Every once in a while, a book comes long that is so perfect, I get copies for all my friends. Just released, Helen Popper's California Native Gardening: A Month-By-Month Guide is such a rare treat. Just look at the cover (cover image from University of California Press, the publisher) and start dreaming about the different seasons in the garden. Then open the book and you're hooked.
A great complement to some of the existing reference-focused books, such as California Native Plants for the Garden, Helen's focus is on what to do in the garden through the year. Bookended by some great introductory material and very helpful appendixes, each chapter has a focus on one month in the garden. For that month, Helen tells use on a summary page the main jobs for that month. I especially like that she includes a lot of information about when to water, what to water, and how much to water. And I'm also expecting to return repeatedly to Helen's advice on when to sow wildflowers and take cuttings.
But in addition to the great organization and sound advice, I just love reading this book for the poetry of the descriptions. Here's a short excerpt from the March "What's in Bloom" section:
"Early spring brings the bright orange blooms of the bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus, M. longiflorus) to the Transverse Range. An adaptable, short-lived perennial, the bush monkeflower is often used in revegetation projects. It is a larval host to the common checkerspot butterfly and it provides nectar to bees and hummingbirds....Near the Delta, blue flowers grace the arching stems of hounds tounge (Cynoglossum grande) under an oak. Swatches of bright yellow Jonny jump-ups (viola penduculata) and of baby blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) stretch along the edge of the tree's canopy..."
Pages like that make it abundantly clear that this book is not just a dry academic treatise, but was written by a plant lover for other plant lovers, by a California native plant enthusiast for other enthusiasts or those who are waiting to become enthusiasts.
Quite possibly the best part of the book, are the photos. Full-color illustrations, a whole page for each month and many more throughout the book, show propagation techniques, design ideas, and plants, often in a garden setting. The quality of the photos is consistently great, and only at second glance does one realize that many different photographers have contributed to the book. Many of the photos were taken by Helen herself, but a few are by Saxon Holt, Judy Kramer, and others.
The last chapter of the book discusses garden styles with many practical suggestions, and also has a table of cutting times, a list of places to see native plants, and "Good Friends on the Bookshelf".
I'm hoping that the book will be available at the upcoming San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, or you can order a copy through your local bookstore. This friend on your bookshelf will be there with good advice all through the year. Have fun!