Bay Nature magazineFall 2007


Book Review: Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens

October 1, 2007

Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens, by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook, UC Press, 2007, 352 pages, $27.50

The decades-long drought is definitely over. Though we still have to cope with the past winter’s rainfall shortage, gardeners have been practically showered with new books about gardening with California native plants. Designing California Native Gardens is at least the sixth published since 2004.

Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook’s new book is a worthy addition to the genre, providing another perspective on gardening with natives. Their concept is based on natural plant communities (plants that grow together under similar conditions in the wild).

The book begins with an informative introduction to both California plant communities and principles of garden design, and then presents 12 representative natural communities as models for garden design. These range from coastal bluff-inspired rock gardens to lush, conifer-dominated landscapes to hot, dry gardens incorporating desert plants. Each chapter features a description of a plant community’s important natural features, an illustrated garden design using plants from the community, and general guidelines that aid readers in creating their own gardens. The plant community sections include descriptions, photos, and growing information for relevant commercially available plants and selections of places around the state to see the plants growing together in the wild.

This is much more than the how-to book its title suggests. It is also an education in California’s plant communities and the forces that shape them. Readers reap the benefits of Keator’s vast native plant knowledge as well as Middlebrook’s garden design experience. The book’s layout is exceptionally clear and the beautiful design and large photos invite readers to linger (kudos to book designer Beth Hansen-Winter).

Gardeners, native plant lovers, and novices curious about native plant horticulture can all enjoy and learn from this book. [Sue Rosenthal]

About the Author

Read This Next

Creating a Drought-Resilient Garden with California Natives

Mulch Madness

Native Plant Sales

Book Review: California Native Plants for the Garden