Gardens; Christopher Stocks Unearths the Best Christmas Books for Gardeners

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Choosing Christmas books for the gardener in your life can be a risky business. A gift of How Not to Kill Plants, for example, may give the wrong impression, as may The Idiot's Guide to Vegetables, and the sheer choice of gardening books on the shelves these days is bewildering. So in the interests of promoting peace and harmony at this stressful time of year, here are a few of my own favourites from the last few months. They range from practical guides to inspirational collections of pictures, so there should be something for everyone.

Gardening books don't get much more practical than the RHS Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 30), which contains nearly 900 pages of information and advice on plants, pests and gardening techniques, from acers and abiotic disorders to zinnias and zygotes, not to mention stringfellowing (and if you don't already know what stringfellowing is I'm certainly not going to tell you).

Wooden Books' attractive, small-format guides to things such as crop circles and labyrinths (not for nothing are they based in Glastonbury) make perfect stocking-fillers, and Native British Trees (pounds 4.99) by Andy Thompson is no exception. Each of our 28 native trees gets a page to itself, most of them illustrated with fine 18th-century engravings.

Russian Parks and Gardens (Frances Lincoln, pounds 35) is a proper old-fashioned coffee-table book, lovingly researched and superbly photographed by Peter Hayden, who has schlepped from the Black Sea to the Gulf of Finland to document these stupendous parks, palaces and pavilions. The result is a revelation. Reading about their pathetic later history it's remarkable how many great 18th- century gardens have survived, though given that most of them were created using slave labour their beauty can hardly be said to be unalloyed.

Stephen Lacey covers far better-known ground in Gardens of the National Trust (National Trust Books, pounds 30). It's all too easy to take the NT for granted, but it does own the greatest single collection of historic gardens in the world, and we're lucky to have them on our collective doorstep. Lacey is an ideal guide, and this is a handsome book, though not without its minor blips. A handful of NT gardens, for example, are excluded without explanation: if Newark Park merited a recent feature in Gardens Illustrated magazine, why doesn't it deserve inclusion here?

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland (Kyle Cathie, pounds 25) isn't technically a gardening book at all, though it does include a short chapter on wild- flower gardens. As a beginner's identification guide it's sensibly organised, dividing plants according to their colour, though it's too bulky to qualify for use in the field. …