16 years ago, when I took my first horticulture class, The Sunset Western Garden Book was the very first book I bought. Its status in the West is such that I owned three copies by the end of my first year: one old edition which had the best basic gardening tips, one new edition with the most current plant listings and up-to-date science, and a battered, muddy one which I took with me everywhere. I’ve been through three updates over the years, and it’s one of the few books that I pre-order and squeal when the new one comes out, because this is it – if you’re a gardener on the West Coast, you either have this book or, um – you may be overestimating how seriously you’ve been taking this “gardening” thing. You may be wondering how different this new edition could really be? Well, for one, it has photos. Yep, the charming but often-frustrating illustrations have been replaced with vivid, beautiful photographs. And thank god, they put back the plant index, which was missing in the last edition. The Plant Finder lists in the front have been revamped, with the old sections on broad categories of plants such as “annuals, “vines” and “ferns” replaced with more useful sections on “ornamental edibles”, “plants that attract beneficial insects”, “sculptural plants”, “plants for moon gardens” and more. Altogether a solid improvement, given the Plant Finder lists are already broken down by type of plant. Having “trees” listed separately was kind of overkill given that you’d be better served by going to the section that most matches your garden, such as “plants for shade”, and looking for tree ideas there. Even better is the thematic direction they’re taking. There’s a definitely move towards clever sustainability and a contemporary style. While I buy the book for the Plant Finder lists and encyclopedia, I confess that the new emphasis on gorgeous design had me sitting down to read more carefully. The sections in the back about different ways to use both small and large succulent plants had me jotting down ideas. I just wish the book had a “pin it” button so I could add the pics to my Pinterest boards! My very favorite aspect of the new book is their serious discussion of regional design. A garden should have a sense of place and reflect the region it grows in. Not only does using native plants and materials in the landscape reduce cost, maintenance, and the carbon footprint of trucking foreign plants from three states away, but it just feels right. When your garden has a lovely view of the redwoods yet reflects none of the beauty of the forest, you’re missing the chance to connect your own garden to something greater than yourself. The fact that the new Sunset is discussing this and giving tools and tips for achieving a landscape that feels connected to your surroundings – well, it fills my soul. This is important stuff. OK, I should probably stop raving on it now as you’re either convinced you need one, or you’re a lost cause. But I will say one last thing. The actual format of the book makes it a lot easier to read. The cover bends flat and the book sits open, so you can read while eating breakfast, which is a huge selling point for a large book like this.
Want to win a copy of your own? You know you do. Sunset was kind enough to offer a whopping FIVE copies to you lucky folk. Just leave a comment below and I’ll pick five winners at random on Thursday the 29th. US only. Good luck! Jill, Debbie, Anne, Becky and Amanda are the lucky winners – congrats, guys!