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Nurturing the natural

August 30, 2007|Lili Singer

Designing California Native Gardens

The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens

Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook

University of California Press, $27.50

Successful gardens begin with smart combinations of plants with similar needs. Add ecological kinship to the mix, say these authors, and a garden not only succeeds, it feels right.

Their guide to landscaping with California natives suggests that home gardens should mimic what nature has already perfected, nearby.

The 12 colorful chapters provide sample plans, design tips, plant lists, plant descriptions and inspiration for re-creating a dozen different California plant communities at home. Think: a slice of oak woodland, the Channel Islands, chaparral or grassland -- extended into your own backyard. Seasonal beauty, native wildlife, low maintenance and sense of place follow.

Photographs (mostly excellent) show hundreds of different species, in large and small gardens, along paths, in containers, holding slopes and spilling from chinks in a wall. Though the authors are Bay Area-based, Southern California is well represented. The book's illustrations, including Middlebrook's Grandma Moses-like site renderings, are delightful. Plentiful nondesign factoids (on gardening, propagation, pollinators, places to visit and more) encourage browsing.

With ecologically sound, uniquely Californian garden design at its core, this book ably complements other recent titles that focus on selection and care of California flora.

-- Lili Singer

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