The Coastal Gardener: A chance for you to be a garden book editor

November 19, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • Since it was first published in 1954, the Western Garden Book has remained an indispensible gardening tool.
Since it was first published in 1954, the Western Garden… (Daily Pilot )

You can't bake a great cake without a great recipe; you can't build a great house without great architectural plans, and, as any good gardener will tell you, you can't garden successfully without "The Western Garden Book."

If you garden anywhere in California and could only have one book, "The Western Garden Book" is the one, as it has been for the past 56 years.

Like a good spade or pair of pruning shears, this book is an essential tool of any Western gardener. At 765 pages, with 2,500 illustrations and 8,000 plants, "The Western Garden Book" has no peer.

What is it that has made this book so indispensible to gardeners, from novice to expert, for generations? The book's enduring success probably mostly comes from its incredibly accurate and straightforward encyclopedia of plants — the heart of the publication.


In a few seconds anyone can turn to their favorite plant to learn some additional features they had never known before. Or, one can query the book about an unusual plant sitting before them in a nursery, learning just about anything they might be curious about; size, sunlight, flower season, regional suitability and so on.

The information in the book is not poetic, nor idealistic. It is straightforward and it's factual. Unlike so much gardening information, "The Western Garden Book" isn't trying to convince you of anything. This book simply delivers information; it's up to the reader to do with the information as he or she pleases.

The lasting popularity of this gardening reference is remarkable. Volumes of information on plants and gardening are now only a computer mouse click away, yet "The Western Garden Book" remains the standard, the first place a gardener turns when considering all things growing: how big does it get, when does it bloom, will it grow in my area, what's its botanical name and so on and so on.

What other book is still relevant after 50 years and why has "The Western Garden Book" endured in an era when any other reference book is obsolete almost before the ink is dry?

The answer is two-fold. First, this book is the compilation of an army of experts; it is a collaboration. Second, it is continually revised, re-written and updated.

I was fortunate to have been a contributor to the previous edition of "The Western Garden Book." A few weeks ago, I was again asked to share my advice and suggestions to an upcoming ninth edition of this classic.

"Of course", I replied, followed by, "Which plants or species should I focus on?"

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