Last Minute Gifts for Gardeners

By Patti Phillips & Neil Fernbaugh

UCCE Master Gardeners

Do you have a gardener or garden lover on your Christmas list? Rather than trying to pick out a plant, tree or garden tool you’re not sure they’ll like or might already have, why not consider a book? 

As we’ve worked to improve our gardens, we’ve discovered a number of books that have helped us achieve our goals of using native plants and grasses to create a habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects. We’ve found books to help us with making our low maintenance, drought tolerant garden to be attractive year-round, and we’ve found great books to help us deal with the insects, diseases, and problems that we regularly encounter as we garden. 

Some of our favorites:

At one of our last Master Gardener state conventions, we heard Doug Tellamy talk about how home gardeners can play a vital role in preserving biodiversity, as more and more land is turned into cities and farming monocultures. In a time when so many people feel that they can’t make a personal difference, he gives some examples of just how much we really can do in our own back yards in two of his books: Bringing Nature Home: How you can sustain Wildlife with Native Plants and The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the home garden.

You’ve probably seen plants grown by Native Sons Wholesale Nursery in our local nurseries and garden stores. They, and several other growers, are determined to provide beautiful, drought tolerant, California native plants that will flourish in our valley. David Fross, the owner, has joined with Carol Bornstein from the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, and Bart O’Brien from the Rancho Santa Ana Gardens to write California Native Plants for the Garden  which has become a standard reference for those of us already working with native plants in our own gardens.

Grasses are becoming a more significant element in many gardens. Since they are mostly evergreen, low maintenance, drought tolerant, and generally pest free, you’ve probably seen masses of them planted in recent housing developments and in many parks and public spaces. Neil Lucas, from Great Britain, is one of the international experts in the use of grasses in gardens. He and David Fross from Native Sons traveled North America and Britain searching for grasses that are useful in the landscape. Neil’s book, Designing with Grasses, is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to add new and easily maintained elements to their gardens. Another comprehensive book, The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes by Rick Darke, is filled with many stunning photographs of grasses and includes detailed descriptions of various grasses for landscape design as well as practical information on selecting, planting and maintaining grasses in your gardens.

If you want to buy a more practical, “how-to” book for your gardener, we’d like to suggest a couple of books from the American Horticultural Society that are published by DK (Doring Kindersley) Books. Both are profusely and carefully illustrated with the home gardener in mind. The first, Plant Propagation, by Alan Toogood, gives step-by-step details on how to grow, graft, layer, and divide your own plants. Whether your gardener is interested in cacti, bulbs, vegetables, annuals or perennials, there is something in this book for everyone. The second book from the same series is Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell. Brickell provides step-by-step and graphic illustrations on how to prune almost every plant you will find in yours, or your neighbor’s garden. For years the Master Gardeners have used the Sunset garden books as their garden guides, but these two reference books have become their “go to” sources for pruning and growing the plants in their gardens.

One of the best books regularly used is the UC ANR publication, Pests of Landscape trees and Shrubs, which is available on the Master Gardener web site. Use this shortened URL: or: or: call them at 559-684-3300. It is an indispensable book for gardeners who need to regularly find solutions for the kinds of bugs, diseases and problems that most gardeners encounter almost yearly in their own gardens. If you need to find out why your Lantana shrub has a sticky blackish mold on it, or why your apricot tree’s leaves are yellowing just on one side of the tree, this is one of the best reference books you can buy.

As you rush to find gardening gifts, consult your favorite bookstore, or search your favorite online bookstore to purchase the perfect gift for your gardener. These are books they will delight in, and use forever. 

The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions this Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Lindcove Field Station Citrus Display and Tasting from 9 a.m. to noon. You can also meet them each Saturday at the Visalia Farmer’s Market in the Sears parking lot from 8 to 11 a.m.

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