For the next twelve days I will be celebrating the the beginning of the holiday season by highlighting some of my favorite gardening books. One of my favorite Christmas gifts (and that of many gardeners) is a new book. Christmas is the perfect time to give a gardener a book because we are stuck inside whiling away the hours until spring. We examine our seed catalogs bookmarking pages. We make notes in our journals and plans for new beds. We mark our calendars with reminders of exactly when to start our seeds. And we read. We pour through new books and old favorites, gleaning new wisdom, inspiration and in some ways comfort from the pages. Over the next 12 days, I’m going to highlight some of my new and old favorites.
The first book on my list is one that probably gets the most use here in California, Western Garden Book. Pretty much a bible here on the West Coast, this tome is a wealth of gardening knowledge, specific knowledge. Organized alphabetically by Latin name with common name cross referencing, the guide houses important information about what will and will not grow for us here in the West. Not content with the USDA agriculture zones of 1-11, the WGB uses its own rating system (1-24) which takes into consideration our micro-climates. California gardeners can rattle of their zone as quickly as they can their zodiac sign. (I’m a 15 and an Aries). We become frustrated when we encounter plant information that doesn’t use Sunset zones. Sometimes, we suffer from zone envy. As a 15 I sometimes wish I were a 7. Being a 7 would mean I wouldn’t have to pre-chill my tulips to get them to bloom. Being a 7 means better fall color. Those in zone 7, however, are jealous about zone 15’s fuchsias. Yep, it’s a numbers game out here.
But it isn’t only about the numbers. It is also about dealing with particular climate conditions. Things like extreme dry heat in the summer and heavy frost in the winter. Or salt air from one’s proximity to the ocean. Then there are special problems like deer and water rationing. The Western Garden Book: helps with that too. It has lists. Personally I’m a big fan of lists. If something is placed on a list I don’t have to remember it. As I age, I find this increasingly helpful. The Book has lists for plants with autumn foliage color (I can dream, can’t I?) plants that resist deer, native plants, flowers for cutting, plants that attract butterflies & hummingbirds and much, much more. Even with a reasonably good knowledge of plant material, lists really help. Not only can they introduce you to new solutions, but they remind you of ones you may have temporarily forgotten.
Within each plant listing you will find even more useful information on particular varieties and cultivars. You can learn things like the ‘Prince of Wales’ juniper grows a mere 8″ while the ‘Blue Rug’ juniper will grow 8 feet. Mistaking the two could be quite disastrous in the landscape. You can read about the divisions of narcissus so that when you read bulb catalog descriptions terms like trumpet, small cupped and triandrus make sense. You will also pick up little tips like eating Asian pears with a squeeze of lime or that the common name for Gunnera, Dinosaur Food, came from a curator of Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum.
Who should you gift this book too? Any gardener new to the Western States or redoing their landscape. The book will not only give them plenty of enjoyment but will also save them from making costly mistakes on plants that simply won’t thrive in their zone.