Too hot to weed? Plant yourself on the couch and spy on these cool gardens.

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When the weather's too hot to contemplate getting out in the yard and pulling weeds, I like to drop by other people's gardens. I admire their successes, learn about new plants, and get ideas that may work for me, too.

But sometimes temperatures and humidity soar to levels to make even that unappealing. What's a gardener to do? Visit interesting gardens vicariously - through books.

Veteran author Warren Schultz introduces readers to 15 excellent gardeners - and their horticultural creations - in "A Man's Garden" (Houghton Mifflin, $40).

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His premise is that men have different garden styles from women. Their gardens may be places to "fool with tools" or "play with toys." Many are home to huge dahlias, monster pumpkins, the biggest tomatoes on the block, and bright colors. ("A guy likes to make a splash in his garden," Schultz says.)

He introduces us to high school art teacher Ralph Velez, who has 483 palms growing on a 60-by-140-foot lot in southern California. We meet Pearl Fryar of Bishopville, S.C., who had never heard the word "topiary" when he picked up his hedge shears and began carving 500 shrubs in his yard into fanciful figures. And we get to peek into the 50-acre sanctuary of ice-skating broadcaster Dick Button.

This is a delightful, irreverent romp of a book that's sure to make you smile. You'll want to pick up two copies, so you can give one to your favorite male gardener.

"Small Patios," by Hazel White (Chronicle Books, $18.95) is less personal than Schulz's book but more instructive. We're never introduced to the owners of the outdoor spaces photographed so appealingly by Saxon Holt. But we learn how to re-create their "hardscaping "and plants.

The book not only provides detailed how-to information, but lets you know upfront if a project is for sun or shade, costly or inexpensive, difficult or easy.

This helpful guide proves that limited land isn't a drawback to beautiful outdoor living.

Many gardeners will have already made the acquaintance of Pam Harper through her popular books: "Perennials: How to Select, Grow, and Enjoy" and "Designing With Perennials," among others. In "Time-Tested Plants: Thirty Years in a Four-Season Garden" (Timber Press, $39.95), Harper invites us on a seasonal tour of her Virginia garden.

Beginning with the earliest spring bulbs and continuing through the shrubs of summer, the flowers of fall, and the berries and bark of winter, she explains what has - and hasn't - worked well in her Zone 7 garden.

It's like having an expert gardener as a private tutor in the ways of plants and gardening.

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