Martha Just Moved Her Prized Collection of Gardening Books to Bedford—These Are a Few of Her Favorite Volumes

Our founder has been collecting these tomes, many of which have informed her own garden designs, for decades.

Martha Stewart in private library
Photo: Dana Gallagher

A voracious reader since childhood, Martha has amassed hundreds of gardening books over the decades. When she moved out of her home in East Hampton last year, she transported boxes of books to Bedford, where she's carving out space for them in her library. Ahead, Martha shares some of her favorite authors and titles, from rare illustrated volumes that spark her imagination to essential manuals that help her design, plant, and grow.

I was brought up to revere books. On my weekly visits to Nutley Public Library, I rarely missed an opportunity to borrow 5 or 10 at a time, to devour in my room after dinner dishes were done and my siblings were asleep. I started collecting them in earnest when I was a young married mother and homemaker. When a subject interested me, such as cooking, gardening, or landscape design, I'd buy as many volumes as I could afford from my neighborhood bookstores. Once I started writing my own books (my first was Entertaining, in 1982), my publisher would give me books as gifts, and I was ecstatic. My husband at the time became the publisher of Abrams, a renowned art-publishing house, and our joint collection grew and grew.

Martha's essential gardening books
Dana Gallagher

Soon after that, I started building a gardening library. I have always admired the library of the late philanthropist and passionate gardener Bunny Mellon, and the amazing collections at the New York Botanical Garden and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, in England. I became fascinated with antique illustrated volumes, and met a bookseller, Glenn Horowitz, who helped me find them. With his guidance, I unearthed rare monographs on specific types of plants and books by Humphry Repton, Capability Brown, Nicholas Culpeper, and Elizabeth Blackwell. I gathered 19th-century works by Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson; and 20th-century texts by English experts Beverley Nichols and Vita Sackville-West, and Americans Helena Rutherfurd Ely and Daniel Hinkley.

Until recently, I housed everything in East Hampton. Since I sold that place last year, I have been struggling to find space in my Summer House in Bedford. I already have many, many books there, but little by little I am editing them down to make room for these precious volumes that offer advice, inspiration, and instruction. Having such beautiful, valuable information at one's fingertips is not only useful, but also a total joy.

Shelf Life

Herb Garden Design, by Faith H. Swanson and Virginia B. Rady (University Press of New England, 1984), is filled with practical garden layouts.

Martha's gardening classics books
Dana Gallagher

Recommended Reading

These classics by (from top) Elizabeth von Arnim, Helena Rutherfurd Ely, Beverley Nichols, and Louise Beebe Wilder have all influenced how Martha gardens. Von Arnim's Elizabeth and Her German Garden (Macmillan, 1900) inspired her to design and plant her extensive peony beds, and she read all of Ely's works when planning her first landscapes.

Commercial Gardening volume set
Dana Gallagher

Lifelike Illustrations

The four-volume set Commercial Gardening, edited by John Weathers (Gresham Publishing Co., 1913), contains beautifully detailed illustrations.

The Auricula garden book
Dana Gallagher

Fine Art

Many of Martha's books include stunning colored plates of flora, such as this Iris reticulata in The Florist, Fruitist, and Garden Miscellany (1860) and branch of 'Early Richmond' cherries in The Cherries of New York, by U. P. Hedrick (J. B. Lyon Co., 1915). The Auricula, by Rowland Biffen (Garden Book Club, 1951), is an in-depth guide to that primrose species. You can find more volumes like these at AbeBooks.

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