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From the Experts, New Guides Help You Make the Most of Your Yard

September 21, 2000|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

It's a long-standing tradition at the meetings of the Southern California Horticultural Society near Griffith Park: Each month, members bring in amazing flowers or stunning leaves and display them in glass jars, for the rest of us to gawk at. The "plant forum" table holds items of exotic provenance with unpronounceable names.

Meeting announcements always detail the plant forum offerings from the previous month, and some of us have saved these green-colored sheets for decades because they are often the only mention, anywhere, of a particular plant that will grow in Southern California.

Now I can toss my 30-year-old stack because editor Joan Citron has put all this information into "Selected Plants for Southern California Gardens," a 416-page paperback available from the Horticultural Society. It contains roughly 2,700 exotic and native plants brought to Plant Forums since 1947, which makes it a very useful book for the serious Southland gardener.

The original meeting descriptions were often quite brief, but Citron and other members of this knowledgeable group have added valuable cultural notes for each plant, such as "gophers eat it" (speaking of Dymondia or silver carpet), or "It's very drought tolerant in the shade" (concerning Dicliptera suberecta), or "thrives in spite of doubtful sun" (the native brodiaea or wild hyacinth).

Descriptions include the plant's native land and family affiliation, two valuable bits that even the "Sunset Western Garden Book" omits. There has been an attempt to identify plants that are poisonous, and there is a rogues' gallery of horribly invasive plants to avoid planting at all costs. A useful list of common names makes it easier to look up plants, but there are only a few line drawings for illustration.

"Selected Plants" costs $34.95, plus $8.88 tax and shipping, from the Southern California Horticultural Society, P.O. Box 41080, Los Angeles, CA 90041-0080; http://www.socahort.org.

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When it comes to growing and cooking vegetables naturally--and with a little pizazz--Santa Cruz has been in the forefront since the early 1970s, when an English gardening guru and Shakespearean actor named Alan Chadwick began an innovative garden there at the University of California. He and the students grew everything organically in handsome mounded beds that looked like plump down comforters, with soil that was as soft and fluffy as feathers.

The students ate all that they grew. I remember one notable interview with Chadwick that was followed by beet soup, beet bread, cooked beets and beet cake. It seems that beets were the only thing harvested that winter day, but it turned me into a fan of this blood-red vegetable.

This tradition is still alive in Santa Cruz, and the area's latest contribution comes from Richard Merrill, director of the horticulture department at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, and Joe Ortiz, who runs Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria in nearby Capitola. They've combined their knowledge and talents and have written a very informative book, "The Gardener's Table" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95), a comprehensive, 268-page reference.

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No plant is more picked on than the rose. Insects and other creatures suck its juices and skeletonize its leaves; diseases of every description and color cover the leaves. Try to do something about this carnage and one finds precious little information on rose troubles or their cures. Books that are excellent in every other way shy away from the subject. Not so a new booklet from the University of California called "Healthy Roses" (University of California Press, [800] 994-8849, http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu; $10).

It explains and illustrates all of the pests and diseases that plague roses in California, including rose slugs and rust. It recommends various controls, though don't expect any silver bullet or miracle cures. All of the controls are "environmentally friendly," so you won't have to turn your backyard into an EPA Superfund candidate just to get a few good blooms. Controlling rose pests and diseases is plain hard work and requires persistence and understanding, but the information here will help.

The healthiest roses in my garden at this time of the year are either brand-new roses with bred-in disease resistance or some old-timers that naturally shrug off problems. The Texas people who started the old-rose kick have a new book, "Roses in the Southern Garden," by G. Michael Shoup (Antique Rose Emporium, $35; [800] 441-0002), and it's a fun look at heirloom roses.

Two Southern Californians have authored rose books in the last year. Clair Martin, of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, wrote "100 Old Roses for the American Garden" for Smith & Hawken (Workman, $17.95), and chemist and rosarian Tommy Cairns did the new "All About Roses" for the Ortho series of books (Meredith, $11.95). Both are for a national audience, but it helps when the authors are aware of our special problems.

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