I recently purchased Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening and Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles and can’t believe it took me so long to add these books to my library! I first heard of Pat Welsh’s book when she was the keynote speaker at my Master Gardener graduation. She came across as warm and charming, both of which come through in the book. The Western Garden Book of Edibles is the companion (I think) to Sunset’s Western Garden Book, which includes edibles, but seems more focused on the ornamental garden. This book is much more thorough when it comes to edibles.
Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening
Pat’s book focuses on what grows well in Southern California, and pays special attention to things like drought tolerance and fire-resistance (for those Southern Californians living in forest-fire-prone areas). She also provides Southern California specific advice on when to plant, prune, fertilize, and divide those plants.
What I really love about this book is that it is organized in a month-by-month format. What we grow in Southern California and when we can grow it is pretty different from the majority of the country. For example, cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are what we grow late Fall to early Spring. Usually we get too many random days of hot temperatures in late Spring and early Fall to try and grow those edibles then.
Each chapter is dedicated to what should be done in the garden during that month. The chapter begins with an easy to reference table of contents so that you can zoom right over to the task you were looking for. The chapter ends with handy checklists so you can get a quick reminder of things to do that month. In between is wonderful advice, written in a friendly tone of voice, about how to manage your garden from a practical, organic perspective.
If you’re new to California, or are frustrated that the advice you’ve been following doesn’t seem to work, this is a great book to have on hand.
Sunset’s Western Garden Book of Edibles
The Western Garden Book of Edibles, put out by the inimitable folks behind Sunset Magazine, is not just for Southern Californians, but it contains tried-and-true advice for growing edible plants in the West. A lot of edible gardening books can be kind of generic in their advice, probably because the authors are trying to write for too large of an audience. This book avoids that mistake by focusing only on those of us living in the Western United States.
The book is organized by vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs. Each edible plant is discussed on it’s own page, with at least one full color photograph. Many of the plants warranted multiple page spreads with lots of wonderful photos. For example, the entry for tomatoes contains advice about growing tomatoes but also a multi-page chart with growing tips on all sorts of varieties of tomato. Live in the high desert and need a variety that can tolerate extreme heat? They’ve got you covered. Live in a windy coastal city that doesn’t get hot enough for most tomato varieties? Rest assured, the folks at Sunset have tracked down a few varieties that will do great in your climate.
What really impressed me about the book was the herbs section. So often herb growing advice is absurdly unhelpful. How many times have you seen, “Keep soil evenly moist and provide full-sun” as advice on how to grow herbs? This book doesn’t make that mistake. Sunset provides specific varieties to grow in different climates, tasting notes (i.e. avoid Russian Tarragon, French Tarragon is best), and growing information specific to that particular herb. Not all herbs like constant moist soil. And some can grow in part shade.
If you’re considering buying or borrowing the Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles, check out this blog post by one of the editors involved in the project. You’ll get a great glimpse of the sort of detail and seriousness with which they attacked their subject.