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Guidebooks Bloom With Garden Tour Ideas


We gardeners like to peek over fences, to see what others are up to in their gardens. And when we get the chance, we like going farther afield in search of good ideas in other people's gardens.

England is not too far, and more than a few gardeners have made the pilgrimage to that most garden-oriented of countries.There are also a surprising number of gardens to visit right here in California.

However, finding gardens--public or private, here or abroad--is not that easy because they are not normally included in travel guides or brochures.

To the rescue have come a number of new guidebooks, just for the gardener:

"Blue Guide Gardens of England" (W. W. Norton; $24.95) lists an amazing 200 gardens regularly open to the public, from Akenfield to Stourhead. England has a long tradition of gardens open to the public but this is the first book available in this country that lists them so you can do some planning.

They are grouped by county and all pertinent information is given, from hours and price of admission to whether toilets are available and dogs are allowed. Maps help locate the gardens so you can expeditiously plan your garden tour.

"The Complete Guide to North American Gardens" series by William C. Mulligan (Little, Brown; each volume $15.95) seeks to do the same with American gardens, though the publisher acknowledges that we have "no ingrained tradition of the arboretum or open-to-the-public estate garden." But, they manage to find quite a few none the less.

The first two volumes, "The Northeast" and "The West" are out and available. Again, all pertinent information is here (except the actual admission charge) and there are rough maps that place the gardens. The West, incidentally, also includes Hawaii's public gardens and those in British Columbia.

The Northeast guide is particularly valuable and includes large gardens like Fletcher Steele's Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Mass., and small virtually unknown gardens, such as the authentic colonial reconstruction Sherburne House Garden at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, N.H.

There are many surprises for West Coast gardeners in this guide, such as the Duke Gardens in Somerville, N.J., with its 11 greenhouse rooms, each encasing a "particular kind of garden from a certain era or world locale."

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and the eastern end of Canada are included in the Northeast guide.

"Beautiful Gardens" by Eric Johnson and Scott Millard (Ironwood Press, $12.95) zeros in on the Southwest, covering New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California and Nevada (Surprise! There are several desert gardens amid the casinos). There is a general map of the area, and information about each garden. Color photos provide an idea of what the gardens look like before you point your car in that direction.

"California Public Gardens" by Eric Sigg (John Muir Publication, $16.95) is a very good guide to the Golden State--one to keep in the glove compartment or next to the Thomas Bros. map--because it not only lists public gardens, but public places that have unusual garden merit, including landscapes around public buildings, local parks and even roadside plantings. Got a few minutes to kill? Sigg can suggest something not too far away that is of interest to a gardener.

You can find out about the unusually handsome landscape created by Ralph Cornell for UCLA or the curiously linear Beverly Gardens Park, also by Cornell, that separates the residential area from downtown Beverly Hills; the gardens around Cal-Tech, by Florence Yoch and Lucile Council; Riverside's Fairmont Park, designed by the Olmsted brothers; the incredible UC Santa Cruz garden; the gardens around Bourn Cottage in Grass Valley--built for the man who created Filoli--with its collection of old Gold Country roses. This book has nice dashes of history to season the horticulture.

"The Gardens of Southern California" by Helaine Kaplan Prentice with photographs by Melba Levick (Chronicle Books, $35), is more of a picture book than a guidebook, though information on 55 public gardens is included. The armchair traveler, perhaps Aunt Jane in Wiscasset, Me., will most like this guide to gardens.

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