Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Non-fiction: Going Native

California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide by Helen Popper

This is the season when as the weather gets warmer and water bills go up as California gardeners try to prolong the life of their abundant spring gardens, a lot of them start wondering again about the vaunted virtues of gardening with California native plants. In recent years major nurseries have expanded their selections of California natives. They have become more popular as their variety, beauty, drought tolerance, and ease of care have become more generally known, but it seems that their increasing popularity has come in particular from a growing understanding among gardeners as to how they might be integrated into existing garden styles. Not everyone seems ready to make their gardens wholly collections of California native plants, but this book will be useful for both the timid and the bold.

The choice those who write gardening books must always make it seems is whether to focus on the individual plant species in a specialized garden or to talk about the detailed work of creating and maintaining a garden with those plants. This book chooses the latter approach, and is constructed around the yearly and seasonal calendar. It details what tasks are important each month: what cuttings to take, what to sow, what should be cut and pruned, how much to water, and when to mulch. It is preeminently a “how to” book. But you will learn a lot about different plant varieties as well, for the chapter for each month includes a section on what natives will be in bloom in the garden during that month. The book includes many wonderful color photos, some showing a particular species of plant, but others show plant groupings that will be a source of inspiration to those who want to try gardening more extensively with California natives.

California does have differing garden zones, and presumably some of these plants will grow better in some zones than in others. This is where a zone and plant list might have been helpful. But nurseries feature California native plants that will be hardy in their locale, and there are a lot of local native plant “demonstration” gardens open to the public. Many botanical gardens and University arboreta also feature gardens of California native plants. The appendix includes a list of these as well as a monthly calendar of times for taking cuttings of various species. Rather than just a list of plants, this book provides a gracefully written narrative from which the reader will take away a great deal of knowledge about the practice, style and rhythm of gardening with California natives.

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