Gardening books can be expensive. Many times has the woeful gardener, starved for the horticultural experience, purchased a promising book for $29.95, only to get it home and discover it was merely worth a glance. Or perhaps he purchased it in January of 2004, and its still sits unread, mocking him from the shelf in the den. The local library is cheap, there are no losses from an unworthy book, and many blustery nights can be guiltlessly spent thumbing through the pictures without reading.

There are some helpful hints when checking out gardening books at the library. Armed with these tips, the Winter Gardening Blues can lead to Winter Gardening Inspiration. But the tips must be heeded.

Don't check out more than you can carry. Gardening books are enormous, or at least the good ones are. If you are ambitious and you don't want to go to the library often, you may prepare yourself by working out. The rest of us will go daily. The carts strategically located in the library may tempt you, but do not give in. You still have to get them to your car, and from the car to your house. Three generous tomes is usually the limit. The frail may have to settle for two.


Memorize the aisles of gardening books. This makes you look like an expert rather than a browser. We can't have anyone thinking you picked up a gardening book because you happened to wander by. You may have the blues, but you are a GARDENER, after all. The gardening books are located in the 635 section of the Dewey Decimal System. The number is reserved for Garden Crops. The numbers on either side, 634 and 636, are for Orchards, Fruits and Forestry, and Animal Husbandry respectively. The 700's are good too, with 712 reserved for Landscape Architecture, and 719 for Natural Landscapes. Everything in between is relevant, but I usually skip 718, Landscape Design of Cemeteries. While I don't want folks thinking I'm a browser, I also don't want them thinking I'm weird. Do not forget the Oversize Book section. Most libraries have separate shelving for oversize books, and the lion's share of good gardening books are there. Remember the first tip, however. Three is the limit.

Get those hard-to-find items now. The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants will not be available in the spring. Carrots Love Tomatoes will fly off the shelves right before the tomato plants appear at Lowe's. If you really have a goal of reading the Western Garden Book, check it out now. You won't have time to read it when it's planting season.


Consider this your opportunity to pick up something you would normally be embarrassed to buy. If you have always admired one of those little cutesy Sunset books at Home Depot, but would die if your neighbor saw it on your coffee table, check it out now. Who's going to see it in the three weeks before it's due? If someone does call you on it, claim it was an accident. Read these types of books first. If you have to check it out a second time, your reputation will be ruined beyond repair.

Do not forget to fill the rest of us in on your opinion of the book while you're busy reading and learning. That's what the Dave's Garden Bookworm is for. It will also give you tips of what to check out. I usually print a list from the Garden Bookworm, look up the Dewey Decimal number on my local library's web site, write it on the list and head to the library. Nothing makes you look more like an expert than knowing exactly what you're after. It impresses the librarians too. Make your voice sound highbrow. "Excuse me. I'm looking for The Complete Guide to Conservatory Plants by Ann Bonar, but you only have her earlier works." Add a fake accent if you need to. Librarians love that kind of talk.

Beware what is next to the gardening books. It pays to remember the Dewey Decimal tip. Suffice it to say that Annual Recipes from Southern Living are not instructions on frying marigolds or making a romantic Love-In-A-Mist Salad. I made this mistake once. My family has never let me live it down. "Look Mom doesn't know what a cookbook is!" Well, perhaps I don't, but I don't want to learn either. That book almost cost me having to cook from scratch.

Again, I say...


Speaking of costly mistakes, use special caution to avoid the granddaddy of them all. I got Tracy Di-Sabato-Aust's The Well-Tended Perennial Garden for Christmas, so I took the library copy back right after the holidays. I have checked that book out, renewed it, taken it back to check it out again the next day, renewed it, ad infinitum. I almost considered it mine. But the library book wasn't mine, as the librarian reminded me while taking my cash. I guess it was due in September. I tried getting out of it by saying, "Gardening season ended in September, and I really needed that book then. Nobody has looked for it since, have they?" Librarians don't like that kind of talk. The fake accent didn't help. Did I mention costly mistakes?

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)