It's the time of year when all designers start getting their heads around the new design season coming up ... and there's nothing like going through some favorite books again to get yourself in the mood.
As far as plants go, no designer would be without:
It's the most comprehensive volume out there on woody landscape plants (trees, shrubs, vines) ... Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propogation and Uses. This latest edition is the 6th -- published in 2009 -- with full descriptions and drawings of each species, along with many specific cultivars. It should be on every serious designer's bookshelf
I also like Penelope O'Sullivan's The Homeowner's Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook: The Essential Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Maintaining Perfect Landscape Plants. It was published in 2007 -- wish the publisher would update the book! Still, it lists almost 350 trees & shrubs, along with nice photos and O'Sullivan's especially useful list of "Designer's Choice" cultivars. Along with Dirr, this is the book I turn to again and again for plant info.
Any dedicated designer, home gardener or plant enthusiast will also want one of the regional Gardener's Book of Lists. These books are simply "lists" of plants under certain categories like Perennials for Shade, Shrubs with Ornamental Fruits, Heirloom Vegetables, Native Plants, Deciduous Weeping Trees -- etc, etc -- all geared to your particular region of the country. I use the New York/Mid-Atlantic Gardener's Book of Lists and the The New England Gardener's Book of Lists, especially since some of those more southern plants are now doing perfectly fine in our ever-warmer northern climate. There are other titles for Midwest, Lone Star, Pacific Northwest, and Southern gardeners.
As far as design goes, I consulted some of my colleagues at APLD -- the Association of Professional Landscape Designers -- and here are some of the books they use for inspiration:
Fences, railings, trellises, entrances, edging, paving, seating, planters, sculpture, and much more. It's all here ... Garden Design Details by Arne Maynard. (Harper Design, 2004). And more recommended books below:
Top garden photographer Roger Foley's book on the latest in modern gardens: A Clearing in the Woods: Creating Contemporary Gardens (Monacelli Press)
And just a few more from APLD members:
Time-Tested Plants: Thirty Years in a Four-Season Garden by Pamela Harper (Timber Press) ... one of best on plant combinations.
Architecture in the Garden by James van Sweden (Random House). Amazing details from one of the country's top landscape architects. Others by van Sweden -- all worth having -- include Gardening with Nature, Gardening with Water, The Artful Garden: Creative Inspiration for Landscape Design, and Bold Romantic Gardens: The New World Landscapes of Oehme and Van Sweden.
The New Low-Maintenance Garden: How to Have a Beautiful, Productive Garden and the Time to Enjoy It. by Valerie Easton (Timber Press). The title says it all.
Gaining Ground by Maureen Gilmer. Great overall design book, with California emphasis.