Those of us who do Christmas shopping can relax now. If it’s not done, tell everybody you’re celebrating the Magi this year and they’ll get their gifts on Jan. 6. Honest, it won’t make the Baby Jesus cry if you miss something at Macy’s or Wallyworld, if you sit down and nurse your bruises and skip another day of celebrating the War for Christmas. I won’t tell Bill O’Reilly on you.
It’s not a good time to go messing in your garden, either, if the soil’s still soggy from all that rain. Berkeley clay resents being squished and stepped on and shoved around when it’s soggy—remember the way you felt after that last attempt to get your hands on this year’s Xbox? It bruises easily, and turns into impenetrable adobe when it finally dries out, and your plants won’t appreciate it either.
So stop, take a deep breath, and elevate your feet. Partake of your favorite seasonal beverage. Contemplate stuffing or good wine; dream of a third round of latkes; if you must think of gardening at all, have a pleasant internal debate over where and whether to plant squash this year, or just how big a tomato variety you can get away with in your neighborhood. (The smaller ones do better with less summer heat and sun… Remember summer heat and sun? West of the hills, it’s tightly rationed.)
It’s a prefect time to read the garden bulb and seed catalogues that have piled up beside the chair. But you do need to read with a skeptical eye, as unfashionable as those are this year, this season.
It’s possible to get something from White Flower Farms or Burpee that grows up to look like the gorgeous photo in the book, but it’s hardly guaranteed no matter what the back page says. Most seed catalogues, like most general garden books, are put together with other climates in mind. They’re pitched at the East Coast, the Midwest, or some fantasyland off the coast of Bavaria—or at least England, from which so many of our garden gospels originated.
Mediterranean-climate garden books will translate to California more easily, and some have been written for us in particular. The magnificent Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region, put together by editor Nora Harlow, designer Beth Hansen-winter, illustrator Richard Pembroke, and photographer Saxon Holt for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, comes to mind—and it’s a great last-minute gift for a gardener, come to think of it.
So is another recent book that includes more of Holt’s gorgeous plant porn and Hansen-Winter’s inviting design, the new site guide San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum by Peter Dallman and Scot Medbury. You might have to call a few stores for this one, but it’s a good excuse to visit the arboretum. Give someone the gift of a stroll and a book and the pleasure of your company sometime next week; I can’t think of a better gift for any holiday.
Ron Sullivan is a former professional gardener and arborist. Her “Garden Variety” column appears weekly in East Bay Home & Real Estate. Her column on East Bay trees appears twice-monthly in the Berkeley Daily Planet.