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In the Garden: Books for armchair gardening

Carole McCray
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Books make great gifts. For gardeners on your holiday list or to treat yourself, here are some books for winter armchair gardening until you are back in your garden.

Most people associate Emily Dickinson with her poetry, but few know her as a gardener who loved tending to a small flower garden and a glass conservatory. Author Marta McDowell's "Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life" gives the reader an inside look at Dickinson's life at Amherst, Massachusetts, where Emily Dickinson's love and knowledge of plants inspired and informed her writing. You learn about her sharing her pressed flowers inserted in letters to friends and gifting fresh bouquets to friends, and how she spent time in her garden with her beloved plants and flowers. Published by Timber Press, McDowell's book is charmingly engaging as Dickinson's poems, historical photographs, lovely botanical art and excerpts from letters are woven throughout the book.

It might be difficult to find, but one of my favorite rereads, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, is Jacqueline Heriteau's "A Feast of Flowers." Whimsical and entertaining, Heriteau tells us how we can surround ourselves with flowers. Informative and also with humorous stories, readers will learn how flowers can be a part of our lives in all the seasons. Exquisite watercolors add to the delight of the book as "A Feast of Flowers" carries us through from one season to the next with ideas for creating potpourris, living centerpieces and holiday wreaths, forcing bulbs and branches indoors and planting in assorted containers and window boxes. For flowers every day in your life, indoors or outdoors, "A Feast of Flowers" is a lovely book to inspire you year-round.

Margaret Roach's lavish book, "A Way to Garden," published by Timber Press invites you into her garden with wisdom on gardening. Her book approaches each season with a metaphor of terms to relate to the months of the year. For instance, Conception refers to January and February, a new cycle and new season, and Adulthood for July and August. Throughout the book and related to the seasons, Marta addresses her garden, its plants and shrubs, the weather, gardening information, organic practices, birds and beneficial insects, and vegetable growing. The book is beautifully illustrated with gorgeous photographs, drawings and filled with Martha's humorous remarks and wit.

Often shrubs and hedges are overlooked when doing a garden. In "Shrubs and Hedges" by Eva Monheim, these underutilized components in a garden are showcased. The book offers advice on how to select the best shrubs for your growing conditions and profiles dependable, classic and new shrubs. Propagation of shrubs with how-to instructions, the best shrubs for pollinators and wildlife, and pruning illustrations are addressed in "Shrubs and Hedges." Monheim's book is filled with lavish photographs and, throughout her work, the readers will enjoy Eva's personal anecdotes and snippets of historical notes. One example of a bit of plant history: The shrub, Oyama magnolia (Magnolia sieboldii) was one plant that made it back in 1865 when there were numerous expeditions to Asia by plant hunters. According to Eva, this magnolia has been waiting for its star to shine ever since.

Armchair gardening is one of the best ways to be inspired and informed to ponder what you have planned for next year's garden.

Carole McCray resides in Cape May, New Jersey and is an award-winning garden writer who has been writing a monthly garden column, The Potting Shed, for regional newspapers for nearly 20 years. She won the Garden Writer's Association Award for newspaper writing for The Christian Science Monitor Newspaper.