What do cold climate gardeners do in the winter, after they have wrung every drop of enjoyment out of their now-bedraggled seed catalogs? Why, they read gardening books, of course. To help my readers in this endeavor, I have assembled all the books that I have either read or are in my possession that relate to cold climate and short season gardening.
No, I have not read every single one. I garden in northeastern North America and I confess I haven’t read many of the books related to gardening in the cold climate West that I was sent to review. I have paged through them and given my best impression. I haven’t read all the books pertaining to my side of the continent, either. Just most of them.
And I was rather liberal with my criteria for inclusion here. I find that many authors who garden in a cold climate reflect that in their garden writing of a more general nature. This is a bias that is hard to avoid, because the author is used to certain seasonal changes and most familiar with plants and other gardens in the author’s region. I find I often glean little tips or insights from these authors, and even if I don’t, it pleases me to see examples in these books that I can relate to. So some of the books in my roundup are included for no better reason than that the author lived and gardened in a cold climate at the time the book was written.
I actually have more books I want to add to this list, but I am getting weary of adding more without sharing it with you. The winter is passing by and you need time to peruse the list and hunt up some new reading. And I know I have missed some good ones–feel free to let me know about your favorites in the comments. I attempted to arrange these alphabetically by title so as to not show favoritism. Let me know if you find a new treasure.
The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Buy the Best Plants in New England by Ruah Donnelly. Published before the internet with its search engines and online shopping became widely available, this book is somewhat dated now. However, it might be worth picking up a used copy if you live or travel in New England. I am sure some of these nurseries are still in business.
The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Buy the Best Plants in New York and New Jersey by Ruah Donnelly. Like the preceding book, a bit out-of-date. New Jersey is not a cold climate, but many parts of upstate NY are. I found a nursery 45 minutes from me that I had never heard of before, so this might be worth buying used if you frequent this area.
Apprentice to a Garden: A new urban gardener goes wild by Evelyn J. Hadden. Evelyn contracted “the mania that infected my mom and her mom” while living in Minnesota, so her adventures in gardening are filled with cold climate plants. Reviewed here.
The Art of Perennial Gardening: Creative Ways with Hardy Flowers by Patrick Lima. If ever you needed convincing that a cold climate garden could be beautiful, this book will do the job. Patrick Lima gardens in central Ontario, and there are new wonders and helpful tips on every page.
The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life by Margaret Roach. This is more of a meditative rumination of gardening, but it includes practical sidebars which may be helpful since Margaret Roach gardens in USDA Zone 5. A good read no matter where you garden, and reviewed here.
Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives by Evelyn J. Hadden. This teaches you how to transition from a yard to a garden, an immersive outdoor space that you can enjoy. Hadden lived in Minnesota when she wrote this book and many of the examples are Minnesota gardens, so a better pick for cold climates than Pam Penick’s Lawn Gone!,which is equally good but has a southern bias.
Cold-Climate Gardening: How to Extend Your Growing Season by at Least 30 Days by Lewis Hill. Written in 1981, long before we had the internet to inform us, this book is the one most likely to be in your public library. Keep in mind the hardiness zone map has been updated, there are organic solutions for many pests and diseases, and, of course, new hardy varieties are being developed all the time, so you don’t want this to be the only book you read on the subject. But it’s still a good place to start.
Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Ziegler. Although the author gardens in the south, many of the plants she features do well in our climate and become self-sowers. You might have to adjust the sowing schedule or be right on the ball to scatter seeds as soon as snow melts, but in general these are annuals, biennials, and half-hardy perennials that thrive in cooler climates. Maybe combine this book with Plantiful (review here)?
Down To Earth: Cold-Climate Gardens and Their Keepers by Jennifer Heath and Helen McAllister. Profiles of cold climate gardeners and their gardens in and around Fernie, British Columbia, arranged chronologically according to what should be going on in the garden at that point. This would be a supplemental book to mine for tips and tricks.
The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book by Mike Oehler. By building your greenhouse into the side of a south-facing slope, you can keep it warm enough to grow food in it year round, even in northern Idaho, where the author lives. Brief post here.
Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate by Brian Bixley. One of my all-time favorite collection of gardening essays. Brian Bixley is a contributor to this blog: after he stumbled upon my mention of his book, we became acquainted and the rest is history. Reviewed here.
The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman. If the books written by Eliot Coleman alone seem a little too intense and nerdy, try this one written by Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch. Half gardening manual, half cookbook, and much more accessible and doable.
Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, 2nd Edition by Eliot Coleman. A gardening classic. Eliot Coleman has the heart of a farmer and the mind of an engineer. Check out his website.
A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons by Philip Harnden. One of the most helpful books I’ve ever found for coping with the late frosts of spring and the early frosts of fall. Helps you understand what you’re up against and how to devise coping strategies. Reviewed here.
Gardening with Hardy Heathers by David Small and Ella May T. Wulff. Be forewarned: the authors consider any heather that grows well in USDA Zone 8 or colder to be hardy. So there will be heaths and heathers in this book that won’t grow for you. This is an extremely comprehensive book on the the subject and they do have a special listing in the back of particularly cold hardy varieties and species, so if you have acid soil high in organic matter and want to grow heathers, get this book.
Gardens Adirondack Style by Janet Loughrey The Adirondack Mountains in New York State have some of the highest elevations and lowest temperatures in the state, so this book provides plenty of design inspiration from public and private cold climate gardens. Also it was one of the first books I ever reviewed (Horticulture April 2006) so it will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Gardens of Use & Delight: Uniting the Practical and Beautiful in an Integrated Landscape by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardner. Self-reliant living in Zone 4 Nova Scotia, with detailed information on growing flowers.
The Greater Perfection: The Story of the Gardens at Les Quatre Vents by Francis H. Cabot. A heavy coffee table book that shows how fantastic a garden (actually multiple gardens on a huge estate) you can create in a very cold climate. I had the privilege and pleasure of visiting this garden in 2013, and I reviewed it here. (Also check out Kirk Brown going over the rope bridge.) A book for dreaming up your own dream garden.
Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise by Michele Owens. A gentle plea for the vegetable garden, written by a resident of an upstate NY cold climate. Perfectly delicious (pardon the pun) essays. My review here.
Growing Food in a Short Season: Sustainable, Organic Cold-Climate Gardening by Melanie J. Watts. All right, you whiners–read this. Melanie grows all her vegetables for a year in Canadian hardiness zone 3 (-30F to -40F). Really! Filled with common sense ways to efficiently grow, harvest, and eat your produce in the coldest of climates, the shortest of seasons. Check out her website.
Growing Perennials in Cold Climates: Revised and Updated Edition by Mike Heger, Debbie Lonnee, and John Whitman. This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started gardening. You really could know absolutely nothing about gardening, and this would teach you just about everything you need to know for the first five years or so. If you already consider yourself an intermediate gardener, at least check this book out of the library, read up on some of your favorite plants, and see if you don’t pick up a tip or two. The first edition of this book was reviewed here. The new edition follows the same format as the first edition, but the information and cultivars have been updated.
Growing Roses in Cold Climates: Revised and Updated Edition by Richard Hass, Jerry Olson, and John Whitman. If you have hesitated to grow roses but would like to start, this is the book for you. If you have previously grown roses in a warmer climate, this book will help you adjust. Reviewed here. Also check out The Minnesota Rose Gardener.
Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates: Revised and Updated Edition by Debbie Lonnee, Nancy Rose, Don Selinger, and John Whitman. Since shrubs and trees will be some of your most expensive plant purchases, it’s smart to invest in hardy ones. This book will guide you to excellent hardy varieties and includes sources.
Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Kelaidis. Succulents are quite “in” now and this book covers those hardy to Zone 5 and colder. Reviewed here and guest post by photographer Saxon Holt here.
Hardy Trees and Shrubs: A Guide to Disease-Resistant Varieties for the North by Robert Osborne. Not nearly as comprehensive as Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates, but it does cover big trees which the University of Minnesota Press book does not. Worthwhile picking up used, but not the first book on shrubs and trees to add to your library.
High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants by Robert Nold. Cold climates in different parts of the country vary considerably in the types of plants that do well there. If you garden in the mountainous west, this book will have more plants that suit your climate than books about northeast or even midwest cold climates.
Hydrangeas in the North: Getting Blooms in the Colder Climates by Tim Boebel. The author has done a lot of experimentation and has come up with a pruning and cultural regimen that enables cold climate gardeners to maximize bloom on mophead and lacecap hydrangeas. He considers “the North” to be USDA Zone 6 and colder, but I think these techniques will work through Zone 4.
The Inspired Garden: 24 Artists Share Their Vision by Judy Paolini. All of these gardens are located in New England, so most of them are located in cold climates. Sculpture in the garden features prominently, and each artist’s work described in a sidebar. Good ideas for displaying art in one’s garden.
Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota – 2nd Edition by Lynn M. Steiner. Most of Minnesota is USDA Zone 4 or colder, and most of Minnesota’s native plants are also native to most of the moist prairie and the Northeast. So even though this book is focused on Minnesota, it can help an awful lot of other people who are interested in gardening with native plants.
Living Seasonally: The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. A book of essays about growing food in Vermont. Note to vegetarians: “growing food” includes animals that they raise to eat, so you might not be able to “stomach” this book. Although not a how-to book, there are tips and inspiration on every page. I love their writing.
The Maine Garden Journal – Insider secrets from Maine people who love to put their hands in the dirt by Lisa Colburn. This is a compendium of knowledge and advice collected from gardeners all over the state of Maine, ranging from USDA hardiness zones 3b to 6a. Some of it is of value only to locals, but much of it is applicable to all northern gardeners east of the Mississippi.
Making the Most of Shade: How to Plan, Plant, and Grow a Fabulous Garden that Lightens up the Shadows by Larry Hodgson. A good basic book on shade gardening, full of tips. It even includes a section on what to do if your shade garden suddenly turns sunny. The author gardens in Quebec and his plant encyclopedia is biased toward cold climate gardening.
Mountain Gardening by Wanda B. Ferguson. Unless you live in the circulation range of the Rangeley Highlander (ME), you will probably never get your hands on this book, which is a compilation of the author’s gardening columns for that newspaper. Review here.
New England Gardener’s Handbook: All You Need to Know to Plan, Plant & Maintain a New England Garden by Jacqueline Heriteau. This book tries cover everything: annuals, perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, lawns and ornamental grasses, roses, vegetables and herbs, shrubs, vines, trees, and conifers. As you would expect, the coverage of each category is superficial. If you can only afford one book on New England Gardening, this book won’t steer you wrong, but the three-volume Growing . . . in Cold Climates published by the University of Minnesota Press will serve you better.
The New Northern Gardener by Jennifer Bennett. More information dense than the New England Gardener’s Handbook, and even though it is much older, not really out-of-date. One of the very first books on organic gardening in a cold climate, it includes chapters on seed-saving and harvesting.
The Northern Gardener: Perennials That Survive and Thrive by Barbara Rayment. This focuses on perennials hardy to Canadian Zone 3, which is roughly equivalent to USDA Zone 4. I like that she characterizes each plant by what habitat it thrives in. The habitats are described in the beginning, and after that it is mostly an alphabetical listing of plants, with interesting sidebars (Our Glacial Heritage, for example) tucked in. This will be especially helpful to those growing in the coldest climates or who face other challenging conditions where the habitat approach would be especially helpful.
Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West by Jane Shellenberger. This is a good introduction to organic gardening, no matter where you garden, as well as a handbook for gardening in semi-arid western North America.
Organic Gardening in Cold Climates
Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. Their third collection of co-authored essays. This one is organized alphabetically by title and doesn’t have as strong a theme running through it as their first two books. But it’s still lovely writing and includes tidbits of cold climate gardening throughout.
Plants for Atlantic Gardens: Handsome and Hard-working Perennials, Shurbs and Trees by Jodi DeLong. Jodi gardens in Nova Scotia, and has chosen plants that do well in windy, possibly salt-sprayed cold-climate gardens. In other words, these are tough, good-looking plants and may be just the ticket, even if you don’t live on the Atlantic coast. I love her sidebars and lists.
Prairie Winterscape: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season by Barbara Kam and Nora Bryan. Create interest in your garden when there’s two feet of snow on the ground. The authors garden in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and know whereof they speak. Reviewed here.
Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook: All You Need to Know to Plan, Plant & Maintain a Rocky Mountain Garden by Mary Ann Newcomer and John Cretti. The Intermountain West is a challenging area to garden in. This book has extensive plant encyclopedias, but you will find the introductory matter in each chapter invaluable, as well as the calendar at the end of each chapter. (“December: Go skiing.” Love it!)
The Roses at the End of the Road: Essays About Life in the Country… with Roses by Patricia Leuchtman. A memoir, tracing Pat’s gardening odyssey to its final destination at the end of a country road, where she grew many roses in a decidedly cold climate. Reviewed here.
Roses for Northern Gardeners by David Harrap. A basic little handbook on growing roses in cold climates. Black and white line drawings, no suggested cultivars. Never uses the word “organic” but believes “chemical pesticides have no place in the home garden.”
Step by Step Organic Flower Gardening by Shepherd Ogden. One of the first to write about growing flowers organically, Shepherd Ogden wrote this book while farming in Vermont, and writes with a cold climate bias, even though he’s not specifically writing for cold climates. A very thorough and comprehensive book.
Stonyground : The Making of a Canadian Garden by Douglas Chambers. I haven’t read this book yet, though I bought it in 2006. About all I know is the garden is located in Ontario, and is rather unique.
Taylor’s Weekend Gardening Guide to Cold Climate Gardening: How to Select and Grow the Best Vegetables and Ornamental Plants for the North by Rebecca Atwater Briccetti. This is a short overview of the challenges of cold climate gardening–a good book to read before you move to a cold climate to get a feel for what you will be up against. Published in 2000, the cultivar recommendations are out of date. I also know many cold climate growers of roses do not recommend using rose cones, but that is a matter of preference. Nonetheless, this is a good introduction to the subject.
Tender Roses for Tough Climates by Douglas Green. The first book on growing roses in cold climates that made sense to me. Bury the bud union, not the entire rose shrub. And if burying the bud union is not enough to bring it through the winter, don’t grow that rose. That’s it, in a nutshell. Currently a Kindle book. My review here.
Tending Your Garden: A Year-Round Guide to Garden Maintenance by Gordon and Mary Hayward. If you feel like you’re not working as efficiently in your garden as you could, this book will help you develop a maintenance schedule. Because the Haywards garden in Vermont, their schedule would suit many cold climate gardeners. Visit their website.
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Mountain States by Mary Ann Newcomer. Nicely organized by month, with an encyclopedia of vegetables in the back. If you want to grow vegetables in the mountain states, start with this book.
To Eat: A Country Life by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. Country life means not only growing your own vegetables but raising your own meat, although the authors didn’t do the butchering themselves. This is the last book Eck and Winterrowd, owners of the extraordinary garden at North Hill, wrote together, as Wayne Winterrowd died while it was in progress.
Tough Plants for Northern Gardens: Low Care, No Care, Tried and True Winners by Felder Rushing. The area Felder covers is so broad as to be almost meaningless, but most of the plants discussed in the book will grow in the colder climates. A good book to put newbies at ease. Reviewed here.
The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty by Lauren Springer. This book taught me a lot, even though it’s biased towards western, high-altitude cold climates. I learned that soil moisture has a profound effect on the winter hardiness of plants, for one thing. And I got my first lesson on cold stratification. And–perhaps the most important point of all–grow plants that are suited to your climate!
The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman. As I said before, he has the heart of gardener but the mind of an engineer. You need to be on top of your game to make a living as a farmer, and Eliot will show you how. He’s got every T crossed and every I dotted.
Wonders of the Winter Landscape: Shrubs and Trees to Brighten the Cold-Weather Garden by Vincent A. Simeone. This is not specifically targeted to USDA Zones 5 and colder, but most of the shrubs and trees he recommends will grow there. And cold climate gardeners certainly have a need for shrubs and trees that look good in winter.
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live by Niki Jabbour. If you are after maximum production from your cold climate vegetable garden, read this book first. It is far more accessible for the home gardener than any of Eliot Coleman’s excellent books, which are geared toward commercial production. Niki gardens near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. One of my all-time favorite books for wonderful writing that captures the pleasures of gardening in all seasons. The essays are organized by month, and every year I attempt to read each month’s chapter during that month, and wind up reading the entire book in–well, not quite a day, but as close to it as I can manage. Check out their website for visiting hours. My review here.
Your House, Your Garden: A Foolproof Approach to Garden Design by Gordon Hayward. Garden design isn’t limited to a certain region, but because Gordon Hayward lives and works in Vermont, many of the design examples are located in New England, so you will see gardens filled with plants you can grow. I really like this book.
The ZONE GARDEN: A SUREFIRE GUIDE TO GARDENING IN ZONES 3, 4, 5 by Charlotte Frieze. I’m sorry to say I found this book disappointing. Even though the information is accurate, I don’t believe the author actually gardens in the cold climate for which this book is targeted, and it sounds like all the information was gathered from seed and plant catalogs and books the author read, and not from hard-won experience.