Landscape Plants for California Gardens

A highly regarded landscape architect, professor, and author, Bob Perry’s first two books, Trees and Shrubs for Dry California Landscapes (1981) and Landscape Plants for Western Regions (1992), were instant classics, serving as textbooks for students of horticulture and landscape design throughout the state.

Landscape Plants for California Gardens, Perry’s latest and heftiest contribution to the lexicon of regional plant encyclopedias, is, quite simply, his finest. It is also one of the most important plant books to appear in decades in California.

Perry presents a relatively small list of plants—a mere 2,100!—carefully assembled to include those most likely to appear in the palettes of landscape architects, garden designers, and landscape contractors, as well as plants popular with home gardeners. The plants are also readily available in the state’s wholesale and retail nurseries. More than a mere reiteration of old standbys, the list includes plants that have only recently entered the horticultural mainstream (South African restios, for instance), along with cultivars of familiar plants selected for greater adaptability to the California climate or greater resistance to disease (as, for example, hybrid crape myrtles.

To complement the information presented for each plant in the nearly 500-page encyclopedia section, Perry adds his own brilliant photographs (3,100 images). Each plant is shown in a landscape setting, with buildings or hardscape elements for context and scale; additional images further illustrate the flowers, foliage, and/or fruit.

Summary lists, offering quick reference points for all the plants in the book, feature groupings by purpose or according to logical plant palettes, based upon a combination of aesthetics and water needs. Perry uses an adaptation of the Sunset Western Garden Book climate zone map to assign a region of suitability for each plant.

Given the ongoing concerns about water use in California, Perry has provided an invaluable service to landscape professionals by quantifying the amount of water needed for successful cultivation of the plants in the book. Working from State of California guidelines, he categorized the relative amount of water each plant needs, assigned each plant to an Irrigation Group (either regular irrigation year-round or reduced irrigation during the dry season), and compared all to the Reference Evapotranspiration for each climate zone. The result is a formula that allows any project’s plantings to be fine-tuned to meet state or locally mandated restrictions on water budgets.

Landscape Plants for California Gardens should be on the reference shelf of every landscape professional working in the state, and in the personal library of anyone seriously interested in gardening responsibly in California.

Richard G Turner Jr, editor