When it's too hot to garden it's a good time to read about gardening, perhaps making plans for the cooler fall-planting season ahead.
There's no shortage of new books on the subject (there's a stack of review copies 8 feet tall in the corner of my office), though too many ignore the West Coast and so are of limited interest or usefulness here. Even the photographs can mislead one into thinking we can actually grow similar gardens here.
When you want to curl up in front of the air conditioner with a good book, here are a few that work for Californians.
Books on Plants
"The California Gardener's Book of Lists" by Catherine Yronwode with Eileen Smith (Taylor Publishing; $17.95) is the most ambitious attempt at categorizing plants since Roland Stewart Hoyt's "Check Lists for the Ornamental Plants of Subtropical Regions," published back in 1938 (and still a great book if you can find a copy).
Yronwode lists plants by size or shape, where they grow best, or something similar. There are lists of plants deer don't eat, witty lists such as "The Longest Vines You'll Ever See," lists of pest plants and fragrant plants--some 200 fun and useful lists. Since the plants are not described you will need a "Sunset Western Garden Book" to refer to.
"Tropical Plants for Home and Garden" by William Warren (Thames and Hudson; $50) is one of the few books on this subject, though an unbelievable two were published this year, which must mean that tropicals are coming back into fashion. As a topic, peonies are generally preferred by publishers.
Warren lives in Thailand and has designed gardens there and in Hawaii. There are a few glorious shots of truly tropical gardens, but most of the book simply describes tropicals and there are 449 handsome photographs. Many are too tropical to be grown outdoors here (you will be tempted), but others do just fine.
"The Tropical Look" by Robert Lee Riffle (Timber Press; $49.95) is the second book. It's subtitled "An Encyclopedia of Dramatic Landscape Plants," not all of which are true tropicals. They just look like they might be, which is good enough for gardeners going for that "tropical look."
Some 2,000 plants are described by this former Texas nurseryman, with 400 plant photographs. Timber Press books can be impossible to find, so try ordering direct by calling (800) 327-5680.
"The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias" by Stirling Macoboy (Timber Press; $39.95) has more than 1,000 photographs of various camellia cultivars and some information on their cultivation. Macoboy is from Australia, where they can grow camellias.
"Classic Roses" by Peter Beales (Henry Holt and Co.; $55) is an updated version of a classic book, listing almost all antique roses in its 500 pages and illustrating many of them. The how-to rose care information is English, with a nod to America.
"The Savage Garden" by Peter D'Amato (Ten Speed Press: $19.95) is for those who like plants that eat meat, such as the Venus flytrap or pitcher plant. This exhaustive work is by the nurseryman who owns California Carnivores, a mail-order firm.
"The Life of an Oak" by Glenn Keator (Heyday Books; $17.95) is not a gardening guide but a natural history of the world's oaks. Anyone gardening under an oak--or anyone who simply likes these majestic trees--will find this work fascinating.
"The Lavender Garden" by Robert Korick (Chronicle Books; $18.95) is a small book devoted to the many varieties of lavender. Because it's written by a Californian, it includes the new kinds that have shown up at nurseries in the past few years. There are great tips on growing them and plenty of uses for lavender, including recipes.
"Beautiful American Vegetable Gardens" by Mary Tonetti Dorra (Clarkson Potter; $40) will make you want to turn your garden into one big, tasty vegetable plot. There's some planting information here, but mostly it will fill your head with grand (and maybe grandiose) ideas. The elegant vegetable gardens pictured are from all over the country, including California, since the author gardens in Santa Barbara.
"Heirloom Vegetables," by Sue Strickland (Fireside: $16) is an affordable book on this hot topic.
Books on Growing
"Great Garden Formulas" (Rodale Books; $27.95) is for all those people who love mixing up their own concoctions, whether it be a peppery control for insects or manure tea. There are no fewer than three formulations of the famous baking soda spray for mildew, and one garden recipe suggests sowing seeds in Jello!
If you can't remember where you wrote down that formula you found in some publication, it's probably among the 350 in this fun book.
"The Well-Tended Perennial Garden" by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press; $29.95) tells you how to care for perennials--including pruning, division and other mysteries--which is really the trick to having a good-looking perennial border. The author lives in Ohio but there is such a dearth of information on the subject that this hard-working manual is welcome.
"Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver" (Sunset Books; $24.95) is designed to go with the "Western Garden Book," only it tells what might go wrong with all those plants listed in the other. Part of it is a listing of plants and specific problems associated with them and the rest is divided into sections on pests, diseases and weeds.
The advice is environmentally-friendly so don't look for death-from-the-sky controls here, but you'll probably find out what's wrong with the plant and get some sound advice for dealing with it.
"Reliable Rain" by Howard Hendrix and Stuart Straw (Taunton Press; $19.95) is a how-to book on landscape irrigation by two Californians. It's up-to-date and amply illustrated.
"Color By Design" by Nori and Sandra Pope (SOMA Books; $30) makes color theory interesting. This Vancouver couple (they ran a nursery) now garden on an old estate (Hadspen) in England, which has become renowned among experienced gardeners. Their ideas on color are not complicated, but refreshingly simple (and some say bold) and they have the garden to prove it all works.
"Paths and Walkways" by Hazel White (Chronicle Books; $16.95) has practically one path idea per page, mostly from Bay Area gardens. Some are ordinary, though the plantings to either side may be extraordinary, and some are wild and wacky.
"Breaking Ground: Portraits of Ten Garden Designers" by Page Dicky (Artisan: $45) contains interesting interviews with some highly regarded garden designers, including Nancy Goslee Power in Los Angeles, Steve Martino in Phoenix and Ron Lutsko in Northern California. There are plenty of photos of their remarkable creations.
"Water Features for Small Gardens" by Ethne Clarke (Ward Lock; $27.95) is filled with ways to fit little fountains and other water features into tiny gardens. Looking through this book will cool you off on a hot day and though the examples are English, they can be adapted.