I did not grow up with any kind of food producing garden and I didn't grow up in the zone or even region where I now live, so watching and visiting gardens only went so far. Otherwise, I've mostly tried, failed and asked questions of people who have more experience gardening. There is probably no book out there that is better than asking for help (besides, other gardeners often like to give you plants when you ask for help and books never do that).
Still, it never hurts to have some books to look at and get inspired by, just like it never hurts to pull out all your favorite gardening magazines and drool over the beautiful landscapes.
Here then my short list of gardening books.
- A good regional reference book. I have this one. I don't use it as much as I probably should, but it is especially helpful when one is just getting started.
- Gardening for Dummies Most of the "for Dummies" books I've looked at are very good introductions to a topic. The publishers seem to do a good job finding the right experts to write for them.
- The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. I checked this out from the library last year and loved it. I found it very informative and full of interesting ideas and garden designs. It's a book I would love to own.
If I were going to suggest one more book, it might be a good plant encyclopedia. It's very helpful to know what you've got already and to help you figure out what else you might want.
Another good resource comes to my house every year in the form of plant catalogs. Not all of them are created equal. Some of the cheapo ones like Spring Hill and Michigan Bulb offer great deals, but you will find a lot of warnings of poor customer service and refunds that never arrive out there on the web. I've only ordered from one of them and I had some plants survive and some that didn't, and I did not get any money returned to me.
Simply for reference and drooling purposes, I especially like White Flower Farm and High Country Gardens, which although offering many things for the Western garden that won't work in Tennessee, also specializes in xeriscaping and who doesn't like the idea of a waterwise garden?