Are you ever standing in front of your bookcase, your most recent acquisition in hand, wondering where to put that gorgeous new find on perennial gardening? Several shelves are filled with wonderfully photographed volumes about designing with nature, gardening with colors, and growing a rose garden. There is a section of informative books on designing with natives and planting attractive containers for your front porch. Tucked away on a bottom shelf sits a little collection of hardly used paperbacks on hardscaping, ideas for trellises, and making your own compost. Not to mention the artfully photographed compilations of works by renowned garden designers and landscape architects that are gracing your coffee table. While you still wonder where to put the latest book, you might want to start thinking about creating a Little Free Library to free up some space.
Nicola Hofstetter-Phelps, a member of the Camelot Garden Club in Annandale, Virginia, used the concept of the Little Free Library to make room on their crammed bookcase. Nicola is a passionate baker and enthusiastic amateur gardener. In her garden she mainly grows native perennials, a few vegetables, and a large variety of cut flowers. In her front yard she set up a “green” library dedicated to horticulture, garden design, and all things nature. Here she shares books on gardening with others. At the same time, neighbors are encouraged to circulate books of their own.
Surrounded by her flower garden, the “Green” Little Free Library sits in the front yard of her home. A few steppingstones lead the way to this miniature library. While browsing books, neighbors are surrounded by bees and butterflies. What is unique about this structure is the waterproof “green”
roof filled with growing material and planted with sedum and other small vegetation.
For more than ten years, Little Free Libraries have been promoting neighborhood book exchange through publicly accessible bookshelves that are usually set up in a private front yard. The aim of this global movement is to foster access to reading materials for people of all backgrounds and ages. The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 in Wisconsin. The movement was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012. Since then, more than 90,000 Little Free Libraries have sprung up all over the world, constructed, installed, and maintained by devoted private citizens, their stewards. In order to call their front yard library a “Little Free Library,” the stewards pay a fee to the non-profit to receive a plaque and to enter their library on a map. The motto of these libraries is “Take a book, share a book,” encouraging the casual passerby to either take a book, read it, and to later return it to this same location, to donate it to another Little Free Library, or to gift the book to someone else who might enjoy it. Some stewards stamp their books to avoid a re-sale of the book.
If you are planning to build a Little Free Library of your own, you can purchase a kit or build one from scratch. There is plenty of inspiration and information at the Little Free Library website (https://www.littlefreelibrary.org), Instagram account (@littlefreelibrary) and Facebook page (LittleFreeLibrary), but also check out Pinterest and YouTube. While any Little Free Library focuses on book exchange, there are more ways to share your passion for gardening. Think about adding a seed library, a little box with envelopes filled with seeds from your garden. Encourage a plant exchange by offering some space for swapping seedlings next to the library. Some stewards add a bench or other options to linger while browsing books. Seasonal changes of content, including books for all age groups, the expansion of content into the realm of sustainability, growing and eating local, crafting with nature, and using what you grow in the kitchen, might make the library even more interesting and attractive to a wider audience. The possibilities are endless and will bring tons of fun and inspiration to your neighborhood.
Before diving into building plans, material, or even ordering one of the do-it-yourself kits, make sure you are aware of your neighborhood regulations. If your zoning laws or homeowners’ association rules do not permit a library in your front yard, consider collaborating with a community partner to establish and maintain a library on their property. Some Little Free Libraries live in front of schools, retirement homes, and church community centers.
All photos © Nikki Phelps