At A Glance: The Library

My last post about the restoration of the paper mache cherubs included the above picture.  The cherubs aside, I had a number of comments about my library, and requests for more information about it.  As the last time I wrote about it was in 2009, I think it is fine to address it again. I have loved books my entire life. My Mom saw to that. The gardening books I bought in my twenties were focused on the horticulture of perennial plants. The library in my thirties expanded into woody plants and shrubs. I have a well worn copy of Michael Dirr’s book “The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants”. I am quite sure I read it cover to cover multiple times. And I still use it as a reference. Landscape design drove my book purchases in my forties, and in my fifties.  I collected books about landscape design, both historic and contemporary, in countries other than my own. The additions to my library from my sixties are dominated by monographs of specific landscape designers whom I admire. Don’t get me started on the names of those designers. It would be a written wave.

But that is what a library provides. Volumes of the printed word and photographs that can answer questions, inform planting schemes and teach good horticultural practices. They tell the story of the history of the garden, and their designers. Books are a window into history, and the work of others. My library informs my practice, but better yet, it informs my life. Landscape and garden design is my profession, and my clients have the right to expect that I have a well rounded education. I find that what I read informs my work. A good garden book is a busman’s holiday for me. I make a point of researching and buying new books every year. Reading the printed page is an absorbing and compelling activity I would not do without.  Yes, I have read all of the books in my library. Some several times over. Ursula Buchan’s book “The English Garden” I have read at least 4 times.  She is a great writer.

I have arranged my library as follows. All of my books are organized by topic. The very top shelf is populated by garden reference books. I have been gardening long enough to not need those books so often. But a ladder can get me to any volume I want to consult. I go up there more often than you would think. That said, I do use the internet to research horticultural topics. That was a source that was not available to me when I I first started collecting books. I can say that a good many articles on line are poorly thought out and barely skim the surface.  I like my books.

All of my books are organized by topic. The plant reference books are at the top of the bookshelf. Other reference books? Stone in the landscape.  Brick in the landscape-and so on.   I have other sections organized around gardens and landscapes by country.  Pictured above, a slice of my books on Italian gardens.  That section includes books referencing medieval Italian gardens, villa gardens, historic gardens-and contemporary Italian gardens.

The French section is wide. For obvious reasons. French landscape design, from formal French gardens to French country gardens is a force to be reckoned with.

The English landscape design section is long enough to acknowledge it is an important precursor to American landscape design.  Jenny Blom’s book “The Thoughtful Gardener” is outstanding.

I do have a shelf section devoted to design with a particular point of view.

A run of shelf space for American gardens and landscape designers-of course.

This lower self is as much about botany as it is about nature photography.

A library is a good place to spend time. All of those pages can inform a life. Can you tell I love my library? Of course I do. Read on about the value of a library, if you wish. February is a gardener’s reading month. Yes?     A library    


  1. February Midwest U.S. = National Macaroni and Cheese month

    Amazing, thoughtful post. Thank you.

    When I googled Ursula Buchan’s book “The English Garden”, I saw Brit dude Monty Don’s tomes recommended.

    His Netflix streaming European garden tour series are fascinating eye candy. Grand spring fever escapism.

    My naive garden tip? March 1st. Straight up: I will stick UV protected faux Hosta in kitchen window crosshairs.

    ❤️ Your passionate spirit and purposed garden verve, Deborah.

  2. I am so pleased that you shared your library with us your readers. I too have a library. Mine is in a room above our garage which used to be the children’s play room but is now a full blown library and computer room. It looks something like yours. I love my library. All my family loves to read. And yes, February is good for gardeners to read and I am reading and planning what to do in the yard and vegetable garden this summer. I also have mine shelved by subject. However I do not have those delightful cherubs I see hanging in yours…they must make you smile. I wonder if you would from time to time share titles and authors of gardening books with us so we may consider them for purchase to further enhance our own libraries and knowledge. From looking at your selections there are a lot more out there to consider. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  3. Carina Cassidy says

    Beautiful a library is a wonderful addition to home, office or communal space. The link to I Tatti is fantastic thank you.

  4. Donna Perdue says

    What a beautiful space!

  5. Katherine Kastle says

    Well. Dammit. I’d begun to convince myself that I didn’t need hardback books. The internet is a wealth of information, albeit not always good; but, who needs to spend money on books when it’s at your fingertips. So, to your article. Which I read on the Internet. Gaining knowledge about a subject we love is a hunger thing. I’m ordering the books you called out tonight. From Amazon. On the Internet. Because I need to need to understand what you learned from them and why you love them. As always, thanks for sharing.

  6. What a wonderful post. In addition to garden tours, woukdn’t It be wonderful to have garden library tours!
    What will be the disposition of your garden library? Luckily, I have the outstanding Birmingham AL Botanical Garden Library to receive my gift.
    June Mays

    • Thank you for recommending a particular garden library for a tour! Birmingham AL botanical garden library it is! Others?

  7. angela hastings says

    thank you for sharing your library; it feels to me a peaceful fulfilling place. I have a small library and your blog came just in time for me. I will buy a few of the books you mentioned to add to my library. I love reading and actually holding a book! But I also like the internet for quick look-ups. My mom taught me the ins and outs of basic gardening; transplanting; herbs. She recently passed and I cherish what she taught me. Over the years, I started designing fresh flowers for weddings and events. I love working with all the different flowers and greens. soon after, in between slow business times, I began tackling how to design my yard a section at a time.
    thanks for your blog. I look forward to the next one. If I may, I have a question. I have a four hundred foot lawn that goes up against my neighbors yard. There are wild bushes, thorns, thick weeds etc. which the neighbors don’t keep up with. I went ahead and planted some hardy snow ball bushes (white hydrangeas) all along the side of my lawn abutting my neighbors mess of bushes. All winter I am thinking how can I prevent these wild bushes from swallowing up my hydrangeas. I thought of a fence but truly love a more natural approach. I thought of some kind of evergreen bush or tree. It could act as a fence, and possibly prevent the wild bushes to choke my hydrangeas. what are your thoughts? thank you in advance.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Angela, thank you for your letter. It sounds to me like you should have a professional designer take a look in person at your situation. All the best, Deborah

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says

    I love seeing other people’s libraries. It is also fun to have hints as to some of your favorite books. I know that it is difficult to choose a favorite because that may change as the day wears on.
    For those of us that won’t ever be able to get over to Italy to see such a magnificent library as the one you shared here we could go to see Bunny Mellon’s garden library.

  9. I love gardens and libraries, how lucky to be able to have a library just for gardening books! This is what excites me. I’m guessing this is your dining room, as well, or is it strictly study only? Beautiful share!

  10. Dear Deborah,

    Linda Yang, James van Sweden, Henry Mitchell, Russell Page, Julian & Isabelle Bannerman, Molly Salisbury, Hugh Johnson, Joe Eck, Gordon Hayward, Beth Chatto, Christopher Lloyd, Rosemary Verey, Ken Druse, Louis Benech and Sydney Eddison; all are gardening authors I very much enjoy.

    To be sure, I think it is time for you have a book. Your passion is infectious and seasoned with hands-in-the-dirt experience. You share your expertise as if your readers were family. And in a manner that is the perfect antidote to so much precious garden writing.

    The Henry Mitchell quote: “the most elegant gardens always retain a certain earthiness,” underlines how missing from garden writing your mix of style and practice is. You could make an excellent gardening primer using the best of your blog. Something along the lines of: Insider Gardening Verve & Grit: a Detroit Garden Designer Shares her Take on Gardening Through the Seasons and the Years.

    Your Dirt Simple blog is where I learned to make beautiful, scale-appropriate container gardens for the four seasons, how to prune a hydrangea, why Vapor Guard is necessary if I am going to try boxwood again, why a hori hori knife is the one and only indispensable gardening tool, why I should try Boston Ivy again, and why I will again plant trees and shrubs in containers.

    To conclude, I will tell one on myself: I changed container drainage material from packing peanuts to the cedar chips which you use. Because nothing is as much fun as chasing dirty packing peanuts around in the cold wind when you only want to change the soil in your container. But I began with Linda Yang on a balcony and that is what she used.

    Nobody combines the best of gardening style in the down to earth manner that you do. Thank you for sharing these lessons even if you never get around to writing a book.


    • Patricia Mullan says

      I concur and applaud. I’m also looking forward to the possibility of one more trip to Helen Dillon’s new garden in Ireland. Her writing reflects so much of your attention to creating landscapes that bring joy and are sustainable.

      Of note: I’d so appreciated living in Ann Arbor with its commitment to public libraries. However, the collective decision to “purge want doesn’t assign you status” has been disappointing. What settings could be recommended in addition to your bookcase to making written text and photos available?


      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Patricia, I am not sure I understand your question. If you are asking for computer settings, I am not the person to ask. I am old school! best regards, Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, thank you for your letter. If you think that I share with others as if they were my family, my writing has been successful. I would do whatever I could to encourage people to garden. In my opinion, everyone should garden, if they have the inclination. The idea to teach was an idea I got from my Mom. She told me once that if I were able to teach, I should. She was a teacher her whole working life. I remember and respect that, and I teach as best I can, in her memory.
      There are a lot of great books out there. Henry Mitchell’s collected columns from the Washington Post in book form I have read over and over again. The books of Lewis Thomas are a must read for anyone who loves the natural world. I could go on-but every gardener needs to trust their own instincts. There are thousands of books out there on gardening, landscape and garden design-many and most of which are good and interesting. I am not sure I have anything significant to add to the body of work already out there. But I do enjoy writing an essay every so often. If what I have written has informed your gardening practices, I am happy. Thank you so much for writing-I so enjoy your letters.

  11. Joyce Baker says

    I am so happy to learn another person loves books as much as I do. My soul is soothed even sitting looking at the shelves of my library seeing the books and that I can hold them while reading rather than on a screen.

    My favorite refrigerator magnet reads: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” Quote by Cicero

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joyce, my library and my garden has provided a foundation for a life I truly enjoy. Sounds like you feel the same. thanks for reading, Deborah

  12. Would you please consider sharing who/how you built the book shelves? The architecture is enticing and the choice of colors lets it blends in and makes the books visible in ways many book shelves do not!
    One of the writers and gardeners I most admire: Loudell Snow at Michigan State, retired from anthropology.
    She too commissioned shelves that fit the space but provided a welcoming home to readers.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Patricia, my contractor for the transformation of a machine shop into Detroit Garden Works and my office is retired now. But I can tell you he built the shelves from 2″ by 12″ lumber- 2 by 12’s, as they call them. The lower 2 shelves stand proud of the upper shelves. I do not know how he did this, but I doubt it is tough to figure out. Nothing fancy here-stock lumber. I supplied him the average heights of my books. Tall books, and average books. The short books are wedged in by topic. Some very deep books have had to be set on end, but they are few and far between. The shelves have worked out for me. I will have to look up Loudell Snow. best regards, Deborah

  13. cathy bandoian says

    You never have too many gardening books. People ask if i read and I say, not novels, I read gardening books. On my first trip to England to tour gardens many years ago I had to buy a suitcase just to haul back all the books I bought there…mostly at the Royal Horticultural Gardens gift shop at Wisley. I’m always on the quest for the perfect gardening book…haven’t found it yet.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks for writing, Cathy. I am curious. What would be the topic of the perfect gardening book be? Or, what would make that certain garden book perfect?? best, Deborah

  14. Beautifully written and thoughtful – as per usual!

  15. I love this post. Ever so often I will come back to this post and cross reference what books I now have, that I was first exposed to while working for you. It’s amazing how many of these books have changed my view of nature, art and architecture. I will forever love this library and what it represents. Thanks for being a great mentor you, and thanks for sharing your perspective with the rest of us. Hope you’re doing great. Missing Michigan looking at your posts!!
    Amanda Wakefield

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