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Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940

By Denise Wiles Adams

Adams provides a valuable resource that traces the historic use of hundreds of plants.

New York Times

Today's gardeners have more plants and design ideas to choose from than ever before. But is there something missing in their gardens if they ignore their ties to the past? Denise Wiles Adams has written a remarkable book of history and horticulture that documents the changing plant palette of American gardens. From the colonial era to the pre-World War II period, no region of the country is neglected and no major plant group unrepresented. From a database of more than 25,000 plants and hundreds of antique nursery catalogs, she has distilled a unique survey of American ornamental gardens. Nobody concerned with historic homes and properties can afford to be without it. An important resource that will be consulted for generations, Restoring American Gardens is a vital link between gardeners and their predecessors throughout history.

Media reviews

"This work is packed with information that the history-minded gardener will appreciate."

—Kay Ackerman, Bloomsbury Review

"Restoring American Gardens is a useful addition to a growing body of historic landscape resources and is particularly important for its methodical focus on heirloom plants and their appropriate use."

—Scott Mehaffey, Landscape Architecture

"Reassuringly domestic ... a valuable resource."

—Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times

"Adams provides a valuable resource that traces the historic use of hundreds of plants."

—Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times

"Gardeners who enjoy a healthy dose of gardening history in their guides will find Denise Wiles Adams' Restoring American Gardens a treasure trove of information on heirloom ornamentals from 1640-1940."


"While pursuing her doctorate on the cultivation of 19th century ornamental plants in the Northeast, Adams decided to write a book. Her effort, Restoring American Gardens, ... covers trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, annual and bulbs."

—Betsy Lehndorff, Rocky Mountain News

"This gardening tell-all answers questions about thousands of plants popular 100 and 200 years ago."

—Betsy Lehndorff, Rocky Mountain News

"It's the photographs and description for each ... which sets this [book] apart from competitors."


"Home gardeners will discover untried plants and rediscover familiar ones from a rich historical perspective, while professional and amateur designers alike will find a wealth of practical information on how to approach the historic landscape, document key features, develop a list of appropriate plants and pursue investigations ... Adams's enthusiasm in infectious ... Destined to become an indispensible reference for anyone interested in heirloom ornamentals and their history."

Publishers Weekly

"Adams provides an intensely helpful look at the history and horticulture of American gardens across the centuries."

—Jan Hale Barbo, Santa Fe New Mexican

"Restoring American Gardens is a wonder to have and to behold, a sure-to-be classic resource connecting and bonding present-day gardeners with their founding forefather kin."

Boox Review

"If you live in a historic home and would like to restore your property, you shouldn't be without this book."

—Diana George Chapin, Bangor Daily News

"If you're seeking specific ideas for your Gothic Revival in Texas, or a Stick-style in Minnesota ... Adams, former owner of an heirloom plant nursery who holds a Ph.D. in horticulture, steps into that gap."

Old-House Journal

"A vital link between gardeners and the plants of the past. No gardener should be without this one."

—Emily Gaither, Greene County Independent


Avant Gardener

"A delightful read."

—Ethel Fried, Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer

"This is an interesting tale of horticulture and history that references more than 1,000 plants and how they were used in landscapes from 1640-1940. [The author's] love of these plants ... shines through in her writing."

—Marianne Binetti, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Old catalog art alternates with good current plant portrait photographs."

—Ann Milovsoroff, Royal Botanical Gardens Newsletter

"[Wiles] dispels the myth that native plants were neglected in early American gardens."

Old House Journal

"Any serious student of ornamental horticulture simply must have this book. It's a one-stop reference for everything needed when attempting historical North American garden design on any scale. It's an absolute joy to see this topic so thoroughly researched, thoughtfully presented and beatifully packaged."

—John Valleau, Perennials

"Restoring American Gardens is a handsome book that is meticulously researched, user-friendly and a vital link to our horticultural past. In addition to being a wealth of information, it is a joy to read. It promised to be indispensable and one of the most used reference books in your library."

—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen

"A delightful new book."

—Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, Indianapolis Star

"If you love antique flowers, you won't want to be without this magnificent new book ... It's the first comprehensive history of plants of American gardens ... Prepare to be inspired!"

Old House Gardens

"For the history buff, garden lover or anyone with a period home than needs an authentic landscape, Adams has created an invaluable reference."

—Suzanne Hively, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Ambitious in scope and beautifully produced by Timber Press, Denise Wiles Adams' book on heirloom ornamental plants is, by all accounts, a singular achievement."

—Peggy Cornett, Magnolia

"'American heirloom ornamental plants are ... treasures to be honored and conserved and shared,' Adams writes. I believe the same can be said of this book."

—George Weigel, People Places Plants

"Indispensable ... Landscape architects should add it to their libraries."

—Scott Mehaffey, Landscape Architecture

"Gardeners with an interest in heirloom plants or American garden history will find much to like in this book. It will occupy a central place on my landscape preservation bookshelf."

—Charles Hulse, American Gardener

"Denise Wiles Adams engagingly documents the history — botanical and cultural — of the continually changing American garden. It's a vivid, instructive treat with a persuasive leson: learn from the past."

House and Garden

"Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants 1640-1940, by Denise Wiles Adams, has masterfully catalogued, documented, illustrated, and separated by region historic, "heirloom", ornamental plants. This is one of the most complete reference books on ornamental heirlooms, which are gaining in popularity."

—Joel M. Lerner, Washington Post

"Adams's engaging writing and the abundance of both contemporary and historic photographs and plans make this reference book both a pleasure to use and one that fills a gap in the literature. Recommended for all gardening and historic preservation collections."

Library Journal

"The home gardener, professional landscape designer, bed-and-breakfast proprietor, and all those who have taken to heart the task of re-creating plantings that are in keeping with a mode of yesteryear will love delving into this satisfying, well-organized, and beautifully produced resource."


"The first comprehensive history of the plants of American gardens. Sumptuously illustrated."

Old House Gardens

"This is an important resource for anyone with an interest in historic properties or simply in plants like their grandmother grew."

—Rachael Green, American Reference Books Annual

"What's entertaining are her anecdotal details accompanying each entry culled from old books, journals, postcards and letters."

Dallas Morning News

"If your goal is to recreate an old garden to complement an older home, this book is essential."

—Don Davis, Lynchburg News and Advance

"Filled with hard to find information."

—Barney Lipscomb, Sida, Contributions to Botany

"My eye always strayed to the next bit of information..and the next ... and probably the next. This is THAT kind of book. Good luck keeping it up on the shelf."

—Marilis Hornidge, Rockland Courier-Gazette

"A vital link between gardeners and the plants of the past. No gardener should be without this one."

Cullman Tribune

"The research that has gone into this book can only be described as exhaustive ... the result is a comprehensive history of American ornamental plants, based on written and published documents."

—Ethel Fried, Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer

"An interesting tale of horticulture and history ... [the author's] love of these plants with deep roots in our history shines through in her writing."

—Marianne Binetti, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Restoring American Gardens is a wonderful book full of the history and horticulture that documents changing plants ... [and] is a vital link between gardeners and the plants of the past."

Greensboro Watchman

"The book is generously illustrated with the old pictures [the author has] collected, plus lovely photos from [her] own garden ... her writing is informative, descriptive, and to the point — in one word, practical."


"A combination of history and horticulture."

—Ann Milovsoroff, Royal Botanical Gardens Newsletter

"Denise Wiles Adams has performed an inestimable service for the historian."

—Judith Taylor, San Francisco Garden Club

"Paving the way for heirloom preservation adventures with a colorful, well-documented and fascinating book."

—Laura Long Martin, Tennessee Star Journal

"There are far too few garden history titles. Many are well-researched but text heavy, and either focus on influential designers and the landscapes of the fabulously wealthy, or list cottage plants and how to grow them. But what if you're seeking specific ideas for your Gothic Revival in Texas, or a Stick-style in Minnesota" Adams, former owner of an heirloom plant nursery who holds a Ph.D. in horticulture, steps into that gap."

Old House Journal

"This fascinating and picturesque 420-page book with 37 photographs and 200 lines drawings will inspire you to landscape your yard with historical authenticity ... A wealth of information from trees to heirloom roses in period context."

O'Mama Report

About the author

Denise Wiles Adams

Denise Wiles Adams is a highly respected historian of ornamental plants and American garden design. She has a Ph.D. in horticulture from The Ohio State University and is a prolific writer and lecturer on topics related to the history of American gardens. She is the author of Restoring American Gardens.

Read more about Denise Wiles Adams

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