Roots and Shoots: Gifts for Gardeners

These books will get them through the off-season

By Pamela Doan

With visions of juicy tomatoes and fat bumblebees dancing in our heads, gardeners are gazing out the window, thinking about a spring thaw and the possibilities. Here are Roots and Shoots’ recommendations for books as holiday gifts that could satisfy anyone on your list who likes to get their hands down in the soil.

What gardener wouldn't like to see this under the tree? (Photo by P. Doan) 

What gardener wouldn’t like to see this under the tree? (Photo by P. Doan)

Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation by Donald J. Leopold

Leopold is a professor of environmental and forest biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and has been studying native plants in their ecosystems for decades. This hardcover guide is detailed and filled with photographs and descriptions of hundreds of vines, shrubs, flowers, grasses and trees that are native to our area. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone interested in ecologically sensitive landscaping. Available from the New York Botanical Garden (

Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit by Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace

This lush book will appeal to anyone who wants to understand more about botany and plant functions but doesn’t want a textbook. The photos have gotten high praise and it looks like a serious visual treat as well as a fascinating exploration of the lives of seeds. Available from Timber Press  (

How to Identify Plants by H. D. Harrington

If you don’t know what’s in the landscape around you, it’s hard to understand it. This book was first published in the 1950s but its illustrations and glossary still stand out for anyone who wants to classify plants. It’s been updated with digital enhancements but just appreciate how all of it was hand-drawn for the first edition. Available from the New York Botanical Garden (

The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change by Kenneth Druse

Published earlier this year, this book approaches landscaping and gardening in the context of extreme weather, rising temperatures and erratic precipitation. Plants and trees sequester carbon, of course, and shade gardens can be beautiful and effective tools. This guide includes plant lists, basic topics and more advanced advice about how to extend an existing shade garden. Available from McNally Jackson Booksellers (

Onward and Upward in the Garden By Katherine White, with an introduction by E. B. White

White was the fiction editor of The New Yorker for 34 years and also published her own essays in the magazine as a gardening columnist in the 1950s. This collection of her essays was gathered by E.B. White after her death and published in the 1970s. Katherine White began by reviewing gardening catalogues with a witty and incisive style. The New York Review of Books reissued the collection this year and her deep appreciation for the natural world will get anyone through the long, cold winter. Available from McNally Jackson Booksellers (

Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards by Sara Stein

This book, first published in 1993, has been recommended to me dozens of times. It’s considered to be the bible for an environmental approach to gardening naturally and in harmony with your ecosystem. If you have either a new gardener who is looking for a way forward or someone with an established garden who wants to change their approach, this gift will hit the mark. Available at

Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerces Society

Bee populations are crashing and our home landscapes lacking in pollinator-friendly plants contribute to their difficulties. This guide from the Xerces Society, a nonprofit with decades of experience protecting and preserving pollinators and butterflies and other invertebrates, includes plant lists for different regions for home gardeners who want to create pollinator-friendly landscapes through the seasons. Available at

The Hudson Primer, The Ecology of an Iconic River by David L. Strayer

Want to look out on the Hudson and better understand how it works and the aquatic life it supports? Strayer is a freshwater ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook. He has studied the Hudson River for decades and this non-technical book will leave the reader with a new perspective when enjoying the view. Available from University of California Press (

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