I got a copy of "Edible Forest Gardens Vol I & II" by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier, 2005, a few months ago and have been working my way through them. They are both excellent books.
The first volume sets out the vision of the role of edible forest gardens as a fundamental part of a sustainable future. It then goes on to explore the ecological theory behind developing gardens that use natural woodland ecosystems as a model. It provides a really useful framework to think about the complex interactions that take place in a natural system. The end of the book has a list of the top 100 plant species for forest gardens accompanied by some very good photographs.
The second volume (which I'm only part way through) covers the design, establishment and maintenance of a forest garden. It provides a language of common patterns for use in design as well as lots of practical advice. It also has close to 150 pages of appendices of information on plant species for different purposes.
The books provide an excellent resource for someone starting out on a forest gardening project. They are very clear and set out to take a critical look at existing wisdom, whilst still providing inspiration. When I first started to read them I began to wish that I had read them before I started planting my garden! (There is a very strong message about not spacing trees too closely that is important for people planning a garden.) However, the books provide so much detail that it would be easy to get bogged down and not know where to start. In retrospect, I'm glad I took the plunge when I did. At the time I based a lot of my initial planting decisions on Patrick Whitefield's How to Make a Forest Garden book, but the EFG books are proving really useful in planning the herbaceous layer of my garden. One note of warning - they are aimed squarely at North American gardeners and so some of the plant species may not be appropriate for the UK. However, the theory is still very relevant.
Some other gardening books that I've been reading and have been useful:
- Botany for Gardeners - Brain Capon, 2005, Timber Press. Useful for an in-depth understanding of how plants work.
- Plants for a Future - Ken Fern, 1997, Permanent Publications. Really useful and accessible book reviewing a whole range of neglected and forgotten edible and useful plants. See the website as well.
- Perennial Vegetables - Eric Toensmeier, 2007, Chelsea Green Publishing. Again aimed at US growers but covers a great deal of useful perennial plants.
- Herbs - Roger Phillips & Nicky Foy, 1990, Pan. I saw this on someone else bookshelf and picked up a copy second hand. It covers a wide range of herbaceous edible plants with excellent photographs.
- Mycelium Running (How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World) - Paul Stamets, 2005, Ten Speed Press. An inspirational book on the often overlooked kingdom of fungi and the vital role they play in ecosystems and how they can be used. This book is more accessible than the very detailed - "Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms" by the same author. I've also been looking at "Mushrooms" by Roger Phillips, but this is more of an identification guide than a guide to cultivation
On a slightly different note, I've also been reading "The Earth Knows My Name (Food, culture and sustainability in the gardens of ethnic Americans" by Patricia Klindienst, 2006. It explores the role that gardening and growing food plays in the lives of immigrants into North America from many different backgrounds. At it's heart it's about a relationship with land that is universal. Definitely worth a look. I have also just finished reading "Notes from Walnut Tree Farm" by the late Roger Deakin, 2008. It is full of carefully made observations of the natural world throughout the year. Very readable and one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.