As a landscape designer, I had a large library of reference gardening books, yet there were a few that I used over and over again. When I moved my home to Wyoming, I pared down my gardening library, taking with me what I considered the best and most essential books.
If you are looking for a low water garden, here are some of the best reference books out there. For a good guide to help you start planning your low water garden, please see my eBook Gardening for a Dry California Future. I also give you step-by-step instructions for a native lawn or meadow, edible low water plants, as well as tips on how to irrigate and zone for reduced watering.
Below are my top recommendations:
1. Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region by East Bay Municipal Utility District (East Bay MUD). I might consider this book a good primer for those who are beginning gardeners or homeowners. The oversized format has wonderful glossy photos and it is of course put out by the water district.
2. The New Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch. This book has been around for some time and is still considered the best book on the subject. Salvias are such a great addition to one’s low water garden. There are ones for sun and shade, small and gigantic. Clebsch has grown them all and gives you growing tips galore.
3. ¨Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook. Keator is considered one of the leading botanists in California, an expert on oaks and California natives. Need I say more.
4. Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. Drought Resistant Planting through the Year by Beth Chatto. Although Chatto is from England and her gravel gardens were an experiment there, she is right on the mark for California. This is probably the book I used the most in designing low water attractive gardens. You’ll droll at the photos and her wonderful plant combinations. And gravel is the quintessential mulch to retain water.
5. Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants by Mary and Gary Irish. If you are planning a succulent garden, this is one of the best reference books out there for the larger plants and how to use them in a design.
6. California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Burt O’Brien. These are the top people in the plant world. Bornstein was the horticulturist for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden for 30 years. Fross owns Native Sons nursery. A must have to understand California natives and their culture. Fross also wrote the comprehensive book Ceanothus, but that book is probably too horticulturally geeky for the average gardener.
7. Mediterranean Gardening: A Waterwise Approach and Gardening the Mediterranean Way: How to Create a Waterwise Drought-Tolerant Garden both by Heidi Gildemeister. Mediterranean is what we have in California climate. You will get good tips and photos from these books.
8. Native Treasure: Gardening with the Plants of California by M. Nevin Smith. Smith is the Director of Horticulture at Suncrest Nursery in Northern California. For years I coveted a hard-to-get in-house printing that described all of Suncrests plants and their culture, written by Smith. Hard to find a person more experienced in plant material than this man. Suncrest is one of the top nurseries in California, growing and introducing new plants all the time.
9. Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for every Garden by Joann Gardner and Karen Bussolini. I include this book because all plants silver are low water plants. Plus silver is a good foil and contrast against other plants in the garden. Good photos and information.