If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know I have a slight obsession with houseplants. What started as an extra treat from Trader Joe’s has developed into a full-blown hobby. Nothing brightens up a reading nook like a trailing pothos or a fiddle leaf fig tree. After talking to Michelle Moreno, whose dream includes books AND plants, on Episode 188 of What Should I Read Next, I started thinking about a few backlist titles to satisfy both book-lovers and plant-enthusiasts.
This is the perfect time of year to dive into a story full of gardens, flowers, and nature’s delights. You don’t need a green thumb in order to enjoy these 15 titles—but reading about someone else’s thriving garden won’t be bad for your own plant efforts. With a mix of classics, nonfiction, and magical realism, this list has something for every reader and plant-lover.
Its vivid descriptions of rhododendrons and azaleas make this 1930s novel the perfect suspense novel for gardeners. When the main character arrives at her wealthy husband's country home, she is struck by its beauty. But as his late wife's presence lingers in every corner of the estate, their marriage is threatened by suspicion and secrets. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current (and Mrs Danvers is as creepy as ever). More info →
This title comes from the Victorian Era's literal language of flowers, which they relied on to convey feelings rarely spoken of: ardor and friendship, jealousy and envy, infidelity and grief. We meet Victoria Jones on her eighteenth birthday: the day she is emancipated from foster care. Though fluent in the meaning and the messages of the blooms she cultivates, Victoria uses her flowers to communicate not love and friendship, but distrust and discord. But as she strikes out on her own, she comes to learn that the language of flowers is more complicated than she was taught to believe. This beautiful debut is easy-reading, yet has depth and feeling. Ultimately, it's a redemption story—and who doesn't love a good redemption story? More info →
Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverly possesses a unique magic: she uses edible flowers to prepare foods that affect the eater in "curious ways." Years ago, Claire's sister fled town—and her Waverly gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance is cheesy, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you're not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this "a wonderful surprise." More info →
Gilbert's sweeping novel follows the life of the enigmatic Alma Whittaker, a 19th century scientist (before that was even a word). A maker at heart, and very aware of her strengths and limitations, Alma struggles to develop her unifying "Theory of Competitive Alteration" to describe her findings. Gilbert brings the field of botany to life in this ambitious novel. (Who would have thought moss could be so interesting?) More info →
If the Brothers Grimm wrote The Secret Garden, this is what it would have been like. After inheriting a mysterious book of fairy tales from her grandmother, Cassandra embarks on a quest to discover her family’s past. Gothic mystery meets family saga in this atmospheric novel. More info →
Plant symbolism and lush descriptions abound in Adichie's debut novel. Set in postcolonial Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus is a coming of age story about family, religion, and freedom. This would make a perfect book club pick—and we loved discussing it in the MMD Book Club. For a more in-depth review, check out this episode of One Great Book. More info →
You've probably never heard the words "science memoir" and "sparkle" in the same sentence before, but this genre-busting tale from one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" absolutely does. In alternating chapters, Jahren tells the story of her own development—life, career, love, friendship, and always, always budgetary woes—and a little about her surprisingly fascinating (well, to non-paleobotanists) field of research. It's a terrific read, especially if you want to learn about plant life-cycles in an engaging format. More info →
The action in this suspense novel centers around a beautiful private communal garden in London. Most of the neighbors have lived there for years and trust each other implicitly; one family felt lucky to find their new flat when they were displaced from their home after a tragic fire. In the prologue, one of these new neighbors, 12-year-old Grace, is found in a corner of this supposedly idyllic garden, injured and unconscious after a neighborhood party. Jewell flashes back in time to introduce us to all the neighbors, and we discover much to mistrust as we try to figure out what happened to Grace. (I need to warn you: nothing here is graphic, but as a parent of tween girls, the plot line here freaked me out.) More info →
With growing concerns about the environmental impact of their food consumption, Barbara Kingsolver and her family vow to eat only what they can grow, catch, or locally source for an entire year. What follows is a family memoir, a gardening how-to guide, and a treatise on sustainability as Kingsolver chronicles their adventures in farm-to-table living. More info →
"Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida." Follow Susan Orlean—who you may know from her bestselling work The Library Book on her investigative journey through the world of orchid-collecting, a surprisingly high-stakes environment. This true story about plants, passion, and justice also inspired the feature-length film Adaptation. More info →
At 246 pages, this adventure story is less intimidating than The Count of Monte Cristo, but it contains just as much intrigue and excitement. At first blush, the story sounds much like The Count, with its tale of false imprisonment, political intrigue, and the pursuit of revenge. But this short novel is set in the Netherlands, and the plot revolves around the breeding of an expensive and sought-after flower: the perfect black tulip. More info →
I am here for this tagline: "Two women, separated by centuries. Can one mysterious flower bring them together?" Spanning from present day Australia to 19th century Chile, this novel is well-researched and fast-paced. It’s the perfect summer afternoon read, preferably in a garden with a cool drink in hand. More info →
What started as a mission to become a better gardener resulted in an in-depth research mission to understand botany. If you've ever killed a plant (oops…it happens), you'll relate to Kissinger’s experience. This book combines science, history, and biography in a completely engaging narrative. Pick this one up for a deeper understanding of your own garden and the world's first botanists. More info →
In this collection of personal essays, Kincaid connects her own experiences with gardening to larger issues like colonialism and prejudice. Her poetic writing style makes for a unique reading experience. If you enjoy authors who play with language and form, you should definitely pick this one up. More info →
"If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden." A spoiled, loveless orphan and a coddled, cantankerous invalid bring a forgotten garden—and each other—to life again in this childhood classic. Its themes of rebirth and renewal serve as the perfect inspiration for beginner and expert gardeners alike. As you read, perform a quick image search for "Victorian Gardens" and prepare to be awestruck. More info →
Do you share my houseplant obsession? Can you tell me where to find an Audrey ficus or purple oxalis? Do you have any titles you’d add to this list? Tell us all about it in the comments section!