Evolution of the Annual Book Award Program
The American Horticultural Society honors outstanding garden-related books published in North America through its annual Book Award Program, which began with a list of 75 Great American Garden Books as part of the Society’s celebration of its 75th anniversary in 1997. Each year since then, a distinguished committee of garden communicators selects the award recipients from among the year’s new books submitted by publishers. Books are judged on qualities such as writing style, authority, accuracy, and physical quality. Because of this focus on the overall quality of the winning books, the award is presented jointly to the author and publisher of each book.
Nominations are accepted for the AHS Book Awards each fall.
Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects
by Heather Holm (Pollination Press, Minnetonka, MN)
Heather Holm’s second AHS Book Award is even more impressive when you consider Holm took on the challenge of extolling the merits of a much-maligned insect, the wasp. Even if this book doesn’t take you from frightened to fervent, it will most definitely educate you on these tiny insects, which play an outsize role in wild and garden ecosystems.
The book details approximately 150 species of flower-visiting wasps, each depicted with amazingly detailed images. Unlike bees, which collect pollen intentionally, wasps are known as incidental pollinators, so Holm has included helpful information on the native plants they visit to gather nectar.
“This meticulously researched book leaves no doubt about how diverse, fascinating, and important wasps truly are. You might even find yourself looking up nectar plants to grow in hopes of attracting more species of these beneficial insects to your garden,” says Viveka Neveln. In addition, wasp larvae are carnivorous and benefit ecosystems by keeping insect populations, including those that cause damage to crops and other plants, in check.
100 Plants to Feed the Monarch
by The Xerces Society (Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA)
By now most of us are aware of the plight of the monarch butterfly and how habitat loss is contributing to its precipitous decline. If you’re keen to help reverse this downward spiral, this book provides a roadmap. The message is hopeful: Monarchs can be saved if homeowners and gardeners plant more native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs.
These regal creatures visit 470 different nectar-rich flower species to fuel their migration and lay their eggs on over 30 types of milkweed! The 100 plants included in this book include some suited to growing conditions along the entirety of the monarch’s range. “This is a must-have guide that contributes to enriching our awareness and understanding of the natural world, particularly the monarch’s life cycle,” says Perla Sofía Curbelo-Santiago.
The Nature of Oaks
by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, Portland, OR)
“I talk constantly about the importance of oak trees,” says Doug Oster, “but The Nature of Oaks opened my eyes to a new world about the tree and a greater appreciation of oaks as a species.” This is Tallamy’s second AHS award (he received the B.Y. Morrison Communication Award in 2018), and through his brilliance, the staid advice “plant an oak” becomes a month-by-month account of the inner workings of a keystone species and the multitudes of birds and insects that feed in and on it, and underneath its wide canopy (yes, even in the dead of winter).
If you are fortunate enough to have an oak tree in your yard, you have a front-row seat to the majesty of a thriving ecosystem. If you are without, the real beauty of Tallamy’s work is his underlying message—delivered in a clear and engaging writing style with extraordinary photographs—that we can all make a difference.
The book contains a comprehensive list of oak varieties, so there is sure to be one that fits any region and garden situation.
Additional Titles from the Committee’s Top 10 Books of 2021
In selecting this year’s award winners, the AHS Book Committee also considered the following seven books that emerged as top candidates from the more than 50 books that were nominated for the award.
The American Chestnut: An Environmental History – Donald Edward Davis, University of Georgia Press
Beauty of the Wild: A Life Designing Landscapes Inspired by Nature – Darrel Morrison, Library of American Landscape History
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest – Suzanne Simard, Knopf.
Gardening in Summer-Dry Climates: Plants for a Lush, Water-Conscious Landscape – Nora Harlow and Saxon Holt, Timber Press.
An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits and Nuts: The U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection – Adam Leith Gollner et al., Atelier Editions.
New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically-Vibrant Home Garden – Kelly D. Norris, Cool Springs Press.
Tiny Plants: Discover the Joys of Growing and Collecting Itty-Bitty Houseplants – Leslie F. Halleck, Cool Springs Press.
AHS’s 2022 Book Award Committee was chaired by Kimberly Toscano Holmes, a freelance communicator and professional horticulturist based in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Members of the committee include Amy Campion, a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer and co-author of Gardening in the Pacific Northwest; Perla Sofìa Curbelo-Santiago, a garden communicator in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Susan Eubank, an arboretum librarian at Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden; Viveka Neveln, garden editor for BHG.com in Des Moines, Iowa; Caleb Melchior, a Fort Myers, Florida based landscape architect, writer, and podcaster; and Doug Oster, garden writer, television producer, and radio host from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.