California’s Wild Gardens: A Guide to Favorite Botanical Sites, edited by Phyllis M. Faber, University of California Press, 2005, 248 pages, $34.95
Recent years have seen the increasing use of native plants to create water-wise gardens in our cities and suburbs. But many urban gardeners may never have seen these plants in their wild homes. To remedy that, the folks at University of California Press reissued Phyllis Faber’s wonderfully photographed and painstakingly researched California’s Wild Gardens: A Guide to Favorite Botanical Sites, originally published in limited quantities by the California Native Plant Society in 1997. The book is devoted to the natural beauty of California’s endemic plant species as they appear in their natural habitats.
The reader is transported to ten different geographic zones; each section includes intimate profiles of the floras that dwell within that zone. The section on the Bay Area is outstanding, with profiles of plant life at Mount Diablo, Antioch Dunes, Point Reyes, and other botanic hot spots. Photos of rare specimens like the bright red-flowered Mount Tamalpais thistle and the endangered Sebastopol meadowfoam turn the book into a treasure hunt for botanists.
California’s Wild Gardens is largely a book of photos, but Faber folds in plenty of sidebars and short essays by botanists and ecologists on subjects such as geology and soil types, vernal pool formation, and dynamics of post-fire plant communities. Preserving California’s botanical wealth is a constant theme, and Faber outlines a plan to do so, including habitat protection, local land use planning, stewardship programs, and public support. With more than 6,000 varieties of native plants in California, there’s a lot at stake, and the book captures this abundance magnificently.