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Gardening : It's Time to Catch Up on Garden Reading : The latest books on regional planting can help in planning for next season.

July 09, 1989|ROBERT SMAUS | Times Garden Editor

For Californians, the time for planting and most other garden work has now past, and there is little to do other than water until the weather cools in the fall.

For us, summer is much like an Easterner's winter--a time to think about gardening, make plans and perhaps read.

There is, for certain, no shortage of things to read. Garden books are being published as fast as the publishers can think of titles, but the California buyer should beware--many of these books are not appropriate in our climate and can be downright misleading.

My favorite misleading title is "Encyclopedia of Regional American Gardening" because the pictures on the cover and most of the photographs and information inside are of, or concern, English gardens. It is, in fact, an English book, with some changes and additions for an American audience.

Not that we cannot learn from the English school of gardening, but one should be aware that much of what they can do, we cannot and vice-versa. They are, however, the best plants men on earth and often the only information on a subject, a particular plant for instance, will be found in an English book.

English books are probably a better bet than many books that are written and published on the East Coast, because our East is a much colder and harsher environment than the British Isles.

In the "Encyclopedia" just mentioned, for instance, you will find several native California plants, such as the excellent Garrya 'James Roof' because they are grown in England, but not on our own East Coast. Still, the cultural instructions for these native plants are misleading and only interesting at best.

A good way to see where a book is really from (and probably about) is to look on the back of the title page for the names of other (most likely, the original) publishers.

At the top of my list of summer reading for Southern Californians is a book written and published by local bromeliad grower Paul T. Isley. It is a large and elegant book, and it is expensive at $50. But, it is without a doubt the best book on the subject of Tillandsias and "Tillandsia" is its title.

Tillandsias are those small bromeliads, usually gray in color, that cling to the sides of rocks and trees in nature and are usually sold attached to slabs of bark or wood at nurseries, and even at discount chain stores such as Home Club and Home Depot.

They are particularly fascinating plants, slowly growing to form colonies of several, and many have spectacular flower spikes almost as large as the plant itself. Most can only be grown, outdoors at least, in California (and parts of Florida), though they also thrive indoors.

The book is exhaustive, but not exhausting. It is easy to read and full of fascinating information and great photos. There is a section on their history and the history of those who discovered them, or did pioneering work with tillandsias. There is a chapter that goes through all of the species, illustrating each, in color. There are sections on how to care for them--indoors or out--and how to mount them, a section on pests, and even on how to use them in the landscape.

"Tillandsia" is available only from its publisher, Botanical Press, P.O. Box 5592, Gardena, Calif. 90249, or at Isley's nursery, Rainforest Flora, 1927 W. Rosecrans Ave., Gardena, (213) 515-5200.

"The Complete Vegetable Gardener's Sourcebook" (Prentice Hall Press; $14.95) is just that, and it is written by two Californians, Duane and Karen Newcomb. You will find every vegetable variety listed here and who sells the seeds, making this an invaluable source book for the adventuresome kitchen gardener. Want to find the source for the 'Heintz' varieties of tomatoes or one named 'Lucky Draw'? They're here. How about an eggplant name 'Apple Green'? Or, a cauliflower named 'Stovepipe'? All here.

There is also a lot of other useful information here. There are tips--and sources for the necessary supplies--on preparing the soil, starting seeds, watering (including drip), a list of pests and recommended pesticides, a long list of suppliers of beneficial insects that might help avoid the use of poisons, and much more.

This book is a real bargain and, because it is by Californians, you'll not feel mislead or cheated. It makes mention of gypsum, for instance, useful in California soils, instead of only mentioning the use of lime, generally a disaster on California soils, but common back East.

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