Native Treasures: Gardening with the Plants of California, by M. Nevin Smith, UC Press, 2006, 288 pages, $24.95
It’s almost an embarrassment of riches for native plant enthusiasts: two comprehensive new books on gardening with California natives published in less than a year. Even better, the two books complement rather than compete with each other, and both deserve places in the library of anyone interested in growing or knowing the flora of our state.
M. Nevin Smith’s Native Treasures joins California Native Plants for the Garden (Cachuma Press, 2005) as a guide to native plant horticulture. But where the latter book is encyclopedic, Native Treasures takes a more personal approach. Smith’s lyrical writing and personal observations make this as much a meditation on the diversity and beauty of California’s flora as a practical guide for gardeners.
The book includes chapters on basic gardening and design and plant propagation. Descriptions of hundreds of native plants follow, each presented with the author’s knowledge, humor, and sometimes maverick opinions formed through a lifetime of communing with native plants both in the wild and in the garden. (Smith is director of horticulture at Watsonville’s Suncrest Nurseries.) Most genera of California natives available in cultivation appear in the book, along with some, like Styrax, that are less common but still garden-worthy. Illustrated with beautiful color photographs, each chapter describes a genus, covering form, flower, and habitat along with culture, garden uses, propagation, and species of interest. But Smith’s self-described “ode to beauty and diversity” does more than teach us how to grow the plants; it inspires us to explore wild places to better understand and enjoy them.