Gifting Garden Books

As we enter the season of giving, you might puzzle over finding gifts for gardening friends, or for that matter advising well-intentioned but stumped gift-givers what you might enjoy finding under your holiday evergreen.

Gardeners can always use another special plant or a great tool that works without a cord or spark plug, but a gardening book can be an excellent choice.

In selecting a gardening book as a gift, first considerations include quality of content and the recipient’s interests.

Gardeners I have met are typically fascinated by what other gardeners have done with their patch of soil, so books about —and tours of—other people’s gardens are perennial favorites. A new addition to this popular genre is Private Gardens of the Bay Area, by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, with photographs by Marion Brenner (The Monacelli Press, 2017).

The book’s title, of course, refers to gardens around the San Francisco Bay. There are many “bay areas,” but SF somehow has assumed ownership of that term. That’s not objectionable in this case because the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay areas have similar growing conditions. (Gardeners in the Chesapeake Bay area might feel differently.)

This book resonates with local gardening priorities because of its consistent and light-handed interest in sustainability, especially through lawn alternatives and drought-tolerant plants. The garden presentations convey these important messages subtly through multiple examples and without preaching.

The book takes the reader on an imaginary tour of thirty-nine gardens, which the book groups in four regions surrounding SF Bay. The gardens range in size from very small to very large, the gardeners range from dedicated amateurs to experienced designers, and the product compiles a wealth of ideas to inspire all gardeners.

The garden descriptions, averaging about six pages, understandably focus on each site’s exceptional vignettes, which are the most readily adaptable features for one’s own garden. Time is needed to add impressive mature plants to the garden but effective designs can be replicated with creativity and commitment.

Authors Lowry and Berner have written other books on private gardens; their communication skills are evident in each garden description. They introduce the gardeners, provide a bit of the garden’s history, characterize its design successes, and often highlight individual plants that contribute to the garden’s uniqueness. Their prose is non-technical and readable, and they also include botanical names of plants for those who wish to search for more information.

Marion Brenner’s photographs are beautifully done. Most of her images present aspects of the landscapes of interest while some show satisfying details of specific plants. The authors also credit Brenner as their guide to SF Bay Area gardens, drawing on her decades of experience in local garden photography.

Private Gardens of the Bay Area would be a fine gift to an avid gardener living in this part of California, or to others who would like to experience this horticultural paradise vicariously.

Happily, you can also choose from many excellent gardening books on a wide range of topics, assuming you what inspires your giftee’s gardening pursuits. The American Horticultural Society annually recognizes exceptional gardening literature through the AHS Book Awards. The winners for 2017 include the following:

  • All the President’s Gardens by Marla McDowell (Timber Press) —the White House gardens;
  • The Bee-Friendly Garden, by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn (Ten Speed Press) —plants for bees;
  • Garden Revolution, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (Timber Press) —ecological gardening;
  • Plant, by the editors at Phaidon Press (Phaidon Press) — fascinating botanical art; and
  • Rock Gardening, by Joseph Tychonievich (Timber Press) — photos and detailed info on this gardening style.

For more info, browse to the AHS Book Awards for 2017  and then click in turn through Gardening Programs, National Awards, and Book Awards. There are outstanding books for many gardening specialties, easing your efforts to cultivate just the right gift.

You have another opportunity to find selected gardening books as well as plants and other gifts at Norrie’s Gift & Garden Shop at the UCSC Arboretum. Norrie’s Holiday Open House will be open from 10:00 to 4:00 tomorrow, December 2nd.

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