What’s new in ‘The New Sunset Western Garden Book’?


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Whether you’re new to gardening or have logged many planting seasons with your hands in soil, the go-to reference in the West remains the ‘Sunset Western Garden Book.’ This essential guide to the region’s ornamental and edible landscapes has been around for 80 years.

The just-released ninth edition, ‘The New Sunset Western Garden Book’ (Sunset Books, $34.95 for flexible binding, $44.95 for hardcover) came out last week with a fair number of changes. So I asked Kathleen Brenzel, garden editor for Menlo Park-based Sunset magazine and editor of the book, to walk us through the changes in the 768-page guide for this edited Q&A:


How did you go about updating this edition?
Before we did anything else, we assembled a panel with landscape architects, horticulture educators from UC Berkeley and UC San Luis Obispo, nursery people and new graduates who had used our last edition as a textbook. The recent grads told us that in order to make ‘The New Sunset Western Garden Book’ relevant, it had to have a digital component. They said: ‘We go everywhere with our smartphones, so we want to be able to take a photo of a plant we see on the hiking trail and look it up instantly.’

How did you go digital?
Now you can take the best of Sunset with you to the garden center, nursery and your yard. You can get the free mobile edition of this book’s Plant Finder on your smartphone. (Search for Sunset Plant Finder.) With it, you can access more than 2,000 plants -- and search by plant name, ZIP Code, climate zone, sun and water requirements, and type. There’s a companion online Plant Finder that lets you browse by color, height, spread and special needs. How else is the book interactive?
The last section of ‘The New Sunset Western Garden Book’ is a practical guide. We’ve added a camera icon on the bottom of the pages, pointing you to corresponding videos on our website. It’s nice to read directions on planting a tomato in a pot and then watch a video of one of our editors showing you exactly how to do that.

What are the other major updates?
This is the first edition to feature plant photos exclusively, rather than illustrations. There are more than 2,000 plant photos. We also updated the entire plant encyclopedia. That was the biggest job in the whole book. Every plant was reappraised, and we added many new varieties now available in nurseries. We went to growers all over the West and compared our existing plant database with what they are now offering; we asked what they thought we should include and why.

How many new plants did you add?
The new book has 9,000 plants, up from 8,000 in the last edition. We also had to check the botany of every plant because botanists are constantly reclassifying plants.

What can new gardeners gain from the book?
The section ‘Gardening Start to Finish’ is more instinctive for the beginner. We walk them through the whole growing process from A to Z. We also have practical sections on gardening for wildlife and native plants, growing herbs and water-wise plants.

What can more experienced gardeners gain from the new book?
The plant encyclopedia is filled with tip boxes of additional information -- like how to propagate a sweet potato vine or when to cut ornamental grasses for the vase.


You have more edibles, don’t you?
We asked ourselves: ‘What do people want most from ‘The New Sunset Western Garden Book’ right now?’ You’d have to be totally checked out not to notice a huge wave of edible gardening, so we wanted to amp up our coverage. I’m really happy with the ‘what edibles to plant when’ charts for warm-season and cool-season veggies.

What’s your favorite take-away from the book?
There’s an underlying theme that acknowledges how we garden now -- with an interest in natural gardening and sustainability. Our gardens are smaller, but they’re stylish and sustainable.

-- Debra Prinzing

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