in this Issue
Meet Spring Seminar Instructor Bob Perry
By Mary James
A highly regarded landscape architect and professor emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona, Bob Perry is keenly aware of our region’s Mediterranean climate and precarious water resources. Throughout his professional life, even when it wasn’t fashionable, he has strived to marry garden design aesthetics with water conservation and concern for the environment.
That perspective, plus decades of experience with plants and plant palettes, informs Perry’s new book, “Landscape Plants for California Gardens” (Land Design Publishing, $87.50). To view sample pages and access free downloadable sections, visit www.landdesignpublishing.com ; order from Amazon.com.
Two previous books by Perry, “Trees and Shrubs for Dry California Landscapes” (1980) and “Landscape Plants for Western Regions” (1992 and still in print), are prized as classic references by home gardeners as well as professional horticulturists and designers.
At the Master Gardener Spring Home Gardening Seminar, Perry will teach a class on “Sustainable Gardens: Myth or Reality?” For details on the class and registration information, click here.
Eighteen years in the making and a hefty 650 pages, Perry’s latest book, “Landscape Plants for California Gardens,” is the detailed, illustrated, instructional, region-specific book the state’s gardeners have craved.
With professorial depth and a plant lover’s passion, Perry hones in on plants’ water needs – the botany that determines them, climate zones that impact them and logical groupings that allow them to thrive without wasting water. He also shares 33 lists of practical and designerly plant choices for landscape uses, as well as more than two dozen inspired plant palettes that help home gardeners think and landscape like pros
The bulk of the book, though, is an invaluable plant compendium with descriptions of 2,100 plants illustrated with the author’s 3,100 color photos.
Recently, Perry took time from his busy teaching and speaking schedule to discuss his writing career, passion for plants and the books he may write next.
What led you to begin writing books?
I was teaching about plants, design and ecology in the 1970s and the information available was pretty spotty. Very few books were illustrated and most were black and white. This was when the environmental movement lifted off and I saw the need for an ecologically-minded resource that celebrated California gardens and plants, rather than those in other parts of the country. I had a sabbatical leave coming and proposed doing a book, pulling together all I had learned. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
What was the impact of that first book?
It became a catalyst for so many things. I wrote about trees and shrubs – 360 plants – that were well adapted to heat and aridity and included lots of native plants. I was 33 at the time and it established my identity in the field. It also led me into self-publishing through Land Design Publishing, which turned out was the best option for me. The publishers I had approached thought my book idea was too narrow and limited or, like Sunset, preferred to work with a group of contributors. Self publishing added a whole new fascinating dimension to the project. The first book was the hardest, but today, especially with the internet and new technology, I’m really pleased with how it’s worked for me.
What was your goal for this new book?
I’ve had a vision for many years of a comprehensive book that would cover the full spectrum of plants and put them into context so you could see their different water needs and aesthetic characteristics and make informed choices. I wanted to provide a foundation to build on, an understanding of climate zones, the water needs of plants, different uses for them. I wanted readers to have at their fingertips ways to group plants, to assist them with design. It wouldn’t be like looking at, say, a plant list for a butterfly garden and thinking they all go together, when they don’t. And I wanted a conservation ethic running through all of it.
There are examples of your plant palettes on your Web site, www.landdesignpublishing.com . How do these palettes work?
I like to think of them as a community of plants that work together horticulturally and aesthetically. It’s an approach that grew out of my study of native plants and seeing how they come together in nature. The palettes in the book are organized around climates – woodland, subtropical, Mediterranean and Southwestern – and the plants in each are compatible from a design and cultural point of view. The Japanese Maple palette likes cool, moist zones. The Torrey Pine palette is best in Southern California with its limited rainfall. The plants in each palette come together as a wonderful grouping. They give you a good jumping off point for design without robbing you of your creativity.
Is there flexibility in these palettes?
I’m very open. There are so many garden options in our Mediterranean climate, and we want more diversity, not less. I’ve watched and learned over the years what happens in our many micro-climates. Plants will surprise you.
In your book, you are proponent of hydrozoning. How does it work and what are its benefits?
Hydozoning is grouping together plants with similar seasonal and irrigation needs. This goes hand-in-hand with fitting plants appropriately into your garden’s microclimates. Together they are key ways to making the most of limited water. Plants with high water needs may be closer to the house and patio where you want landscape impact, while those with low water needs may be best suited around the perimeter. It also is important to consider and use different irrigation strategies – drip, rotors, bubblers, etc. - to meet the plants needs efficiently and conserve water.
How did you choose and describe the plants listed in the compendium? Did you consult with others around the state?
It is all based on my experience, research and travel. I have 45 years of looking at plants and that, combined with my reading about plants, helped bring things into focus. I was nervous about bringing in more views, so ultimately you have one person passing on a consistent message. I’ve seen what people want to see and know to work with plants in a garden setting. I did have to draw the line somewhere and didn’t include bulbs or annuals and biennials. And I limited the number of cultivars described while still trying to convey the essence of each plant group. The photos also are all mine. Over the years, I’ve found pictures are a good way to learn about a plant’s qualities and characteristics. You can see the bark, leaves and flowers up close as well as view the plant in a landscape.
The new book is a comprehensive summary of your life-long learning. Will there be another?
I’m toying with the thought of a second edition of this book, perhaps in five years that would grow to 750 pages so I can put in some of the plant groups I left out of this one. I’ve also thought about pulling out the section on native plants, making it more useful for re-vegetation projects and adding more information on how natural landscapes function and how to use that in a garden setting.
Mary James, a Master Gardener, is a San Diego freelance garden writer whose work appears in San Diego Home-Garden/Lifestyles magazine and the San Diego Union-Tribune. She is also executive editor of California Garden, the 101-year-old magazine of the San Diego Floral Association. Previously, she was an editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune for almost three decades.