Since it was first published in 1954, the Western Garden Book has remained an indispensible gardening tool. (Daily Pilot / November 19, 2010)

 

You can't bake a great cake without a great recipe; you can't build a great house without great architectural plans, and, as any good gardener will tell you, you can't garden successfully without "The Western Garden Book."

If you garden anywhere in California and could only have one book, "The Western Garden Book" is the one, as it has been for the past 56 years.

Like a good spade or pair of pruning shears, this book is an essential tool of any Western gardener. At 765 pages, with 2,500 illustrations and 8,000 plants, "The Western Garden Book" has no peer.

What is it that has made this book so indispensible to gardeners, from novice to expert, for generations? The book's enduring success probably mostly comes from its incredibly accurate and straightforward encyclopedia of plants — the heart of the publication.

In a few seconds anyone can turn to their favorite plant to learn some additional features they had never known before. Or, one can query the book about an unusual plant sitting before them in a nursery, learning just about anything they might be curious about; size, sunlight, flower season, regional suitability and so on.

The information in the book is not poetic, nor idealistic. It is straightforward and it's factual. Unlike so much gardening information, "The Western Garden Book" isn't trying to convince you of anything. This book simply delivers information; it's up to the reader to do with the information as he or she pleases.

The lasting popularity of this gardening reference is remarkable. Volumes of information on plants and gardening are now only a computer mouse click away, yet "The Western Garden Book" remains the standard, the first place a gardener turns when considering all things growing: how big does it get, when does it bloom, will it grow in my area, what's its botanical name and so on and so on.

What other book is still relevant after 50 years and why has "The Western Garden Book" endured in an era when any other reference book is obsolete almost before the ink is dry?

The answer is two-fold. First, this book is the compilation of an army of experts; it is a collaboration. Second, it is continually revised, re-written and updated.

I was fortunate to have been a contributor to the previous edition of "The Western Garden Book." A few weeks ago, I was again asked to share my advice and suggestions to an upcoming ninth edition of this classic.

"Of course", I replied, followed by, "Which plants or species should I focus on?"

"A through Z," came the reply.

"Eight thousand plants," I thought to myself — plants to add, plants to delete, corrections to cultural information, zones, hybrids, water needs, exposure, flower color and nativity. Everything was up for grabs to be examined, updated and revised.

What had I agreed to?

The next evening I got to work. I usually work on the book for 30 minutes to an hour each night, completing a handful of plant entries. I remember doing this same task four years ago and it didn't seem as overwhelming. After six weeks, my eyes are bloodshot and my other current reading, "Hardy Californians," by Lester Rowntree, sits untouched on my office desk. Currently, I'm only up to the B's —broccoli to be precise. At my current rate, by the time I get to zucchini I suspect humans will have colonized Mars.

I need your help. If you're an avid gardener, this is your opportunity to get involved and share your knowledge and experience. Are there plants that you would like added to "The Western Garden Book"? Do you disagree with some of the information? Has your experience with a plant varied from what is printed? Do your observations on zones, exposure or water needs differ from Sunset's gospel? If so, I'd like to hear from you and incorporate your experience.

Share your plant suggestions, text changes and other input with me. I could use your help because "The Western Garden Book" editors won't wait until I turn the page to zucchini. I think they want to publish the ninth edition of "The Western Garden Book" prior to interplanetary space travel.

Drop me an e-mail at stumpthegardener@rogersgardens.com, and I'll be most appreciative.

Until I hear from you, I just finished broccoli and I'm on to the next plant, Brodiaea.

Let's see, "Many are natives of the Pacific Coast, where they bloom in sunny fields and meadows…"

RON VANDERHOFF is the nursery manager at Roger's Gardens, Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron

Question: When should I start my paperwhite bulbs if I want them to bloom for Christmas?

Deana

Newport Beach

Answer: Paperwhite Narcissus are a traditional winter time flower and can be easily be timed to bloom on queue for Christmas day. Tightly pack several large bulbs in a low pot, add water, add soil, pebbles or sand and provide good light. For Christmas bloom, begin the process this weekend. For New Year's Day bloom, wait until next weekend to start them.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail stumpthegardener@rogersgardens.com, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.