Book Review: The Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

Katie Elzer-Peters is one of those dynamos of the gardening world who is so busy Getting Things Done that you may not have actually heard of her yet. But she’s been working behind the scenes on so many projects – nursery newsletters, writing articles for sites too numerous to mention, and mentoring authors with Cool Springs Press – that even if you haven’t seen Katie’s name, you’ve almost certainly¬†benefited¬†from her work.

And the special juice she brings to every project is her preternatural talent of simplifying the complex. So when I heard that her first published book was to be a guide for beginning gardeners, I could think of no better author for the topic. In The Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Katie brings her talent to the fore with a simple, straightforward, relaxed guide to gardening.

This isn’t a book that gardening geeks need. But how many of us have a friend who comes over, looks longingly at our attempts to grow things, and wishes they were the kind of person who could do that? Or a young person in our life who wants to start a few seeds on their patio, but hasn’t ever really gardened before? This is exactly the kind of book I’ve wished I could give my friends and clients – warm, personal, and with a “you can totally do this!” kind of feel.

Yet it’s not overly chatty, and the text is delightfully simple. It’s got all the gardening tips that people like me have gathered over the years, yet aren’t usually covered in books. Things like how to understand a fertilizer label, or why to buy plants that are in bud rather than in bloom. Katie demystifies these processes and gives readers the benefit of years of experience. This would make a great textbook for Master Gardener or Intro to Horticulture classes to help students get a firm grounding in the basics.

A selection of topics she covers:

  • How to read a seed packet
  • How to read a hardiness zone map
  • How to start seeds
  • How to choose a healthy plant
  • How to water plants
  • How to care for a lawn mower
  • How to fix bald spots in the lawn
  • How to prune a tree
  • How to stake a plant
  • How to grow flowering bulbs
  • How to landscape wet areas
  • How to garden in narrow spaces
  • How to mulch and edge landscape beds

This is just a portion of it, and the text is beautifully illustrated with loads of full-color photos that are professionally laid-out and easy to understand. I hear it’s already selling like hotcakes.

Want to win a copy? Cool Springs Press has been kind enough to offer one up to a lucky reader! To win, just leave a comment below and I’ll draw a winner randomly on February 22nd at noon. US only.

Edit: Susan with the daughter new to gardening has won! Susan, I’ve emailed you for your address. Thanks to everyone for entering, and if you want to pick up your own copy, it’s available now at Amazon!


  1. says

    Gen, This sounds like the ideal book for beginner gardeners since that combination of simple instructions paired with an oft-needed pat on the back and a ‘you can do it’ attitude is exactly what I needed when I was first starting out.

  2. says

    Oh, man. This is it. I NEED this book! I’ve been “planning to garden” for over a decade now, and am scared to death to jump in! (I require “How To…” manuals for every aspect of my life.) The book looks amazing! Nice job as always, CSP!

  3. Janet says

    this sounds like a great book to have. I am a newbie gardener and a newbie to florida gardening….I need all the help I can get!!! Have a wonderful gardening day!!! Anxious for spring planting

  4. says

    Gen–thank you so much for this nice review. You GET it! You really GET it! That’s what I was trying to do–and I hope many new gardeners will have exactly what they need to start.

    Awwww. This made my day!

  5. Lorna says

    This would be a great book to have, since I’m really starting to get my garden up and going and I’m not really sure where to start.

  6. Jarrod Reid says

    While I have been gardening for several years now, I still consider myself a beginner. But each year, I learn a little more and appreciate having as many resources as possible.

  7. Jacqueline says

    I need this book! My hubby tells me I have a black thumb yet I really want to start gardening. Not only are food costs rising in the store but with all the GMO’s and pesticides the foods are not as healthy.

  8. Kim Zimbelman says

    I work at a hardware/Garden store and have a thirst for Knowledge with anything that is for beginners so i can pass the know how to my customers and plus i love to garden my self this will be my 3rd year so I’m still learning a lot having a book like this would be great. :)

  9. elsie says

    This book looks very interesting..I know I could use some help. No matter how hard I try , My garden still looks puny .

  10. Karen Doll says

    What a wonderful idea for a book ! We all can use a little help now and then -while I may know what to look for when buying a perennial, I could use some help in learning how to start seeds, guidance for transplanting and pruning, and LOTS of other things ! Thank you, Kate !

  11. Dana Jenkins says

    I would love to win this book. My husband and I garden but he is the knowledgeable one. I want to learn all that I can so I can be more helpful to him.

  12. Terry P. says

    Would’nt it be wonderful to win a copy of this book? So love them, although I don’t have many. Helps to keep up with what is going on in the gardening world.

  13. tracy dimarco says

    I’d love this book to share with my friends,recently went vegan so i would like to grow my own. anything on how to garden with dogs? lol

  14. Karen says

    Being gardening stupid, I would love a book like this. I planted raspberries, and some kind of bug killed them. I tried strawberries, the ants ate them. Some weird flat bug ate my zucchini plants. I was successful with black eyed peas though. :)

  15. Rikki Daniels says

    I would love this book. I started my first garden last spring in the desert and it went OK, now I have moved to a cold, wet climate and have to start over again. I need to learn how to start seeds inside, work with containers and small spaces, and deal with cold temperatures.

  16. cheryl says

    I would love to have this book. This year will be my first garden at our home. I can’t wait for spring! Green grass fresh vegtables and hopefully apples from our apple tree.

  17. Maria McNamara says

    This would be a great book for me. Even if I don’t win maybe get it at the library. Starting my 1st garden this year. Can’t wait.

  18. Anita says

    Fabulous! I love reading and looking at the pictures for ideas. What a great addition to any gardeners/ beginners collection !

  19. Jane Steele says

    After watching several documentaries on industrial farming, monsanto and eating locally, my nine year old daughter and I have decided to plant a garden together this spring. From your review, it seems that this book would be helpful to our endeavor as neither of us has any gardening experience – just a desire to do something good for ourselves .

    We love your website and hope you continue to teach and inspire.

  20. Kate says

    I’m starting out this year with my first garden, and it’s rather ambitious in size… and while most beginner how-to books cover which crops to plant when for which zone, very few cover how to read a seed packet, how to de-mystify fertilizer labeling, and tips on different types of gardening situations – narrow, shady, overly wet, etc…

    I would love to have this book to help guide me into my (hopefully) burgeoning green-thumb adult life. Thanks Gen!

  21. Terry says

    While I am not a “beginner”, I think I missed some of the beginner lessons and now they are coming to haunt me. I find myself gravitating to simpler and simpler books, and maybe a book for beginners is just what I need. Back to basics.

  22. Peggy Walters says

    I would love to learn new ways to garden (especially raised bed, containers, etc.) as I live in a city. Our water is treated and wonder if that is why my container gardening is lacking in production of vegetables and fruits.

  23. dale swanson says

    I am not a begaining gardener but I do have friends that are and I would love to read this and pass it on to them help . You can always learn something new .

  24. Jan Walton says

    Would love to have a copy of the gardening book for my daughter who is developing a real interest in plants and gardens.

  25. Nancy says

    I am a newbie and need all the help I can get. This book would definitely get me going and hopefully I will have a green thumb!!

  26. says

    I am so looking forward to the Spring and getting ready for planting season. I’ve already got tomato plants going crazy in my classroom. 12″ tall already. I just transplanted them into 2 1/2 gal. buckets last week. I’m hoping to be able to show the kids in my class that a sunny window and some TLC can make great stuff!

  27. Janet Ayers says

    Wow, this is so hard. I lost my husband one week ago today and promised him I would stay busy and not be sad. I have a blank slate to work with and will be trying to learn all I can about gardening. I’m looking forward to sunshine, flowers and lots of veggies. Happy Springtime, everyone!

  28. Jan Ruegg says

    I am crazy about all Gardening books , my Mom, who is no longer here, started me with garden books . I love new ones it is great to get updated things
    on gardening.No matter how much I read I still feel I don’t know much, After over 50 years of gardening…

  29. Reba F says

    I am getting more into gardening and need more guidance. This book looks like the thing to help me. Thanks for the great giveaway.

  30. Karin DiNarda says

    I just started gardening last spring. I’m learning alot but this book would really help me to reap the bounty from my garden. I planted snap peas and discovered that they are like natures candy…we ate them right out of the garden! I planted asperagus but have no idea when to pick it…it all went to seed. I planted 2 kinds of lettuce and none of it came up! I would probably really benefit from a book like this!

  31. jason says

    this would be an amazing book to have! I just moved to an old farm in wv and need to quickly learn the basics on gardening! :-)

  32. Jan Elliott-Goin says

    I LOVE good gardening books with common sense information! I’d love to add this book to our gardening library… it sounds marvelous!

  33. Peggy White says

    What a great idea! (and I knew Katie would be great because her blogs are marvelous!) Most gardening books I have will frighten off a novice – this looks fantastic, fun and full of ideas. I’ll bet there are tons of pictures too…:) I can’t wait to get it Katie!

  34. mary anne zeug says

    i would love to learn about nature and gardening this looks good because i am just learning nothing really came up last year i think it was my dirt it didnt have enough nutrients in it i did have some great looking weeds i sent away to the government cataloges but they didnt come till after season so please let me win this early love nature

  35. Deirdre Oliver says

    Looks like this book could replace many others on the shelf. And I’ve not seen “How to maintain your lawnmower” information anywhere else. I could make use of this book with my new place that is just a dirt patch now.

  36. Jennifer says

    Would love to have a beginner’s book! Last year we built a raised bed and grew some lettuce, but the little ones are learning about gardening in preschool and we would love to expand our repertoire into carrots, potatoes, and other goodies. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

  37. sharon says

    Would love this book, have tried several times to garden mostly tomato’s and no luck, Nothing seems to work and I am beside myself. If we must grow more and more of our own I may starve. Love to garden just not very good at it yet.

  38. Mary Beth Goehl says

    What a great idea! This would fill in the gaps from when I know my parents told me how, but I just wasn’t listening that day…..sometimes I just give up. I would love to start again with knowledge presented in an easy to understand format!

  39. Julee says

    Even though I have been gardening for several years, it seems like there is always more to learn. This book is a great way to expand my knowledge!

  40. Kelly M says

    WOW! This looks like an amazing book. I know a little about gardening but am anxious to know more, because I just moved to a new state and will finally be able to have a garden in the ground instead of the patio. I want to be able to grow most of what eat, as well as flowers. This would be a great start!

  41. Danielle Ferreira says

    I would love to win a copy,I love gardening,and this book would be a lovely spring companion!!

    Thanks,Dani =)

  42. Kelly Schubert says

    This looks like one of those books every gardener needs in their library. It would also make a wonderful housewarming gift, as well. Thanks for the opportunity to win one!

  43. Kira says

    I have wanted a little bit of land for a garden since I first saw “The Secret Garden.” I’m 16 now and still haven’t opened a packet of seeds! But seeing this post has inspired me… I think I’ll go out and purchase some seeds and tools and books. Thanks.

  44. Linda Morrison says

    I’ve gardened for years and now my adult children are interested. This would be a great resource for them.

  45. Madeleine says

    Trying to get more raw food into our family’s diet, and I am realizing I can’t afford buying all organic at the store, so come spring I will have to start growing a lot of my own food if this is going to stick. Hopefully I will inspire my neighbors to do the same when they see me out in my garden munching away ;-))

  46. Jan Scott says

    Looks like exactly what I have been looking for! One book that does all that I need to learn! Wonderful! I would love to win this!

  47. Susan says

    This would be perfect for my daughter. She’s growing her very first garden this year with her 3 year old son. It’s really cool when you see the lessons you’ve taught your children be passed on to another generation. The love of growing things will be continue with my grandson. :)

  48. Susan Ross says

    I would love this book to give to my son. I look for hobbies/topics we have, or could have in common. This would be a great addition to the seeds and seed starter I have given him this year.

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