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Book Review: The New Sunset Western Garden Book

Book Review:  The New Sunset Western Garden Book
Category: Book Reviews

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Synopsis: On a day when it's too cold or hot to be outside, a gardening guide, such as The New Sunset Western Garden Book, is a useful and entertaining companion. At 768 pages long, it isn't lightweight reading. Be prepared to prop the book up on pillows in your lap as you page through it while kicking back on the couch.

The New Sunset Western Garden Book, 9th Edition
Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
Time Home Entertainment, Inc., 2012
Paperback:
ISBN 10: 0-376-03920-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-376-03920-0
Original List Price: U.S. $34.95, CAN $38.95
Hardback:
ISBN 13: 978-0-376-03921-7
Original List Price: U.S. $44.95, CAN $49.95

Potential Readers

  • Gardeners on the West Coast, in the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest
  • Gardeners worldwide who live in areas approximating conditions of the American West -- such as Mediterranean, high prairie and semi-arid climates


On a day when it's too cold or hot to be outside, a gardening guide, such as The New Sunset Western Garden Book, is a useful and entertaining companion. At 768 pages long, it isn't lightweight reading. Be prepared to prop the book up on pillows in your lap as you page through it while kicking back on the couch.

We enjoyed the book's many design ideas, including a brief but fun section on creating unusual displays of small, drought-tolerant succulents. One of the unusual suggestions involves planting succulents in a long tray fitted into an opening in the center of a patio table. Another shows how to use short Sedums and other compact succulents to create a green roof on a birdhouse.

The book opens by covering the vagaries of where and why certain plantings succeed or fail. Sunset has been addressing this issue since 1954 when its former owner, the Lane Publishing Company, first introduced the highly detailed Sunset Climate Zones.

The Sunset zones go far beyond the USDA Cold Hardiness Zones in identifying compatible settings for plants. In addition to temperature ranges, Sunset zones consider an area’s latitude, elevation, influences from oceans and continental air movement, topography, average growing season, soil types and microclimates. There are 22 USDA zones nationwide from 1a to 11b compared to 32 Sunset zones for the West.

One key to using this book most effectively is to gain a rough understanding of the Sunset zones, which are cited for each plant profiled in the book instead of USDA zones. This may seem frustrating at first, because most nurseries use the USDA system. However, online resources are available for roughly determining equivalency of the two systems based on temperature. Also, understanding the Sunset system causes a gardener to become more aware of the many characteristics that can affect gardening success.

When reading The New Sunset Western Garden Book, make sure you have a pencil and plenty of sticky notes on hand to mark essential pages and sections with innovative design ideas. The book's largest section, which is organized alphabetically by scientific plant names, provides thumbnail sketches of 9,000 plants from around the world that Sunset has determined to be the 'best' in the West -- an area encompassing Northern and Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest.

The A-to-Z sections on oak trees (Quercus spp., 7 pages), roses (Rosa spp., 7 pages) and sages (Salvia spp., 7 pages) are among the longest. The information about Salvias summarizes 45 popular species ranging from ones originating in the Americas to European natives. Some examples are Mexican Sage (Salvia mexicana), Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana), Meadow Sage (Salvia x sylvestris) and Lilac Sage (Salvia verticillata).

One improvement that we'd like to see in the Salvia section in a future edition would be the addition of some Turkish sages -- ones tolerant of cold, heat and drought -- that are increasing in popularity in the West due to ongoing research at the Denver Botanic Gardens. But we recognize that you can't have everything in a garden book even if it is 1,000 pages long. We highly recommend The New Sunset Western Garden Book for its breadth of information, inventive ideas and excellent color photographs.