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Gifts for native-plant enthusiasts

Photo By: Tanya Kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Tanya Kucak/Special To The Town Crier

Two new handbooks published by the University of California Press would make ideal gifts for nature lovers on the Christmas list. “Wildflowers of California” tells where and when to go to see wildflowers in bloom. “Growing California Native Plants” explains how to grow and propagate trees, shrubs and perennials.

Two beautiful and useful new handbooks are welcome additions to the growing shelf of essential books about California native plants.

As much fun as it is to grow native plants, a complementary joy is discovering them in the wild. It’s one thing to see a lawn with swathes of wildflowers in full bloom; it’s quite another experience to see acres of orange California poppies, purple lupines and other vibrantly colored beauties stretching as far as you can see.

“Wildflowers of California: A Month-by-Month Guide” (University of California Press, 2012) will inspire an adventuresome person to explore the natural beauty of the state. Author Laird R. Blackwell has photographed and described 600 of his favorite wildflowers, arranged by their typical months of peak bloom. Most wildflowers emerge during the spring, but the book covers flowering cycles from January to September. He also provides habitat notes and lists where and when to find each species in bloom. Because the state is so large and varied, if you miss a wildflower in March, you may be able to catch it in June farther south.

Among the 300-plus locations Blackwell recommends, he offers driving and hiking directions to 67 “special wildflower places” and detailed notes on what to look for there. Two of those special places are on the Peninsula – San Bruno Mountain and Edgewood Preserve – and several more would make good day trips.

Whether you want to see specific wildflowers, explore one of the special wildflower places, see what’s in bloom at a specific time of year or find the showiest displays, this well-organized and indexed handbook will help you plan your journey. Because weather is changeable each year, however, wildflowers don’t bloom by the calendar. If your schedule is flexible, look for wildflower hotlines that give weekly updates on what’s coming into bloom in the spring.

If you want to add one of the plants you’ve seen in the wild to your own garden, a good place to start your research is the second edition of “Growing California Native Plants” (University of California Press, 2012) by Marjorie G. Schmidt, now deceased, and Katherine L. Greenberg. It’s the perfect quick reference that covers most of what you need to know in a concise format accented with color photos of the plants on nearly every page.

The first edition, written in 1980 by Schmidt, served as a basic resource for native-plant gardeners for more than a couple of decades. Do-it-yourselfers may want to keep it around for her detailed notes on propagation.

The 200-plus plants described in the new edition are “reliable, attractive, available and suitable for gardens,” organized by trees, shrubs, perennials (including ferns and succulents), annuals, bulbs, vines and grasses.

Greenberg has retained essential information and added more on popular cultivars and landscape uses. The summary tables for selected genera and the lists of plants for different uses are still here. Yet thanks to the beautiful design and masterful editing, the book is slimmed down in size and easier to use.

It would be a good gift for someone getting started with natives as well as for experienced gardeners.

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. And in the rain. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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