10 best books for North Coast gardeners

I have always been a book lover, and my home is filled with books. When I was a kid, it was fiction about horses; when I started to learn to cook, it was cookbooks. Now, my passion is gardening books.

Even with all the information on the internet, gardening books are still my go-to source for information. Some are great if you’re on the East Coast, but worthless to us gardeners in the West. The following are my 10 favorite books for our climate. Some can increase your gardening knowledge, others are handy for reference and some just have lovely, inspirational pictures.

1. “Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles” (Oxmoor House, 2010). If you live on the west coast, you’re familiar with Sunset magazine and its iconic “Sunset Western Garden Book,” pretty much the bible of western gardening. But Sunset also publishes a smaller book that just covers the edibles. You won’t need to search through the bible’s 800 or so pages when you can easily consult the full color and easy details of the Book of Edibles. It’s my number one book for help remember spacing or feeding information.

2. “Great Garden Companions” by Sally Jean Cunningham (Rodale Books, 2000). Companion planting is a method of organic gardening that uses particular planting arrangements to create healthier plants and reduce the need for fertilizer and poisons. This is a great book for learning which edibles to plant alongside other edibles. It also integrates flowers to encourage beneficial bugs.

3. “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden” by Jessica Walliser (Timber Press, 2013). Speaking of encouraging beneficial bugs, this is a great way to learn more. Walliser profiles all the beneficial bugs you might find in your garden, how they will help and the plants that attract them. Her information is detailed but not overly scientific.

4. “The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds” by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough (Storey Publishing, 2011). This is my go-to book when I want to save seeds from a particular veggie or flower. It’s laid out alphabetically, so it’s easy to use. It also includes a great general section about seed saving and germination techniques.

5. “The American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training” by Christopher Brickell (DK, 1996). I’ve looked at lots of pruning books over the years, and this is my favorite. It is not an exciting read, something you might curl up with on the couch, but it’s a great compendium of pruning techniques and the specifics for individual types of plants.

6. “What’s Wrong with My Plant (and How Do I Fix It?)” by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth (Timber Press, 2009). Use this one to diagnose what’s up with your plant. It’s arranged as a flow chart, starting with questions like, “Is the plant wilted, yes or no?” “Are the leaves yellow, yes or no?” Then you go down the rabbit hole to determine what’s wrong. The organization can take a bit of getting used to, but consulting the book is much easier than googling “yellow leaves with holes” to figure out what’s wrong. The solutions chapters aren’t the most complete, but they provide a good starting point for further research.

7. “Gaia’s Garden — A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009). If you are interested in learning more about permaculture, this is the most easily understandable book on that topic. The book presents, in an accessible way, basic permaculture concepts and principles, and gives detailed how-to tips for implementing them in your own garden.

8. “The Bee Friendly Garden” by Kate Frey and Grechen LeBuhn, (Ten Speed Press, 2016). This is a beautiful book, for the information as well as the pictures. It’s co-written by renowned North Coast garden designer Kate Frey and covers everything you need to know to create a flower-filled yard that supports biodiversity, even discussing the differences in gardening for honeybees, native bees and hummingbirds. I love the easy-to-consult lists of things like top superbloomers and bee-friendly trees.

9. “The California Wildlife Habitat Garden” by Nancy Bauer (University of California Press, 2012). This is one of my favorite new additions to my gardening library. It discusses ways to attract bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife to your yard. It’s easy to read, and includes profiles and stories of other people’s wildlife gardens.

10. “California Native Plants for the Garden” by Carol Bornstein, David Foss and Bart O’Brien (Cachuma Press, 2005). This is my go-to resource for understanding the growing habits of our native plants, and it gives me ideas about plant communities for my garden designs. It’s also useful to people who just love native plants and want to add more to their own gardens.

Melissa Keyser is a Santa Rosa-based garden designer and blogger. Follow her posts at SweetBeeGarden.com.