If you've been gardening in the West for a while, you probably own an impressive stack of Sunset Western Garden Books. I have an entire shelf sagging under the strain of every edition I've owned - the first one carved on stone tablets. Sure, I have lots of other garden books, but when I'm in design mode, I reach for my "Sunset".

So it was with childlike giddiness that I replied an emphatic "YES!" after receiving an invitation from Sunset to visit their headquarters while I was speaking at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show last week.

Loe - Goodnick - Jenkins at Sunset HQ Bloggers at Sunset test kitchen
Left to right: Me, Theresa Loe, and Jayme Jenkins Hungry bloggers and staff prepare for a breakfast feast.

  Breakfast at Sunset
I bummed a ride from Theresa Loe, co-executive producer of everyone's favorite gardening show, Growing A Greener World, and Jayme Jenkins, founder of ahaModernLiving.com. We joined a dozen more garden bloggers and Sunset editors for a luscious breakfast in their fabled test kitchen. The menu: fresh berry smoothie, mouthwatering veggie frittata, orange and strawberry fruit salad, and (are you ready for this?) a slab of chocolate zucchini rum cake! (Chocolate cake for brekkies? One more reason to love these folks!) The menu was prepared from their new Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook, a how-to-grow-harvest-keep-cook book filled with ab fab recipes and gardening tips.

But the star of the event was the new The New Sunset Western Garden Book (Oxmoor House; 9th edition), which has retained the best features of past editions while infusing the new one with timely, savvy, earth-friendly information to help western region gardeners.

As a designer, I've always relied on Sunset's solidly researched plant encyclopedia to help me choose the right plants for the right place. Those listings are still there, but with the bonus of color photos replacing the line drawings that populated previous editions. I was delighted to see that one of my frustrations with previous versions of the book - inconsistent information regarding the mature size of plants - has been addressed. One example is the detail lavished on New Zealand flax (Phormium), describing the shape, color, height, and spread of more than 30 species and hybrids.

Sunset book cover  
Another indispensible feature that gets me through debilitating bouts of designer's block is the thoroughly overhauled Plant Finder section: 27 lists spanning 78 pages. Each list, while not exhaustive, includes a robust sampling of plants to meet nearly every design situation. Divided into three sections, the lists include:

Problem-Solver Plants for challenging areas with lists for hedges, wind-resistance, patio trees, plants for beneath oaks, and more.
Earth-Friendly Plants are described as "plants that can help you garden more sustainably" and include, among others, plants for waterwise gardens, western natives, and those that attract beneficial insects.
Plants for Special Effects include fall foliage, fragrance, sculptural plants - my favorite new category - and even plants for moon gardens. (These are not plants for low gravity, airless, waterless, Earth-orbiting satellites - maybe in the next edition.)

    But as they say on the late-night infomercials, "Wait! There's MORE!" Don't miss the wealth of sometimes-overlooked information in the Gardening Start to Finish section in the back of the book. It gives gardeners advice on how to plant, install, and maintain their gardens. It's like getting a whole other book that's chock full of planning, site preparation, growing, watering, fertilizing, and problem management info.

    One last feature - and a caution: Don't get too carried away with the Pronunciation Guide, unless you like being ostracized at garden parties as a know-it-all. I turned to the guide to bolster my stubborn attachment to the botanical pronunciation of lily turf. Alas, "they" were right and (dare I admit it in public?) I WAS WRONG! Liriope isn't pronounced "LEER-ee-ope", as I insisted; it really is "leer-EYE-oh-pee"! (I still think it's dumb.)

    Ya learn something new everyday; especially of you treat yourself to a copy of The New Sunset Western Garden Book.


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