Weeding the bookshelf

Never mind square-foot gardening. I need help with square-foot gardening books. In this age of online info, I try to be restrained about buying only what I’ll refer to again and again. But my bulging blookshelf shows I’m not restrained enough. There might be people with more; my guess is they have more space.

Trouble is, I love books. Love the physical nature of them. Nothing online combines the wow-factor of a full-bleed image with info that reloads as fast as the flying, flicking finger.

Swapping around my book collections over the holidays has forced me to take stock. My shelves overfloweth. Surely I can divest. But how?

Certainly not if it involves rock-solid reference books like my well-thumbed copy of Michael Dirr’s essential Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, or the massively handy, but massive A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (mine published by Reader’s Digest).

The first book I pulled for consideration was my 1971 edition of the Chatelaine Gardening Book, the book our mother used. But there it was on the end papers: the colour map of Canada, with our wonderfully wacky zones. It’s a Canadian classic! How could I think of divorce? Back on the shelf it went.

Way back in 1985, my husband and three-month-old son (he had good taste) gave me my first major gardening book, the Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening in Canada. It remains an excellent all-round reference (especially when augmented by my highlights and marginal notations). It stays.

Then there’s the Handbook of Edible Weeds, a book I bought on sale in a French bookstore in Québec thinking the price tag said $22 (but was $72). My innumeracy in spoken French being what it is, I didn’t realize my mistake until after I’d signed the credit card chit. That one has a story. It can’t possibly go. Plus, looking at the Amazon link I just posted, it now seems that $72 was a good buy.

All my garden porn books by names like Hobhouse or Verey. Or one-of-a-kind reference tools like Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners or single species reference books on grasses, clematis or geraniums. Gotta have ’em.

What about Trees of Ontario by Linda Kershaw. Hmmm. I don’t remember having this. Out it comes. I crack the spine for the first time and I see why I bought this handy pictorial field guide with its useful photos and well-designed identification key. This one doesn’t go back onto the shelf. It goes with me into the living room with a cup of tea for a nice read.

[pause. you can see my problem.]


  1. I feel the same way about clearing out the garden bookshelves. It' s something I've tried to do but I never seem to get rid of any books. I'm glad you've decided to keep Dirr, I love all his books, even the gigantic "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants"!

    Christine in Alaska

  2. You have quite the library. I am green with envy. I am so cheap, I usually check them out at the library. Unless they are a "must have". Keeps the collection in check.
    Good luck and happy new year to you.

  3. The new books are beautiful, the 1950s books are fond reminders of avid gardeners in the days of black-and-white photos. What's a reader to do?

    I think we need a guest post on how to build more bookshelves.

  4. Yes. I see and share with the pain that this dilemma must be affording you. My theory… you can always add another bookshelf! Hell, only yesterday I picked up Patrick Lima's book on perennials for…$1 at the local second hand store. Did I need it? No! Will it make a wonderful addition to my existing library! Indeedly so! Imelda Marcos had her shoes…… we can surely have our books….. besides I'm sure your sister would have some spare room if push were to come to shove! What are siblings for after all? LOL!!

  5. I hear you, sister. My own experience tells that if I get rid of something today, I will need it tomorrow. Well, sometimes. Once in a while, I use this method: I box certain items, sign and keep that box for a couple of years.If I don't open that box for two years, I get rid of it.

  6. I understand as I gaze at my piles of books wanting for shelf life. Books… we can never have too many… perhaps you could make a base for a table and then remove the top when you need a certain book. Silly I know.

  7. I have also run out of room for gardening books; I am beginning to stack them on the floor. That's about the only thing that restrains future purchases. I love garden books! My husband challenged me to get rid of some, and I felt a stab to my heart – I read them all again and agin. How could I?

  8. I will never tell you to weed your bookshelf, Helen. As someone who has over 500 gardening books, I could never bear to give any away. Even though, some of them I will never open again. They all refer to different points in my gardening phases. More bookshelves please!

  9. Helen, I'm starting to realize that one of the advantages to being an academic may be that we are supposed to be book addicts! If I have overflowing bookcases in every room and piles of books on the floors, it's just one of those quaintly eccentric professorial things. 🙂 So, I don't really have any room for them — but, what the heck, I'm going to buy some more books! -Jean

  10. Christine, Yes, I love Michael Dirr. Not only he informative and comprehensive, but refreshingly opinionated.

    Rosey, I am cheap about many things. I shop at thrift stores (great book buys there, by the way), I buy generic, I make things from scratch. But I buy books. And, I should say, I also blow a lot of money on plants. But I'm trying to tap my inner cheap in 2010.

    DP, I few people have suggested more bookshelves, and I think that's a wonderful idea. The ones I have in mind have plenty of empty space on them. I'm very fond of my vintage gardening books, as well as the glossy new ones. Sadly for me, I already have a growing yardage of new books on my wish list.

    Teza, Shoes and books is a wonderful analogy. I love shoes, but it's far easier for me to say no to a great pair than to a great book. I'm sure Sarah would be willing, but she is even more space-challenged than I am!

    Tatyana, I think I have a couple of your boxes down in my basement!

    Cute idea, Carol. The table would have to be glass-topped so you can see the titles. Or, amend that, plexiglass-topped — because it would be likely to topp-le. I might also experiment with book chairs and book cushions. Could start a whole new trend.

    Deb, I'm with you there. It's hard to part with mine, too.

    Deborah, 500! Wow. I'm in awe. I aspire to 500 — what am I saying?!

    Linda, Very true. Winter's the time for reading, not weeding.

    Jodi, Send your husband over! My man is very handy, but I'd have to wait till school's out in the summer to snag him for a shelf-building project.

    Jean, Quaintly eccentric R Us (and I can't claim to be professorial)!

    Thanks for dropping by, everyone!

  11. "1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die" is currently lying by my bedside…Looking at my tendency to accumulate gardening books and lug them around with myself, I doubt I could ever cull any books from my shelf…

  12. *Chuckle*

    I have exactly the same problem Helen. Even borrowing some from the library this year hasn't prevented me from taking my book quota well above the shelf space available.

    Last year I squeezed in a whole new bookcase into my study. It's full and I have at least 30 books without shelf space available.

    I can't bear to weed any books out to make space for them either!

  13. How funny, Helen! I think we suffer from the same malady, just loving every book we have. A few years ago we made a big clean up of them and gave box after box of lovely gardening books with loads of photographs to our local library. The ladies there cried tears of joy as they helped bring them inside from the car. It made me feel happy that many others can now peruse them. Of course that gave me permission to buy more. HA 🙂

  14. Funny how many of us have the same problem. We can form a support group. I have only found two ways I can purge some of my garden books. One is to give more general books to those becoming interested in gardening. The other is to sell a few books in order to buy new books. Either way the collection still grows.

  15. I grew up in a house with over 10,000 books and over 1000 Hybrid Teas. I may not grow Hybrid Teas any more, but I do have over 100 garden books and look forward to the day I inherit a few thousand dating back over 400 years. I created BotanyBuddy because I can't USE them as I would like, but it doesn't mean I don't love them like I should.

    Great Post!

  16. You have a great library of garden books, I'm envious! My husband has forbidden the purchase of any more books for anybody in our house, so I have to check everything out of the library or have people give me books as gifts, so mine is under control. But your's is much better.

  17. I also love collecting gardening books. But, my bookshelf is getting a little crowded. Perhaps, I will get rid of those books that I haven't opened in over 10 years?

  18. I too recognize many of these books. Hope you don't mind if I copy this in one of my future posts. It seems like a good point of departure to discuss winter reading.

  19. Is this post copywrited or can I lift it, change the Canadian references and post it as my own? ;)At the best of times I relate… Right now, in preparation for letting my cottage to weekenders, I'm moving into more cramped accommodation, likely to continue for a year or three. I need to select 2m of books from my 10 and file the rest away in my late mother's wardrobes. The dangers of getting side-tracked whilst making the selection are many and there is much else to do…

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