With the arrival of winter in Maine, gardening moves inside and into the realm of the imagination. Gardeners exchange rakes and hoes for books, and turn from cultivating gardens to cultivating their (horticultural) minds. It’s merely a coincidence that many of us enjoy receiving books as gifts.

Here are some of the gardening books I’ve read this year and can recommend.

 “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World.” By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 272 pages. $24.99.

1114315_781041 trees.jpgTrees are a social species. They intertwine their roots, sharing nutrients so that healthy trees can assist those that are ailing. Huge stumps of old trees may be fed by smaller, healthy nearby trees (the stump’s children, perhaps?), getting a bit of chlorophyl, which prevents them from rotting long after they really should have.

Trees warn their neighbors of trouble. When the leaves of an acacia are eaten by a giraffe in Africa, for example, that tree gives off a scent warning nearby trees it is in danger. The neighboring trees then send poisons to their leaves so the giraffe will leave them alone.

“The Hidden Life of Trees,” which contains these nuggets of information, is the most fascinating plant-related book I have read this year. In addition to describing trees’ social network, the book explains why old-growth, wild forests are healthier than planted forests, and it predicts how forests will react to climate change.

Author Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, so the book concentrates on the beech forests where he works. But the principles are easily transferred to the oak-maple-pine-fir forests of Maine.

 “Heirloom Plants: A Complete Compendium of Heritage Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs & Flowers.” By Thomas Etty and Lorraine Harrison. Ball Publishing, 224 pages. $29.99.

“Heirloom Plants” is filled with drawings; it’s designed like an old-fashioned garden catalog. It is the kind of book that’s perfect to dip into when you want to look something up or spend a few minutes learning something new.

The book opens by defining what heritage plants are and presenting arguments for growing, saving and swapping the seeds of open-pollinated plants. Among the reasons you should, it says: by saving the seeds of plants you grow, you can create what are known as landrace seeds, which are precisely adapted to your specific garden.

 “All the Presidents’ Gardens.” By Marta McDowell. Timber Press, 236 pages. $29.95.

1114315_781041 presidents.jpgBecause the geography of America is so diverse, it would be impossible to write a history of gardening in the United States – a work like that would run to many volumes. Instead, Marta McDowell writes a history of the gardens of American presidents. She uses presidential gardens as a lens through which to examine gardening trends over the centuries and to give insights into the personalities of the presidents themselves.

Up to James Monroe (1817-1825), all of the presidents were serious farmers, and in the early years of our nation, the White House gardens provided food for the president and his family. Later on, flowers superseded vegetables in importance (although with First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, the pendulum may have swung back), and a greenhouse was built on the grounds.

Over the decades, the head gardeners at the White House have changed less frequently than the First Families, and occasional conflicts have arisen between the gardeners and the families. Whether you approach “All the Presidents’ Gardens” from the perspective of gardening or history, you’ll find the book informative and entertaining.

• “Shakespeare’s Gardens.” By Jackie Bennett with photographs by Andrew Lawson. Frances Lincoln Press, 192 pages. $40.

1114315_781041 shakespeare.jpgBeyond some bare facts and the plays and sonnets themselves, scholars know surprisingly little about William Shakespeare’s life. But now writer Jackie Bennett has pulled together plenty of facts about the gardens he knew, lived in or created – many of which can still be visited in England today.

Naturally, those gardens have changed in the 400 years since the playwright’s death, changes that Bennett outlines in her totally entertaining book.

“Shakespeare’s Gardens” also addresses how Shakespeare described plants in his works – which he did often – and it explains the symbolism of those plants.

• “The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare and Use Your Own Hops, Malts and Brewing Herbs.” By Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher. Storey Publishing, 224 pages. $16.95.

This is the second edition update of a 1998 book by two brothers who are organic farmers in Winterport. The book is in four parts: The first part details growing hops, from how to get started to dealing with hops pests, including the Japanese beetle. Next comes sections on herbs you can add to beer, malts you can grow and finally recipes. With the boom in Maine brewing, there could well be a home brewer in your life – this book would make a handy gift.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]