True gardeners work on their gardens all year around. It's just that in the winter, when outdoor activity is curtailed, they do their gardening by imagination, with the help of the printed word.
Each year brings a new crop of garden books. This year's crop included some works on specialized topics that, for the person who shares that particular passion, will guarantee hours of happy reading and dreaming.
Here are my top choices in garden books for holiday giving this season.
Kathleen Brown's "Seasonal Container Gardening," (Michael Joseph/Viking; $29.95) takes the guesswork out of planting in pots. In 128 schemes -- or recipes as she calls them -- for displays both indoors and out, Ms. Brown provides ideas to keep flowers blooming throughout the year. All the usual styles of containers have been brought into play as well as some surprises. And with directions for making and caring for each design spelled out, the chances of a slip-up are practically impossible.
"Flowering Bulbs Indoors and Out," by Theodore James Jr., (Macmillan; $29.95) surveys in an informative text more than 85 types, all pictured in color photographs that capture their special charm. In recommending varieties and noting under each entry such characteristics as color, height, expected period and length of bloom as well as detailed instructions on planting and culture, Mr. James helps you determine which bulbs would best grow in your situation and keep it blossoming for the longest time.
"The Art of Planting," the title of Rosemary Verey's latest release, (Little, Brown; $40) might seem like a dry subject, but as she writes about it with such warmth and sensitivity you can hardly put the book down.
Ms. Verey describes a wide variety of plants, conveys the effects various combinations can create. She then describes how the qualities of form, color and texture in plants can be used in the landscape.
"Hardy Herbaceous Perennials," the two-volume set by Leo Jelitto and Wilhelm Schacht (from Timber Press, 9999 S.W. Wilshire, Portland, Ore. 97225; $125 plus $3.75 for shipping) is one of those references that forms part of the backbone of a gardening library. This work covers the field thoroughly and is filled with color photographs to help identify plants. The work updates and expands a revered publication first issued in German 40 years ago.
"The Small Garden Planner," by Graham Rose (Fireside/Simon & Schuster; $14.95) is the sort of book you'll enjoy reading and looking at over and over again. Almost every one of the book's 159 pages pictures a landscape setting. Mr. Rose's clear explanations of the compositions mean any of his models could be reproduced if the site and conditions were favorable. Mostly, though, he will teach you tricks for making a small garden seem much larger.
Only superlatives can adequately describe "More Decorating With Flowers," by Ronaldo Mia, published this month by Harry N. Abrams at $60. The book, with its opulent arrangements cast in lavish settings, oozes elegance and richness.
Anyone who delights in herbs will revel in Phyllis V. Shaudys' "Herbal Treasures," (Storey Communications; $22.95 hardcover; $14.95 paperback.) The book offers a complete menu of herbs from growing to cooking with to fashioning them into artistic creations.
Especially welcomed by vegetable gardeners should be "Oriental Vegetables," by Joy Larkcom (Kodansha;$29.95.) Subtitled "The Complete Guide to Garden and Kitchen," this compendium brings to light a little-known category of plants (to Westerners, at any rate) that, once their contributions to the landscape and the table are better known, should become as commonplace as lettuce and tomatoes.
Rodale's "Chemical-Free Yard & Garden," contains enough material to keep you studying from this holiday to the next. It covers, among other things, how to grow various flowers and vegetables organically, diagnose and control without harmful pesticides a multitude of insect and disease problems, and overcome the interference of weeds.
Graham Stuard Thomas' new book, "The Art of Gardening With Roses," (Henry Holt; $27.50) should excite anyone with a fancy for these well-loved flowers. In his book, Mr. Thomas presents the mechanics of designing a rose garden and then lays out a gallery of varieties to select from to put in it.
Two final choices: One, for do-it-yourselfers, is Terance Conran's "Garden Style," (Crown; $30) providing plans for more than 75 projects and designs; and the other, a choice item for the travel-minded, is "The Gardens of Europe," (Random House; $35), a guide through 700 public gardens that includes other interesting information, too.