Spring serves as a reminder of what is possible in the garden.
But how can we think about planting with a clear conscience now that Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered mandatory water restrictions in California?
The latest "Sunset Western Garden Book of Easy-Care Plantings: The Ultimate Guide to Low-Water Beds, Borders and Containers" ($24.95; Oxmoor House) feels especially relevant this spring as it encourages plant lovers to rethink their gardens and especially their lawns.
Designed for beginning and experienced gardeners, the book covers unthirsty landscaping options: succulents; drought-tolerant ground covers; permeable paving; water-wise lawn replacements, such as no-mow lawns and native grasses; and easy-care containers. The book is heavy on images, with more than 200 pages of illustrated examples, and detailed lists of smart plant choices. The book also offers tips on how to mix plants in interesting ways by emphasizing color, pattern, texture and fragrance. In one illustration, Los Angeles landscape designer Judy Kameon blends French lavender, blond grasses, Cleveland sage, Euphorbia characias wulferii and silver artemisia to dramatic effect.
Perhaps the book's greatest water-wise lesson is how few plants are needed to create a stunning outdoor environment. Santa Barbara-based landscape designer Margie Grace goes so far as to encourage gardeners to go with less. "Leave pockets of the garden unplanted," said Grace. "Dress them with pretty mulches such as California gold gravel, then top them with sandstone boulders, a shapely urn, or a tiny recirculating fountain hugged by a few plants. It's not a compromise to have fewer plants."