The NEW Sunset Western Garden Book

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!


  1. Susan Moskaly says

    When I moved here from Ohio in 2000, so many plants here were foreign and exotic to me. What to plant? I had no idea. I bought a Sunset Western Garden book, and it became my trusty friend, helping choose plants for this “New World”. I haven’t bought a new one since, so please, I would love a new edition!

  2. Mary says

    Great review, Genevieve. My dog eared, dirt smudged 40th edition of Sunset Western Gardening Book has been my go-to work horse encyclopedia for many years, but I’d love to own the latest edition. The addition of photos and emphasis on regional gardening is definitely a plus. Native plants and sustainibility have taken precedence in my new plant choices.

  3. Debbie says

    Oh! I have a very old copy of Western Garden and would LOVE to have an update. This is an awsome book to have as a gardener!

    Thank you for the opportunity to enter the drawing!

  4. Anne Larkin says

    What a treat it would be to have the new addition of this wonderful book. When I retired and knew nothing about plants I bought this book. It is now nearly worn out and my garden is filled with beautiful plants.

    I love this web site too!

  5. says

    It was fun to read your review of the new Sunset Western Garden Book. I love my old copy and use it often for home and business. I would love to have an updated copy of this treasure of a book!

  6. Terry says

    I already bought one, but I would sure like to win another one to pass along to some lucky person in my garden club! I love the photos in place of the illustrations too! I was so tired of the illustrations, I mean, come on, we’ve had cameras for a long time now.

  7. Allison says

    Hee! Since I didn’t win one from my SISTER, I’d love to win one from my favorite local garden guru!

  8. Kate says

    As a new gardener with what I’m pretty sure is a brown thumb, I’d LOVE to have this book, especially right now as the season is just getting underway and I’m mired in my own self-doubt on how the heck to plant my veggies and have them grow and prosper and go to college and all that.

  9. Karen Tandy says

    I love gardening and gardening books. They are my high point in the winter here in Iowa. I would love to have this in my collection. Happy spring!!

  10. Evonne Phillips says

    I would love to have the new book. I have a really old one, but the new one with real pictures and the new index sounds wonderful.

  11. Roseology says

    I would love an updated copy to add to my other 3 versions.
    This is by far the best book for gardening in our area .. where else can you read about the details and growing habits and needs of over 8,000 plants!
    Sunset is the best!

  12. Roberta says

    I have about 3 or 4 issues of this great gardening bible! But I of course would love to have the latest and greatest new edition with….. 2500 Color Photos!!!! Yay!!! :)

  13. Robyn R. says

    Want, want, want! I keep putting this book in my cart, but then recoiling at spending the cash when I can just ask my dad the Master Gardener.

  14. says

    Sunst has been a favorite source for over 50 years for me. I have a big collection of how to books from years ago as we started our first homes.

  15. says

    Another giveaway? :^)

    I’m in. The Sunset Western Garden Book was one of the first general gardening books I purchased when I was getting started in my life-long love of gardening. Yes, it really was painted on the cave wall, but that’s what we did back then.

    I think I’m ready for an updated version.

  16. Lauren A. says

    I gave my Sunset book away a couple years ago when I moved to the east coast. Now I’m back on the west coast and am really missing having the Sunset book. Thanks…

  17. Julia Graham-Whitt says

    If I whined a lot and told you that the rain destroyed my copy (previous edition to the new one) in the back of my work truck, would that help? :-) I was drooling over the new edition at Miller Farms the other day…

  18. says

    Pick me! Pick me! I used to wistfully read the Sunset Gardening Book when I lived in a Manhattan apartment and dream of the day I would have a garden in zone 17 California and it finally happened. I could use a new copy and this latest edition looks pretty great.

  19. Claudia says

    I love books! And I really love the Sunset books. I remember how disappointed I was when I couldn’t get a copy of the 2002 Western Garden Annual. I would love to get this new book to inspire me to get out there and dig!

  20. Jill Patterson says

    I still use my 15-year old copy of Sunset’s Western Garden book. Time for an update! Thanks for the opportunity. One of the few books that really cover SoCal gardening.

  21. David says

    I just moved to California from England so am trying to transition from growing stuff somewhere where there is probably too much rain and not enough sun to southern california where there’s too much sun and not enough water. Oh well am excited to grow stuff year round and stuff like eggplant which are marginal at best in an English summer.

  22. Teresa says

    I would love this book. I asked for a copy for my birthday and got the abbreviated version which is okay but not the same.

  23. Kelly says

    What a fabulous giveaway! Your review of the book had me drooling…color photos, ornamental edibles, moon gardens, a section on succulents, and an emphasis on “gorgeous design”! Surely this edition will keep on inspiring all of us gardening addicts.

  24. Maxine says

    Gardening books are my favorite reading, and Sunset Western Gardening Book is an often used reference. Always good to have an up-to-date edition. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  25. Sue Merris says

    I have been using the same old one for the past 30 years and love it but an update would be fabulous. I love this book. It is a bible for gardeners across the country.

  26. Lynda says

    It was also my first gardening book. I am looking forward to getting the latest update. Saw it at Costco, but I will wait to purchase, hopefully I will be one of the lucky 5!

  27. Charlotte Owendyk says

    It was a hot summer in the 1960’s; I was 14 when I read my parents Sunset Garden Book from cover to cover.

  28. Susan Bulger says

    I need a new copy because the binding wore out on my fourth edition. This book is essential for every gardner.

  29. Coco Thorpe says

    The thought of having photos of all the plants sounds too good to be true! I would love to have a copy of this, please!

  30. Johanna Manalis says

    I’m planning my first garden ever this year and would love to have a gardening book! I’ve appreciated many blogs and online resources as I put together my initial plans but would love a book to help me in the process. Thanks!

  31. Justin says

    The only copy of Western Garden I have is my Grandpa’s copy from the 70’s so I could really used an updated version. Thanks!

  32. Katie Winston says

    may not be in the west – but definitely would appreciate a copy to help with gardening and learning all I can…

  33. Mindy King says

    Growing up my Mom always had this book lying around the house. I think she actually has the first edition… The cover is a faded & tattered light minty green, with the corners of the pages folded over to remind her of the plants she bought or the ones she’s carefully deciding where to plant. She would tear the labels off of plant containers and use them as place holders in her Garden Bible. You would have to be careful not to loose the little plastic plant identifiers that she also would store in the pages of the book. My Mom is the reason I love to spend my days in the garden. She showed me the joy of planting and nurturing a garden. My garden is my pride & joy… And I’m passing the same to my 3 year old son. He loves to spend time in the garden with Mommy. Thank you for bringing me down memory lane… I can almost smell the pages of my Moms old Garden Book. : )

  34. elizabeth says

    I would LOVE to receive a new copy of this old favorite. Mine is several editions old and I really would like the new photos.

  35. Nick Merrill says

    Just found your website — great information! Love your attitude, and your advice seems applicable to Portland gardeners so I will be back a lot. Great book review — I have a very old copy and have always loved it. Thanks!

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