Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A book for every Santa Barbara Gardener

Well, not just Santa Barbara. Let's make that California, because that's the name of the book - California Gardener's Guide (Volume II). But it's perfect for locals. I met Nan a few years ago when we were both presenting for a symposium at the L.A. Arboretum, and we've stayed in touch ever since. The following is a review of her book that I wrote and posted at Amazon.com. I was going to say "this is one you'll want to have on your bookshelf", but that's not quite right. You'll want to have it on your lap, at the breakfast table, on the patio and in the garden.

Here goes...

We all know that the Sunset Western Garden Book is "the bible" when it comes to horticulture on the Left Coast. But after reading Sterman's fabulous book, it was plain to see what was missing from the other tome. Nan takes us through the rationale for what makes a California garden such a rewarding and unique setting.

As great as her encyclopedic listing of plants is, an equally valuable part of the book is the first 27 pages that help us understand the climate, soil, resources of our diverse California setting, and the design process. This introduction is worth the price of the entire book and is a must read. Her approach to sustainable practices will resonate with readers, and creates an easy to understand framework for how we can have a beautiful garden while remaining good stewards of the environment.

Though there are only 186 plants featured (far less than Sunset presents), they represent a good cross section of the many categories of plants that play a role in any garden. And the plants are conveniently grouped by category of use.

The information offered for each plant is thorough, and unlike Sunset, gives the same essential information for each plant - Sunset tends to be inconsistent from plant to plant. By breaking each description into four mini-essays we learn: "When Where, and How to Plant" (about soil type, sun requirements, etc); "Growing Tips" that help us get the plant off to a good start; "Companion Planting and Design" helping the reader to imagine how the plant fits in with an overall composition; and "Try These" which introduces us to other cultivars and varieties of the species plants. The photograph on each page is clear, though two images (one long shot for overall character and another for flower detail) would be even more helpful. Lastly, the array of cartooned icons helps the reader quickly understand opportunities and constraints, like water and solar requirements, habitat value, adaptation to various micro-climates, etc.

I have taught landscape design to homeowners for nearly 20 years and always recommended the Sunset W. G. Book as a necessary reference. Now there's one more book my students will be needing.

Nan's website is PlantSoup. It's a fun read.


Shirley "EdenMaker" said...

I like this book too!
Now, go to my blog, I want your opinion on my post on "gardening for the sexes!"

kate said...

Even though I garden far from California, I can appreciate why you've given this book such a good review. I like the way the plant info is broken into sections.

I also meant to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed watching your garden wise guys tv shows ... once my computer stopped freezing on me, I saw them all.

Have added your blog to my 'playing in the dirt' links!