Libby’s Top 5 Nature-Themed Books

Many gardeners and nature-lovers have difficulty during the winter months because, even with the availability of winter sports and activities, a lot of the time it’s just too dang cold to go outside!  While this year that hasn’t been the case (yet!), it’s always best to be prepared – I’ve heard that “winter is coming”.  What better way for a nature-lover to pass the time during those cold months than to curl up with a good book (or five) that depicts the beauty of the outdoors?  These are not only great gifts for yourself (you deserve it!) but they are also great gifts for any fellow gardeners or outdoorspeople in your life.  Disclaimer:  This list is in no way definitive or complete.  There are, of course, many wonderful nature-themed books out there.  This is just a sampling of one person’s favorites.  I would love to hear what your favorites are in the comments!

  1. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

As you walk through our Arrival Gardens, you will see a plaque informing visitors about Aldo Leopold.  He is considered by many as the “father” of wildlife management and of the US Wilderness system, and was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast.   If those descriptions aren’t enough to convince you of his expertise about the natural world, let his book, A Sand County Almanac, do the job.  The book is full of firsthand accounts of a man and his family’s relationship with the land that shows a deep understanding of the natural world.  Read this book and learn more about how nature changes during the course of the year, then head out to the Arboretum this spring (or anytime during the year) to see these changes in action!

A sand county almanac

  1. The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

During my time in college, this book was required reading for one of my classes.  But, I believe everyone should read it.  It highlights the issue that society has with its disconnect from nature, and the negative side effects that this disconnect produces.  This book is a wonderful mixture of personal anecdotes, compelling research, and insight into humanity’s relationship to nature.  This pick is perhaps not as fun as some others on this list, but I promise that by the time you finish this book, you will have learned something about the world and about yourself.

The nature principle.jpe

  1. Nature’s Garden, Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer

This book was written by a Wisconsinite about what can be found in the woods of Wisconsin, and since Wisconsin and Iowa have similar flora and fauna, it stands to reason that this book applies to us Iowans as well.  At its core, this book is a definitive guide to what you can actually eat from foraging in the woods, which is awesome.  One thing that I love about this book is that it has amazing, full-color photos of each plant during different growth stages.  It also tells you which parts of the plant are edible and how to prepare it.  Of course, you should never eat a plant that you aren’t 100% sure about, but this book is definitely a great step toward becoming a self-proclaimed forager.

Nature's Garden.jpe

  1. Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford

This pick on the list is purely for fun.  Adult coloring books are a new trend among the creative and fun-seeking adults of the world (i.e. you!).  Coloring may sound juvenile, but it can be relaxing and can be a great way to exercise your mind.  These aren’t any ordinary coloring books either.  These books include complex lines and shapes, creating a challenging and enjoyable coloring experience.  These adult coloring books aren’t for everyone, but they’re definitely a fun way to escape the winter doldrums.  This particular one has a garden theme – perfect for outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen alike!

secret garden

  1. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This book is the biography of Chris McCandless’ journey from a comfortable collegiate life into the wilds of Alaska.  It is by no means a dry read.  Along the way, Chris meets a myriad of interesting and memorable characters.  While this is perhaps the most controversial pick on the list, I still stand by the choice.  Of course, there are classics like “Walden” that are important to bring up while discussing books about nature, but this book shows a modern relatability that a lot of classics fail to capture.  Many disagree with Chris McCandless’ ideals and his journey, with good reason too (I won’t spoil the story for those who don’t know it).  But I truly think that Chris’ story is an important one to tell, if not for his poetic views on nature and society, then for the educational benefits of learning from another’s story.


Story by Libby Carter



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