For armchair gardeners pining for spring

Bleak and snowy outside? These lush reads will have you dreaming green.

(Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Carol Stocker
Globe Correspondent / January 7, 2010

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January and February are the reading months for gardeners trapped indoors. Here are some of the best garden books from 2009.

“Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love,’’ by Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, $30) takes gardeners through six steps to release their “inner designer.’’ This book helps home lovers make their outdoor spaces as comfortable and beautiful as their interiors. I like the “before’’ and “after’’ photos (which I always find more trustworthy in garden design books than drawings.) In another new book, “The Toronto Music Garden’’ (Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio Inc., $15), Messervy celebrates the 10th anniversary of her garden design collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. Their award-winning garden interprets the six movements of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 through plantings and pathways that invite different moods. Originally proposed for windswept City Hall Plaza, it met with Menino administration disinterest, and was snatched by the city of Toronto, which arranged much of the funding and permitting in a single day. It’s the public garden that got away.

“Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From a Gloucester Garden,’’ written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, $35), is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden gift book. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of an amateur gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hands-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors. Someone just discovering gardening would be swept away by this book.

There are few garden writers as pleasant to stay indoors with as Connecticut-based houseplant expert Tovah Martin. She rediscovers and updates a classic Victorian garden technique in “The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature,’’ with photographs by Kindra Clineff (Clarkson Potter, $25). They show how to use glass containers ranging from old aquariums and apothecary jars to antique Wardian cases to create miniature enclosed environments with the high humidity craved by orchids, mosses, begonias, ferns, and many other plants. Most resources listed are in New England.

If your garden has deer, pick up “Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals,’’ by Neil Soderstrom (Rodale Inc., $23.95). It includes more than a thousand plants considered unpalatable plus seasonally adjusted defensive strategies for this turf battle.

Scent is a sense too often underused in gardens. “Fragrant Designs,’’ edited by Beth Hanson (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, $9.95), lists the most fragrant roses and bulbs, and suggests plant combinations for scented paths and container gardens.

“Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes,’’ by Judith B. Tankard (Monacelli Press/Random House, $60). Like her famous aunt, Edith Wharton, Farrand escaped the gilded cage of the Gilded Age through professional success in a man’s field. One of the first women in landscape architecture, she is survived by the magnificent Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., which is now a research institute of Harvard University, but not by her own famous garden on Mount Desert, Maine. Tankard explains how that was lost.

If you want to take an armchair garden tour, I recommend “Great Gardens of America,’’ by Tim Richardson, photographed by Andrea Jones (Frances Lincoln Ltd., $50). A Londoner selects 25 iconic American gardens and tries to explain what’s American about them. Farrand’s Dumbarton Oaks is featured, as is Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag in Stockbridge.