I just picked up a copy of the latest edition of Sunset’s “Western Garden Book,”Sunset Publishing Company, $39.95. Twenty-five years ago this month, an earlier version helped to orient me to western gardening. Like many newcomers to Las Vegas, I had relocated to take a new position. Olive trees were foreign to me, and where I came from mulberry trees were cut down because they were considered “trash trees.” Sulfur is used to alter soil pH instead of lime. Every plant has to be hardy to 15? F and capable of withstanding the “normal” summers, where 115? seems to last an eternity. Everything was suddenly different from what I knew.
We all go through this same period of adjustment when it comes to gardening. One must learn to cope with not only the climate, but the soil, water, new plants and dealing with Las Vegas contractors. Each one is a challenge on its own, but combined it almost makes one consider living without a garden. This is where Sunset comes to the rescue. I actually carried my first copy around with me for about six months before I felt comfortable with desert living.
The layout is encyclopedic, with entries arranged alphabetically. Each plant is listed by botanical name, but that should not daunt the novice, as many common names are included to prompt you to the correct genus name. Each entry includes a line drawing, a general description and information regarding size, hardiness and sun/water requirements. This is a handy way to learn the plants common to the Southwest.
In addition, the “Western Garden Book” has features like the plant selection guide, which provides the reader with suggestions for special situations like rock gardens or container plants, problem-solvers like wind- or deer-resistant plants, or just basic landscape uses like shade trees or groundcovers. The final section is the practical guide to gardening, which has detailed steps and images to help you understand how to do nearly every gardening chore, from fertilization to grafting.
There are many other gardening books that have graced the shelves of my personal library, but there are only a few that I use on a regular basis. One of my favorites is “Native Plants for Southwestern Landscape” by Judy Mielke. Considerably smaller than the Sunset tome, this wonderfully written book has lots of information on many of the best-suited plants for the desert. You won’t find Forsythia in here, but you will find jojoba and Joshua trees. I understand from the author that a new edition is in the works but it might be a while before it hits the presses. In the meantime, you might want to consider adding this gem to your collection, if you are into plants native to the Southwest.
If you are looking for something a bit less expensive, look no further than the “Trees for Tomorrow” booklet, as it is absolutely free. Written by local experts in the fields of nursery, tree care and landscape architecture, with support from the Nevada Division of Forestry, this booklet was put together under the guidance of local botanical guru Dr. Teri Knight. It contains 56 of the most reliable trees that are both hardy and readily available to the local area. It is available at most local nurseries and on line at www.lvsnag.org.
Speaking of trees, Arbor Day is coming up on Friday. Not only is this the national Arbor Day, the state forester for Nevada traditionally proclaims the last Friday of April also as a day to celebrate. For more information, contact the National Arbor Day Foundation at www.arborday.org.
Dennis Swartzell is the marketing director for Mountain States Wholesale Nursery. As an ISA board-certified master arborist and a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, Dennis has been helping Southern Nevadans with their gardening questions for over 20 years. If you have a question about a particular plant, or a general gardening issue, send them to Dennis at email@example.com.