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Reviews of a Few of our Favorite Garden Books

We use the following reference garden books regularly to help answer our own gardening questions. And some are just fun to read.

Seed to Elegance
By Kevin Williams

Kentia palms have been a status symbol as well as a darn good house plant.  If there ever was a short list of plants with romantic histories, the Kentia Palms should surely be on that list. Captain Cook, Mutiny on the Bounty, Queen Victoria are all part of the tale.  If a guy can figure out how to grow tropical plants in Michigan on a production scale, there is plenty to be learned.

The Garden Seed Inventory
By Kent Whealy

If you are a fan of seed catalogs this compendium of all of the vegetable seeds sold in the US and Canada will keep you dreaming of your next vegetable garden extraordinaire through to planting time and then some. There are more kinds of seeds than you might ever imagine.

The Woodchucks Guide To Gardening

By Ron Krupp

This trek through the seasons of a Vermont Garden is more than a compilation of entertaining garden tales. The recapturing of a connection to the earth through the revisitation of the old time family farming practices, food storage, crop rotation and timings is an education. This is a guide to a lifestyle that can bring us health and a healthy place to live. It all starts with good food and good food starts with good gardening. Good gardening starts with a thorough understanding of the natural world around us.

The Botany of Desire
By Michael Pollan

The book The Botany of Desire is very entertaining, full of interesting tidbits of information. The author uses the premise that certain species of plants have used mans desire for them to increase their survival in a world full of pests and predators. The four plant species focused on are the tulip, the potato, the apple and marijuana. The full implication of mans manipulation of plants through hybridization and controlled growing programs is thoughtfully explored. The history behind each of these species and the effect that they have, or in the case of the tulip, had, on our lives is remarkable. The author thoroughly researched each of the species and his conclusions in each case is edifying. This is a very enjoyable book, a good read and a thoughtful one. I can highly recommended it, even to those who don’t find plants fascinating. The first link is for the book itself, the second for the book on disk.

California Native Plants

The second edition Jepson Manual reflects the dramatic changes in the understanding of the plant taxonomy due to genetic studies of the plants. The Jepson Manual is the primary resource used for the identification of the California native plant material by the scientific community. There have been some controversial name changes and there are and will probably always be some difficulty discerning the more complicated taxa. To date I do not think that there is a better book on the subject.

I have found that identification is made much easier when I use a more local guide. For the Sierra Nevada Range A Sierra Nevada Flora and Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada fit this bill.


In Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties I regularly use A Flora of the Santa Barbara Region by Clifton F. Smith. If you are interested in native plants from Ventura and Santa Barbara County's this is a must though finding someone willing to give up their copy might be a fiscal challenge.


In Orange County and Western Riverside County I use two annotated checklists by Fred Roberts.


The most complete work on native plant propagation from seed that I have found is  Seed Propagation of Native California Plants, by Dara Emery.    The list of plants is extensive.  His list of selections that have made their way into the horticultural trade is amazing by any measure.


A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch

This is a great book on a subject that is a hot topic in the nursery. There are more salvia's becoming available in the trade on a regular basis, 150 are treated here. To this point many of us have had to guess about what these plants would turn into. This book has helped to mark the way. I recommend it heartily. I would love to see more subjects treated this thoroughly.


Peter Beales' book Classic Roses has been in and out of my shelf and onto my desk for years. I use it regularly and extensively. People are increasingly using the old roses and this has been a great primer for me. The pictures are outstanding and the text to the point.

David Austin's book, Old Roses and English Roses is a great reference by the master rosarian himself. His plant size information is relevant to the Isles but there is a lot more information there than just how big those roses grow. The book can not possibly keep up with the newest releases but truly does justice to those that were out by the time the book was printed.

Clair Martin's book 100 English Roses of the American Garden brings many of the roses to our climate. The Huntington Gardens in San Marino are one of the most extensive testing grounds for the Austin Roses. Clair has grown and experienced their graces and flaws longer than the rest of us and has a great deal of information on the subject to pass on to us. They are a different rose when they are here in the ground in California. We get more sun and the roses respond and grow, and how.


Perennials for American Gardens by Ruth Rogers Clausen has one of the most up to date listing of plants around. There great pictures of many of the varieties of plants. I have used these illustrations to demonstrate many of the plants that I like in a landscape.

General Gardening Books

52 Weeks in the Garden by Robert Smaus is a well rounded book of ideas for the garden. It is nice to have the tasks broken out by the season. There are excellent lists for difficult areas and situations in the garden. I commiserated with the author on many of the weeds and pests that we both have faced.

Water Gardening

Water Gardening, Water Lilies and Lotuses by Perry D. Slocum and Peter Robinson gives a great in depth view of what is needed for a water garden as well as what is possible. There are copious pictures of aquatic plants and diagrams of the workings of ponds.

American Horticulture: Complete Guide to Water Gardening by Peter Robinson fulfills its name. It is a worthy book to be added to the bookshelf and pulled down on a regular basis.

The Pond Doctor; by Helen Nash is direct about getting to the problems faced in a water garden. The ecology of the water feature is discussed. Methods for manipulating its conditions are invaluable. This book represents a wealth of experience. In the landscape we draw upon a wealth of experience. In the pond comparatively few have tread.

Plants for Water Gardens by Helen Nash provides photos of a wide variety of what can be grown in the water garden. The book explains the plants culture and pond requirements. It is a good thing to have decided upon what will be grown in the pond before the pond is designed. Aspects like the movement and depth of the water are critical to success of many water plants.

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Last modified: July 4, 2015