With spring fully underway, those with a green thumb are ready to plant their summer gardens. But after several consecutive years of severe drought and heat, it’s an excellent time to rethink what you’re planting. Using natural mulch and compost as groundcover and turning to native and drought-resistant crops makes a lot of sense.
Plenty of gardening advice is available at local nurseries and hardware stores like Siverado Ace Hardware on Lincoln Avenue, but there are also a number of books that address starting or tending to plants using as little water as possible.
One such book is “The Drought-Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-Water Landscape” by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren, a paperback that was released in 2016 that addresses how to garden in a changing climate. This informative guide highlights 230 plants—all native to California—how to get them started, and how to maintain them with the minimum amount of water, including perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and succulents. The authors offer tips on smart garden design and how to combine the right plants to create the natural symbiosis that occurs within plant communities as well as creating a beautiful garden.
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Another book that deals with gardening in scorching, dry weather is “Hot Color, Dry Garden: Inspiring Designs and Vibrant Plants for the Waterwise Gardener” by garden expert Nan Sterman. Acknowledging that the weather is only going to get dryer, Sterman provides home gardeners with ways to create brilliant, colorful gardens filled with water-smart plants along with ways to revolutionize our garden practices. The book includes a directory that features an array of dazzling drought-tolerant plants.
“New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home” by Kelly D. Norris came out last year. Norris, a horticulturist and plantsman, shares his ecologically sound yet also stylish vision for home gardens using plants that mimic our wild spaces, like meadows, woodlands, and creek sides. Including a basic introduction to plant biology and ecology, the book offers advice on designing and growing a thriving garden that is less formal and more natural without relying on pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides.
Advice from across the pond
Although “Drought-Resistant Planting: Lessons from Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden” is the story of Chatto’s garden located on a dry, windswept spot in England; it offers a message of hope for gardeners everywhere. With stunning photographs by Steven Wooster, the book proves essential for anyone facing water shortages and poor soil. Chatto’s plants were planted with the intention not be irrigated in times of drought and had to “fend for themselves or die.”
There’s no sweeter, sensual pleasure, then plucking and relishing a sun-warmed, homegrown cherry tomato, or harvesting that first crop of string beans, basil, or zucchini. Vegetables and herbs have always been a keystone of Calistoga gardens, but which varieties do best without regular soaking?
“California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, 2nd Edition: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles for California Gardens” by Claire Splan, updated in 2021, addresses the key elements of climate, soil, sun, and water as well as California’s diverse and ever-changing growing conditions. There are detailed profiles of more than 60 edible plants as well as herbs. Whether you grow in containers, raised beds, or in a backyard vegetable patch, this book is an invaluable resource for first-time growers and experienced gardeners alike.
If you’re intent on planting an edible garden, “Garden Can Be Anywhere: A Guide to Growing Bountiful, Beautiful, Edible Gardens” by Lauri Krantz is the book for you. Kranz is a Los Angeles gardener who’s an expert on planning, planting, growing, and maintaining luscious edible gardens, no matter the conditions or size of plot. Her focus is on organic crops, and she has created gardens for well-known chefs, celebrities, and even rock stars.
“Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water” by Maureen Gilmer is the perfect guide to starting a vegetable garden in California now. This timely book gives dedicated home gardeners recommendations on growing produce focusing on four different low-water conditions in the western U.S.: voluntary water conservation (this is us, Calistoga), drought, and high and low deserts. Gilmer combines modern techniques, native traditions, and ancient wisdom in this in-depth primer.
So, don’t give up, home gardeners. Take tips from these books, your local garden center, and neighbors whose plantings you admire, and plant your drought-tolerant garden, and enjoy the fruits (and veggies and blooms) of your labors.
Julie Mitchell is a Calistoga resident and longtime book lover. She holds a BA in English/Creative Writing from Stanford University and an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco.