One of my favorite reference books for California natives is California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Briend, published by Cachuma Press in 2005.
It took me a little while to warm up to the book, because the photos aren't quite as spectacular as the ones in the East Bay MUD book. But the insightful chapters about California natives and in depth reference (almost 200 pages of plant profiles for over 500 plants) make it an indispensable resource for any native plant gardener.
Chapter 1, A Short History of California Native Plant Horticulture, starts with the early history of some of the great women and men in the native plant movement, going up to the present:"More and more Californians are coming to appreciate the state's unique natural heritage, are rejoicing in a sense of place, and are realizing that conservation can begin in any home garden."
Chapter 2, A Look at California Plant Life, discusses the different plant communities. Understanding the plant communities, which are also discussed on the Las Pilitas web site, is essential to success with native plants and also inspiring for the garden designer.
Chapter 3, Designing a California Native Garden, has some sound design advice and also includes a discussion of combining California natives with plants from other regions, designing a habitat garden, wildfire, and sustainable design.
Chapter 4, Native Plant Care, is a must-read for gardeners who haven't yet worked with California natives. Because many natives are dormant or semi-dormant in summer (not winter), schedules for pruning, watering, and possibly fertilizing them is different than what gardeners from colder climates expect.
The alphabetically organized Plant Profiles have detailed information about each plant including a summary, a photo, and an in-depth discussion. If I have a question about a specific plant, I like to consult three or four resources, and this chapter is very high on the list.
The Recommended Plant Selections appendix has over twenty topics ranging from "Narrow Beds" to "Silver, Gray, White, or Blue Foilage" and can come in handy when one is looking for the perfect plant for a spot. Other appendixes about Native Plant Resources, Native Plant Nurseries, and a Glossary and Bibliography as well as two Indexes complete the book and make it abundantly clear that the authors took their work very seriously, did thorough research, and took pride in the details that count.
Sure, I love the coffee table books with the sumptuous, colorful, impossible looking plants that you can find at the front of the book store (for quite a tidy sum, I might add). But when I start thinking about my own garden, I want excellent information, consistent presentation, and just the right balance between pictures and text. That's why go back to California Native Plants for the Garden again and again.