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Sow inspiration with books for the holidays

  • Jane Scurich
  • With the holidays rapidly approaching, many of us are looking for gift ideas. I always appreciate a good book on one of my favorite topics: gardening. What better way to spend a cold, wet winter day, than reading about new plants, garden design, floral display or just enjoying inspiring garden photographs?

    Browsing the shelves at a local library, I stumbled upon "Paradise Under Glass" (368 pages, William Morrow, $24.99), a gardening book that reads like a novel. Author Ruth Kissenger, a retired science writer with an acknowledged brown thumb, decides to add a conservatory to her home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

    Inspired by the U.S. Botanic Garden, Kissenger weaves tales of early plant explorers and historic Victorian garden conservatories, with sound horticultural advice and botanical insight. Growing her plant collection enables her own personal growth and healing. Historic research, humor, true "characters" of the horticultural world, come together for a great read that even the nongardener will appreciate. The quirky real-life characters Kissenger meets while exploring many of the well-known plant mail-order houses will make you believe you are in the middle of a carefully crafted novel.

    How successful are you in coaxing your orchids to re-bloom? Do you get so frustrated that you treat them more like cut flowers: once they're out of bloom, they're off to the compost? "The Orchid Whisperer" (144 pages, Chronicle, $19.95) by San Francisco grower Bruce Rogers contains expert tips for growing like a professional.

    In layman's language, Rogers shares his recommendations for plant selection, repotting, watering, and fertilizing most of the tropicals you will find at local markets, including the popular phalaenopsis and cymbidium. Sections such as "Orchid True and False" and "Location, Location, Location" share practical advice with a splash of humor. Stunning photos add visual interest, identifying the 12 most popular orchids and suggesting ways to use them in decorating.

    Sunset's "Western Garden Book" (768 pages, Oxmoor House, $34.95) is well known for providing well-written, easily accessible, relevant advice for gardening in California. The USDA Hardiness Zone Map divides the US into 11 climate zones. The Sunset system is much more specific to our western mainland microclimates and identifies 24 zones with unique factors influencing plant growth.

    First published in 1932, the 2012 revision includes 1000 more plants than previous issues. Colorful images have replaced illustrations, and sustainable gardening practices are emphasized. This issue also offers an interactive component. On your smartphone, search Sunset Plant Finder. When prompted, insert your ZIP code. Up pops a list of suggested plants and a list of their cultural needs. This tool allows you to visit your local garden center with Sunset advice in hand.

    Pam Peirce's "Golden Gate Gardening, Third Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California" (448 pages, Sasquatch Books, $29.95) provides step-by-step recommendations for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs in our region's microclimates.

    Peirce writes in a clear, easily understandable style. Charts show plants that thrive in fog and those that grow in sun. Month-by-month graphs identify plant and harvest schedules for year-round bounty. Included is advice on soil, composting, pest and weed control, detailed instructions for many favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs, and a few well-tested recipes for enjoying the harvest. "If you buy one gardening book, this is the one," says Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

    A beautifully photographed chronicle of creating a new White House kitchen garden, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America" (272 pages, Crown, $30) by first lady Michelle Obama, resurrects the victory garden planted by Eleanor Roosevelt and encourages the rebirth of community gardens.

    Obama enlists the support of dedicated staff, enthusiastic volunteers, and horticulture and nutrition professionals to create the garden. Along the way, she provides a history of gardening in America, inspiration to get you started, recipes for enjoying the harvest, and pokes a little fun at herself for some less than successful experiences. She utilizes the garden as a cornerstone of her "Let's Move!" initiative to help restore our children's health. Proceeds from the book support the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America's national parks.