Books about Gardening

Archived Q&A and Reviews




Resources for low-water self-maintain gardens

July 2012

I love to go on the garden tours and see these lovely gardens that people have put in to save water -- only to learn that any money saved with lower watering bills is eaten up with an expensive professional gardener (not cheap mow-n-blow) to maintain the plants. Where to I find ideas for an easily self-maintainable landscape? We don't pay a mow-and-blow gardener to maintain our current bushes and grass, but we do let it get more rangy than the neighbors might like before we find time to hack it all back. How do we have a pretty low maintenance low water garden? My partner is not keen on the rockscaping and we don't want to otherwise cement other it either. is there some middle ground? between a rock and a huge bush

You will find excellent advice in a book published by EBMUD called 'Plants and Landscapes For Summer-Dry Climates'.It's available at several library branches in Oakland. Also you can go to a good nursery that has a section for natives/drought tolerant plants, like Annie's Annuals in Richmond. Hope it helps! Marion

Best resources for novice gardeners?

March 2011

We just recently bought a Berkeley home and have put significant time and money into renovating the interior. Now we are a few weeks from finally moving in and the front and backyards (both small) look overgrown and very neglected (plus are apparently harboring rats, etc...). Neither of us has worked in a yard since high school and while we can tell that the yards were once nicely landscaped we don't know where to begin. We're also out of money to pay a landscaper and really want to dig in and do this ourselves. Are there good web or book resources out there that can help us know where to start? We don't even know what is a weed and what isn't, what kind of plants do well here, what are the 'must have' tools, etc.... Thanks for your help! clueless about yardwork

Excellent resources:

1) The East Bay Municipal Utility District publication, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates:

2) the Sunset Western Garden Book - be sure to look up your microclimate zone. In some areas of Berkeley, you can grow bananas and avocados. In other areas it's like an arctic wind blows through every day at 3:15.

3) Golden Gate Gardening (they have both ornamental and vegetable gardening books

4) Annie's Annuals - the BEST place in the world for flower floozies to get their fix. It's in Richmond, very close by, with plants specifically adapted to our Mediterranean climate (cool wet winters, dry summers). Have a look at their website. They have a demonstration garden at a home in Richmond that is literally off the grid; they have something in bloom year-round and use only graywater to supplement rains. Their Mother's Day parties are really fun too.

5) Renee's Garden seeds

6) Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (aka Berkeley Hort)

7) UCB Botanical Garden

Note: I don't work for any of the above, I'm just an ardent fan 2 favorite garden tips:

A) if you have roses, put banana peels at their roots. For some reason, they seem much more resistant to aphids - maybe potassium toughens the stems?

B) snails and slugs are a problem around here, especially in spring. Drowning them in beer just gets the raccoons drunk. I like white 'Sluggo' snail bait granules. It's much safer than the brown pellets that look like pet food and poison everything that eats them, including pets. *** - wannabe flower floozie

How Wonderful that there are people in this world that don't know what a weed is... I CERTAINLY DO and have been cultivating my own garden for 22 years.

There are a few important things to know,

1) plant the green side up, the roots down. (that's the most important)

2) determine shade area, full sun areas.

3) Do you have a sprinkler or drip irrigation system? If so, run in once and find areas that get a lot of water, a little water, no water.... that will also help you decide what goes where.

4)Perenials and annuals (generally flowers that you see it payless) are more work and require good water/ native plants do very well with little care.

5) Get a Sunset Garden Book (the bible) and look up everything you see at the nursury, paying close attention to HOW BIG IT GROWS.

This might be the time to consider something romantic to cook from : ) Definitely herbs: Rosemary Thyme Oregano Basil Maybe a plot for tomatoes or strawberries?

You can look at what's there and pretty much know what will thrive there. so don't rip anything out until you have someone take a look at it. I'll come down and take a look at it just for the pleasure of it (maybe a cup of coffee) and point out what I see. It would bring me joy. Reenie

I highly recommend the book 'Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Area' put out by EBMUD ( store/plants-and-landscapes-for-summer-dry-climates), which has a vested interest in drought-tolerant gardens. It has lots of info on plants appropriate for this climate, but also landscape design, when to plant, etc. You can can find it on Amazon in bookstores, or order it from EBMUD. Carrie

The first thing is to buy the Sunset 'Western Garden Book.' One important feature of this book is that it breaks down what grows where into the microclimates of the Bay Area. The book also has different sections on the best types of plants for specific environments, such as shade, erosion control, drought-resistant natives, and so on. The bulk of the book is a huge encyclopedia of western plants. I found it enormously helpful when we bought our first house and were facing a task similar to yours.

Also, the weekly gardening section in the Chronicle can be helpful. They often list what you should be working on that month, regarding the season (e.g., when to prune certain bushes, when to plant, etc.).

Lastly, frequent your friendly neighborhood nursery or garden center. Just go browse around, see what they have, see what you like, and read the tags. You'll get to know the employees and can ask them questions. Mary

Bay Area Gardening Info

Dec 2005

I would love a recommendation for a book or website that gives detailed information on planting in the Bay Area. I already have the EBMUD book but am looking for other resources. Specifically, I want to plant my meyer lemon tree which has been in a pot for the past three years and not producing. I also want to try a gardenia bush. I need info on what to plant, when to plant it, and how (soil prep, etc.) Any recommendations/advice would be appreciated. thanks!

Berkeley Horticulture can answer ALL your questions - they are awesome they are just off hopkins, near Sacramento in north Berkeley berk hort fan

Stop by or call the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (know also as ''Berkeley Hort''). They are great at giving advice in person at the front desk if it isn't too busy. They could also probably recommed a book. A book I've used for years is ''Strawberries in November'' .... a great book on blooming and fruiting times in the bay area. If it is out of print, you could probably find it at a Berkeley or Oakland used book store (or on line). Berkeley Gardener

Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce- is the Bible for Bay Area gardening chris

Gardening in SF - Books, Nurseries and Groups

June 2005

I am looking for suggestions for books about gardening - specifically in San Francisco. I would also like suggestions as to nurseries that serve that area - wholsale or retail. If anyone knows of local organizations that would be good resources for a SF gardener - horticulture groups and other resources specific to San Francisco that would be great. Any other thoughts about gardening in the city are welcome. Thanks. MoreQsThanAs

Golden Gardening by Pam Pierce Gardening in Northern California From Chronicle Books local gardener

I like Sloat Garden Centers down by the zoo. They're very nice, and didn't let me go home with plants that wouldn't grow in my yard. ED

My first recommendation is to take a look at and read the California Gardening forum. They have forums on every topic and I have found it to be my favorite gardening resource. You might also want to check out Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Peirce which talks about vegetable gardening, and of course Sunset. Michele

Well, there's SLUG. The San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (though I wonder if anything has happened w/ them because of the allegations of electoral fraud in the last mayoral race....). I'm sure you could find info online. I had a couple of great books that I recently got rid of. One was Golden Gate Gardening which was mostly about food crops and was organized in a nifty AND handy month-by-month way. And one was a book with a title that escapes me but was an incredibly comprehensive book about gardening resources in the bay area. Hopefully someone else will know this book. It was written by a woman with an unusual first name.... Molly G

Pam Pierce's ''Golden Gate Gardening'' is really a great one to have, and is bay-area specific. Also on the web try, and the forums at are fantastic too. newbie gardener

Golden Gate Gardening is THE book to get! tons of info. climate specific from a prolific SF gardener; includes local resources, too. The Urban Farmer store in Richmond I believe they have a SF store also- they do free planning for drip and other irrigation systems and have good resources too. Chris

You don't say if you mean vegetable or decorative. If ''edibles'', I recommend ''Golden Gate Gardening: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California'' by Pam Peirce. It really addresses our microclimates, and how our planting seasons are really different here than in most of the country.

For selecting landscape plants for our area, nothing beats the new EBMUD book ''Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region'' (available from their web site, It doesn't have a lot of garden-skills type information, but does have a wealth of information on understanding our area's three-season year, selecting suitable plants, and beautiful pictures of hundreds of recommended landscaping plants. The one thing it fails to do, though, is mention which plants are toxic. So if you have young kids in your garden, you might want to research that separately once you narrow down your plant selections. R.K