"100 Plants to Feed the Bees,"
By the Xerces Society. (Storey Press, 240 pages, $16.95.)

This would have been a useful book when my husband and I planted our bee and butterfly garden four years ago. "Just plant flowers," it says in the introduction, and that sounds so easy and reassuring. It goes on to suggest which flowers to plant, with at-a-glance pages rich with color photos, range maps and indications of which critters each plant might attract. Not just hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, but so many kinds of bees — honey, and bumble, and long-horned, and mason, and mining, and polyester. (Polyester! I am not kidding.)

Some of the recommended flowers are common and familiar: bee balm, coneflowers, milkweed, goldenrod. But the book also includes herbs such as rosemary, mint, lavender and thyme; shrubs and bushes; and pasture plants. Yes! Go ahead and plant your front yard with alfalfa, scarlet runner beans and sweetclover. You'll have bees and good wasps (and there are good wasps) and butterflies galore. And such fun at harvest time.

"Northern Gardener: From Apples to Zinnias, 150 Years of Garden Wisdom," by Mary Lahr Schier. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 213 pages, $24.95.)

Gardening in the North presents its own problems — a shorter growing season, frigid winters that kill, unpredictable summers, floods, drought. So here is a book for those of us who insist on living here and trying to make things grow, written by Mary Lahr Schier, who has edited the Minnesota State Horticultural Society's magazine (Northern Gardener) for more than 10 years.

Schier calls on the wisdom of her grandmothers (and includes photos of them), and her book has a sort of grandmotherly tone — warm, friendly and competent.

It is illustrated not just with the requisite color photos of plants but also with historical pictures (check out the woman grimly spraying her garden with DDT back in 1947) and line drawings that teach things of all kinds — how to prune a tree, how to lay out an herb garden, how a cold frame should look.

There are asides and sidebars aplenty, with Schier explaining gently that daylilies are not true lilies, and here is how to make pickles, and here is what to do if you want to make your own potting soil — and here is what not to do.

But mostly, of course, she concentrates on the plants: fruit trees, and lawns, and peonies (though she does not address the pronunciation question: PEE-o-ny, or pee-OH-ny?), and rhododendrons and vegetables. She discusses soil, watering, garden design. Tomatoes get, and deserve, their own chapter, those moody things.

The book has everything you need — except good weather and a warm, gentle rain.

"Succulents: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Designing and Growing 200 Easy-Care Plants," by Robin Stockwell. (Oxmoor House, 288 pages, $24.95.)

One of my St. Paul neighbors grows cactuses in her yard, which I find kind of fascinating. That is not all she has (that would be a forbidding yard indeed), but it is a little spiky plant of interest that adds a certain piquancy to her yard. Until I met her, I had no idea a cactus would grow in Minnesota.

Robin Stockwell's new book is devoted to succulents, including cactuses, as well as plants that I never thought of as succulents (sedum! really?) and many others that I did (hen and chick, aloe, agave).

Plants that can grow in sand, without much water, might work best in containers here, and Stockwell gets creative, suggesting that a container could be hollowed-out pumpkin shells, wicker baskets, or cones made of moss.

While the book devotes a fair amount of space to design and arrangements, it also covers the basics of propagation, feeding and care.

Beware, however, the A. Saponaria. It's a star-shaped, grayish, speckled succulent that looks to me like a plumped-up lungwort. But it is powerful! "Avoid planting this species next to an asphalt driveway," Stockwell warns. "I have seen offsets burrow under and erupt through the pavement."

"Nature at Our Doorstep," by Matt Schuth. (Nodin Press, 145 pages, $19.95.)

This book, says author Matt Schuth, "is about common things in the natural world that many people would find fascinating if they happened to notice them." And, yes, it is all about the noticing — and then understanding what it is that you saw. Going season by season, Schuth, a naturalist at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, writes about wild turkeys and coyotes, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks, fireflies and dragonflies, owls, woodchucks and deer.

The book is not a field guide, but it's an illumination of the birds, animals, plants and insects that are living out their lives side by side with us right here in the Twin Cities.

They know about us, but we might not know about them. This book evens the field.

"The Less Is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard," by Susan Morrison. (Timber Press, 222 pages, $29.95.)

You can tell right away that this is a minimalist kind of book because the title and the author's name are in all-lowercase letters on the cover. Small. Understated. A book for people with tiny yards who still want to be awash in green and blossoms.

It's less about how to grow your garden, and more about how to design your garden, making the most of every bit of space. Should you bother with a lawn at all, or just dig up everything? Where do you put the ugly, necessary things — the garbage cans and the barbecue grill — without destroying the sense of peace?

Garden designer Susan Morrison talks about the importance of a focal point (which can be a tall clump of plants, or a statue, or a lovely birdbath), choosing a color palette, designing pathways, container gardening, water features and attracting wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies. (In a tiny yard, you probably don't want to attract anything much bigger than that.)

While the yards and gardens pictured do not look terribly small to me, an urban gardener, there is inspiration on just about every page.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune's senior editor for books. facebook.com/startribunebooks @StribBooks