Everyone wonders what to do with the lawn and--continuing with my list of basic reference books--I most often look in the Western Edition of Ortho Books, "All About Lawns." It takes an entire book to deal with lawns and their multitude of requirements and problems, and this one manages to present the science of turf management in readable fashion.
The many garden books published by Ortho, H. P. Books and Sunset Books can usually be found at any nursery, and together they cover practically every aspect of gardening. All were originally oriented to the West Coast, but now some titles are aimed at a national audience, which makes them only slightly more useful than any other general garden book.
Be sure to look for the titles that still say Western or Western edition if you want information that is specific to the California climate.
For vegetables, I turn to a recent book, "Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally" (Metamorphic Press, P.O. Box 1841, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95402), which will be a little more difficult to find. Written by a Northern Californian, Robert Kourik, it is applicable in the southern half of the state as well. It is such a thorough book that it may tell you more than you want to know if you are only casually interested in growing your own food.
For the casual gardener, I recommend "Home Vegetable Gardening" by the UC Cooperative Extension (order from Agricultural Sciences Publications, Division of Agricultural Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, Calif. 94720). This leaflet is quite detailed but can be quickly read.
California native plants (which should be planted in the fall, so you should be doing your planning now) get scant coverage in most books, but there is an excellent book called "Growing California Native Plants," by Marjorie G. Schmidt (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1980), that covers all the bases in detail.
For perennials (another group that should be planted in the fall), I have no clear-cut favorites, because there is yet to be a book written for Southern California, but "Landscaping with Perennials," by Emily Brown, a Northern Californian, (Timber Press, 9999 SW Wilshire, Portland, Ore. 97225) comes close. Unfortunately, Brown has created a massive reference but does not pass along much of her own experience as one of the first in California to really experiment with perennials. One nice fact given for each plant is its width, which is probably the one most important things you need to look up before planting any perennial, because widths vary greatly.
Two sources of garden books are VLT Gardner, Horticultural & Botanical Books, 30026 Avenida Celestial, Rancho Palos Verdes 90274, who can get you almost any garden book ever published, and the Garden Book Club, 250 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10107, which sends out a monthly catalogue that helps one stay up to date. The club selects its books with care and gives some consideration to the West Coast, consulting several prominent horticulturalists in Southern California.
If they ever offer "Hortus III" again for $19.95 as a premium for joining, jump on it. This is the authoritative reference--a massive dictionary of plants cultivated in North America--and even if it isn't much help on how to grow them, it is impressive sitting on a sturdy shelf and will probably be the heaviest book in your collection.