldn’t be overwhelmed by any of them, but I would expect even more knowledgable plants-people would enjoy reading them as well.

If, having read them, you decide you want to go on to hire a garden designer, they also may well help you decide what you want from your new garden.

1. Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritson.


Available from Amazon

Oudolf is one of the most influential planting designers of recent times, as well as a prolific author and globally successful nurseryman. For many, the term naturalistic planting will instantly bring his name to mind. The late Henk Gerritson was the creator of Priona in the Netherlands, a garden where the planting is allowed to fight it out with weeds – no weedkillers or pesticides – in order that the garden is as natural as it can be. So, it should come as no surprise that the book focuses on tough, reliable plants that will create a natural looking garden.

Usefully broken into sections covering Tough, Playful and Troublesome, the book is easy to use and contains close-up photography to accompany many of the plants listed. The book focuses on reliable plants, and many of the somewhat wryly written descriptions allow the reader to benefit from the extensive real-world experience of the authors. One of the greatest benefits the book delivers, is that it allows the reader to seek out some more unusual plants, with less worry about them surviving beyond year one.

Whilst the main attention is on herbaceous perennials, a wide range of plants – ferns, shrubs, bulbs – are covered.

The book is an accessible and quite extensive guide to dependable plants for a variety of situations and conditions. Whilst it doesn’t cover how to combine plants for best visual effect, there are plenty of resources available (Pinterest for example) for that purpose which can be used in conjunction with the book. Should you find this book enjoyable, and be interested in this style of planting from a design perspective, a good companion might be “Designing with Plants”, also by Piet Oudolf.


2. RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design

encyclopedia-of-garden-design cover
RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design

Available from Amazon

A real jack-of-all-trades, the Encyclopedia of Garden Design, one of the RHS’s many heavy-duty publications, covers pretty much every aspect of how to design your garden. Starting with “How to Design”, there are many useful prompts in terms of what to think about when starting to plan a garden design. Colour psychology, planting design, material choices and a range of design styles are all covered. Construction methods are also outlined for many garden features.  The book is highly visual, with photography outweighing text, so plenty of ideas and inspiration are available for any reader more inclined to skim than study.

garden design encyclopedia contents
RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design

There are some useful guides at the back of the book, covering plants (broken into trees, water plants, shrubs etc, categorised in sizes), and also materials; walls, railing, screens, gates, containers and much more.

As much as the book covers a great deal of ground, many of the topics are extensive enough to have their own publications written about them – and do have – so really the book introduces the reader to what Garden Design is, in terms of what to consider and the basics of how to approach it.

It’s an attractive book which is easy to dip in and out of, and a good starting point for anyone interested in how to have a go at redesigning their own garden, and even building it themselves.

3. The Complete Planting Design Course by Hilary Thomas and Steven Wooster

Complete planting design course

Available from Amazon

In contrast to the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design, this book, as its title suggests, concentrates on how to construct effective planting schemes – hard landscaping or other garden features are not covered.

The underlying principles of good design are covered in detail, as is the planting design process. Different planting styles are discussed, and for each style, example planting plans are provided, along with lists of appropriate plants for each. Plenty of photos make it easy to visualise the schemes in reality.  It is easy enough

The book is thorough enough to inspire confidence in a reader that having read it, you could confidently put together a highly effective planting scheme. Although not quite the spirit of the book, the planting plans provided could simply be copied as they are shown, and would work well in many average gardens with little or no modification.