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A New Chapter for Gardening's Good Book

April 12, 2001|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

Most gardeners agree that if you have only one gardening book, it should be the "Sunset Western Garden Book," often dubbed the "bible of Western Gardening." Almost every good gardener has one sitting on a shelf, and garden professionals quote from it as if were the Bible.

A 1936 predecessor had a hole punched through one corner, so you could hang it in the toolshed. The latest incarnation, new for 2001, is too big to hang on the wall--its 728 pages weigh just shy of 4 pounds--but it's as useful as ever, being the only comprehensive guide to what we grow on the West Coast.

Those familiar with the "Sunset Western Garden Book" (Sunset Publishing, $32.95) know that it's based on climate zones originally mapped out by the state of California and later expanded and made popular by Sunset as zones 1-24, with 1 being the coldest parts of the West and 24 being the beach climates of Southern California.

This edition adds new zones, including special "A" zones for Alaska and "H" zones for Hawaii. New maps for the Southland clarify boundaries, making it easier to figure out what Sunset zone you garden in.

Knowing what zone you live in is important because all of the plants in the encyclopedic portion of the book (487 of the 768 pages) are described as growing only in, or as growing best in, certain zones.

Although gardeners love a challenge, there's no point trying to grow the eerily beautiful blue Himalayan poppy in the Southland since it has a chance of survival only in zones A1-A3 (Alaska), zones 1-6 (the Northwest) and maybe zone 17 (parts of Northern California).

On the other hand, the lovely pink or yellow trumpet trees that are blooming around town thrive only here, in zones 20-24, and in Hawaii, which makes them a special and good choice for us.

This New Century Edition includes some 2,000 new plants, and each kind of plant gets a little color spot illustration. There is also an expanded plant selection guide that helps you choose the right plant for the right spot.

*

"Bruce and Sharon Asakawa's California Gardener's Guide" (Cool Springs Press, $24.95) might be a better guide for beginning gardeners. There are big photos of every plant in its 421 pages, and instead of Sunset's zones, there are maps marked in green that show where a plant does best in the state.

Though it contains only 169 plants, compared with Sunset's thousands, they are the most common and sure-fire choices, and each is covered in depth, getting a whole two pages. Like the Sunset book, there's plenty of practical information, but it is all done in a much more personal and informal style. Mix that with the maps and big, clear photos, and you have an excellent book for the novice gardener.

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