The New Sunset Western Garden Book – Book Review

I have been dying to get my hands on the latest edition of the New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Oxmoor House, 2012. List Price $34.95)

Well, it’s finally here and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been given a copy to review.  And as if that weren’t enough – Sunset is letting me give away FIVE copies, too!

Like many gardeners, I’ve had several different editions of the Sunset Book throughout the years, my oldest dating back to 1967 (borrowed from my grandmother).  But this one is, hands down, Sunset’s finest effort yet.

There’s so much that I love about this book, so in an effort to keep things brief I’ll narrow it down by giving you my Top Five Reasons to Own This Book!




Reason #1

My very favorite part of the book is the new Plant Finder section that covers so many gardening situations.   Sure, their past editions had similar chapters with plants categorized by the roles they play in the garden, such as ‘plants for shade’, ‘ plants for fragrance’, ‘deer resistant plants’, etc.

This edition, however, has a few new, and current categories that, as a designer, I will undoubtedly refer to over and over again.  For example: Plants for Moon Gardens, Plants for Structure, Plants for Slopes, Plants for Hedges and Plants for Tropical Effects.

And for those of you who are trying to garden more sustainably, you’ll love these new categories:  Plants that attract Butterflies (or Birds, or Beneficial Insects), Ornamental Edibles (yay!) and Plants for Waterwise Gardens.


Reason #2

No more hand-drawings!  Not that they were bad (they weren’t) but now we have beautiful, full-color photographs to accompany each plant making it so much easier to help with plant ID.


Reason #3

Once you actually dive in to the A-Z encyclopedia portion of the book you’ll notice lots and lots of green break-out boxes sprinkled throughout, with such titles as ‘The Daisy Clan’, ‘Using Euonymous’, ‘Clinging Vines’ or ‘The Dark Side of English Ivy’.   Not only are these cute and clever, but they’re filled with interesting and helpful tidbits of information.

This book has clearly morphed from a reference book to the sort of garden book you want to read from cover-to-cover!


Reason #4

While this may seem like a small thing, I’m a huge fan of the book’s new binding – which is somewhere between a hard and a soft copy.  I have a feeling it’ll hold up much longer than my old, tattered ones with their soft covers just waiting to be ripped the second I drop it. Yes, it’s happened to me more than once.


Reason #5

And finally, once you reach the end of the ‘Z’s, you come to a whole other book within a book, making this the Inception of garden books!

At the very end, you’ll find a comprehensive Gardening, Start to Finish, which covers everything from planning, soil, irrigation, fertilizing, training, protecting plants from pests and diseases and managing weeds.  Truly, everything a gardener (especially a beginner) would need to know.

My one quibble (and it’s so minor I almost hesitate to put it in) is that under the Plant Finder’s ‘Plants for Fragrance’ there’s a photo of the beautiful Brugmansia sanguinea.  The problem is, that’s the one Brugmansia that doesn’t really have much smell.  While it’s the prettiest (IMHO) a ‘Charles Grimaldii’ or ‘Double White’ would have so much more fragrance.  See?  I told you it was minor!


In a nutshell

I’ve always told my clients who were just dipping their toes into the world of gardening to run out and buy this book.  Now I’m going to insist on it.  If I only had one book to recommend to a gardener, this would be it.


UPDATE:  Congratulations Kathy G., Kim Greene, Becca Harms, Nicholas Daunoy and Debby – you’re the lucky winners!  Just send me your address via email and Sunset will send the book to you!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  And thanks for your comments, everyone.  I never respond when running a contest as I don’t want to skew the random number generator, but I really enjoy reading them (and some definitely made me laugh out loud!!) 

Ready to win your own copy?  I have FIVE books to give away!  Just leave a comment letting me know either 1) what your favorite plant is, or 2) why you’d love this book and I’ll randomly choose a winner on March 14th.  Please know that I won’t be answering your comments as it’ll mess up the random-number generator that I use to determine the winners.  But I read them all and am loving what you all have to say!!  🙂

A few more details:  The winner will be randomly chosen by midnight March 14, 2012, and contacted within 24 hours. If the proposed winner forfeits or does not claim the prize by March 21st, the prize will be re-awarded based on the sponsor’s sole discretion. All prizes will be awarded. Please provide your name and email to enter this contest, so I can immediately contact you if you win. The winner agrees to allow his/her first name to be mentioned in conjunction with this giveaway.

The number of eligible entries will determine the odds of winning. This giveaway is limited to U.S. residents only, who are over the age of 18 years old. No purchase necessary to win. This sweepstakes is void where prohibited by law (not exactly sure where this might be, but I’d sure hate to live there).  By entering this giveaway, you are agreeing to these conditions.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post and yes, the product was provided for me to review. All expressed opinions, however, are absolutely and without a doubt, my own.  Good luck everyone!

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  • So, everyone, did you win a book? Well, obviously, not ALL of you did. So here’s your second chance: Sunset also gave me five copies to give away! Mosey on over to on March 20 and leave a comment for another chance to win. Hm. Guess I’d better email Rebecca to find out how that random thingy works…

  • I previewed the New Bible while at Cost Co last week. I think the photographs are a big improvement over the old line drawings, which were very good , but I appreciate the photos much more.
    Also loved seeing some design elements such as Suzanne Biaggi’s Late Show sculpture table.
    The binding was crafted very well. Sunset knows their clientele well – we tote that book from garden to nursery and back again.

  • Hi Susan, like everyone else, I’d love to win the book and can’t wait to see it! Maybe I’m too late… responding late. Gee, so many favorite plants… but one of my favorites for Bay Area gardens is Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’. Another one of those fabulous South African plants. Cheers! Eileen

  • I’d love to have the book because I gave my last copy away when I moved.

  • I devoured a borrowed copy of my mom’s 1959 (?) edition the summer after I got married (1971) and immediately became filled with the desire to go dig up the back yard of our crummy rental duplex. Planted most every seed far too deep, gophers ate most of my carrots but I was launched. Haven’t stopped yet, and have bought every new edition as it comes out. Love SWGB!

  • Sunset Garden books have always been my go-to reference and this newest edition sure looks like a winner! Thanks for the review!

  • This book sounds perfect for me! The categories, the sustainable section, etc. etc. Hope you pick me!

  • One of my favorites are the any of the abutilons. I gave a little one gallon plant to my mother- in -law 7 years ago. Soon after she passed away from Cancer. I found this little guy struggling in the back of the patio full of white-fly. I took it home, treated it and promised to take care of it since it was one of her favorites. Today its full and thriving. I would love to win this new Sunset book. I’ve collected many of them. I even have all of my mother-in-laws which would have been from the 60’s. Thank you

  • Thanks for the great book review, now, I think the new Sunset is going to be a must have. I have worn my old copy out because it is a great reference tool. I am really looking forward to the section on plants for structure, and I love little breakouts that are short and sweet, but loaded with information. I love Lavender and my favorite is lavender intermedia Super. I love the tall lavender waving in a breeze, and the smell is almost as good as Grosso, but the tall stalks are gorgeous dried.

  • Oh, I’d love this book as well! I have an older copy and it would be nice to have the newer edition with lots of full color photographs to accompany each plant. Love it!

  • I would be stoked to get a copy of the Sunset Western Book, I was recently bitten by the gardening bug so it would be great to have all that baseline info at my finger tips! Right now my favorite plant, that I just planted today, would have to be columbine.

  • Hellebores are my favorite right now. So many beautiful varieties are available.

  • I would love a copy of this book. It would be a great reference for our little garden shop. There are so many “Sunset” plants that we East Coasters use that aren’t in our catalogs and reference books. We need that information! 🙂

  • I appreciate the opportunity to win this wonderful resource book. I guess my favorite plant is the Rose, because of all the colors and varieties. Thank you for the great review. I will cross my fingers!

  • I love this book! I was just looking at mine the other day, knowing that there have been newer editions since mine was printed. And I was wishing I had the latest one. So, I am hoping this is fate! First time to your blog and I am enjoying it. Thanks!

  • To name my favorite plant would be tough but as you know it would be a succulent! They are all so beautiful I don’t know….ok echeveria ‘after glow’! Yes that’s it. And I have never owned one of these books. This one sounds so great and any book that show’s how to make Matti & Megan succulent table from Far Out Flora is one to get!

  • I would love to win this book. I have been an avid gardener on the central coast of California for many years. After relocating to an inland valley two years ago, I’m re-learning the rules and identifying what plants will work here (only an hour away from our previous garden). Any and all reference books are always helpful.

  • Well I would love to win this book, but why do I have a feeling the general response would be that “the fix is in”? My other option is to steal your copy next time I’m at your house. Or I could just buy my own. 🙂 As to choosing a favorite plant, that’s impossible, but my current favorite that’s blooming now are the Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly Peach’ (snapdragons) I purchased last summer from Annie’s Annuals. Three feet tall, have not stopped blooming all year, and the color looks incredible next to my red Phormium ‘Guardsman’.

    Great review – can’t wait to check out the book!

  • Although I have a growing collection of children’s garden books, I am constantly borrowing my friends’ garden “bibles”. I am sure some of them are thinking: GET your own!! So, yes, I need a copy of my own.
    My favorite? other than my lemon tree, I’d say: borage. It’s all over the place, year after year. So easy to grow. The sprouts are delicious!!! The flowers attract bees. And the flowers are great in my salads or dessert.

  • The husband took off with my previous copy of The Sunset Western Garden Book and it has never been the same. I think a nice new copy of the new book would be the the perfect Mother’s Day gift. This time it will be mine all mine.

  • My favorite backyard plant is a satsuma mandarin and I need a new Sunset Western Garden Book as mine is somewhat outdated.

  • In an effort to win one of the give-away copies of Sunset’s new book, I must tell you all that I work at the children’s garden in San Luis Obispo and am working to create an inspiring outdoor education center for families. I would love to have this book so I can create a beautiful space for people that know little about plants. Educating the community is a part of my dream to make this community a beacon in creating a green paradise, one backyard at a time. The Sunset Western Garden Book would be a wonderful asset in my arsenal of outdoor education. My favorite plant (right now) is our giant Elderberry that has been pruned to create a seat in the heart of it’s green canopy.
    Thank you for this opportunity to win a valuable resource.

  • My favorite plant…almost impossible but I’d have to say my Japanese Maples for the year round beauty and happiness they bring to me. Starting with the beautiful little leaf buds (happening now!) to the vibrant colors to the sweet little fairy seed pods. Oh…I have to throw in the Winter Daphne Odora for the fragrance that for me is not surpassed. Plus if I manage to keep one alive more than one year I feel like Iron Man!
    My old Sunset Book has been rained on, muddied up from using it at dusk while gardening with my headlamp and finally retired to my back shed where I suspect a possum has used it as part of it’s nest!

  • I seem to be awfully partial to silver lupine and love to walk the hillsides and feast my eyes and nose. Sunset Western Garden books are wonderful for one’s library but also one to share with community and public gardens. I heard it has a great section on pronunciation, we can always use help with tongue twisters.

  • Took out all the ivy in my yard, now it’s what do I plant here, here and here? Sounds like the new Sunset book would help me decide what to plant where!

  • For most of my life, iris were my favorite flowers, but in the past few years I think passiflora have taken that spot. I love any variety, and have several, some grown from seed, some from cuttings, plus many that I have purchased. Iris don’t blossom for very long, whereas passiflora are evergreen and blossom almost year ’round for me here in California. They are so amazing. I have had many editions of Sunset Western Garden Book, but my latest is several years old. I keep it on a shelf in my kitchen for easy reading, and would love to see a copy of this new wonderful publication.

  • My favorite plant is Salvia clevlandii for the intoxicating fragrance of its leaves and the pretty blue flowers. Of course I also like that it is drought tolerant, a must this year with so little water.

    I’ve always loved the Western Garden Book and I’m very much looking forward to getting a copy.
    (Pick me and save on shipping ;->)

  • Oh, I would love to win this new edition of a classic! But how can I pick a favorite plant? Can I pick two? I think I will have to go with daylilies — they have childhood associations for me, and they come in such a wonderful array of sizes and colors. They’re my favorite perennial. (The runner-up was hardy geraniums).

  • I’d love to own a copy b/c I’m always looking for inspiration and new ideas…. my favorite plant… that’s like choosing a favorite child (which at this moment wouldn’t be so hard…), but my new obsession is all things sedum. I love succulents, but in CT I look for hardy varieties, and sedums are just fantastic in my Zone 6, mostly sunny garden…. Thanks Rebecca!

  • Rebecca,
    I have so many plants that are my favorites, how do you pick just one? I love them all, and use as many as I can in my work. This book would be a wonderful addition to my plant resources. Sunset always does such a good job with their Western Garden Book.

  • Peonies! that’s my favorite flower, thus the Peony Farm. In addition, I do have a big garden with loads of roses, lilies, all sorts of perennials, flowering trees, fruit trees. deciduous trees and conifers. Since I can remember, the Sunset Western Garden book is my go to book on what to do for my plants.

  • LOVE to own the new edition because I spilled fish emulsion on my older edition and our cat now sleeps on it. Plus, there are ancient pepper seeds stuck down in the binding and, it’s so dog-earred, it has swollen to twice the original size. Bottomline: It’s all used up, like me. I’d give “The New Sunset Western Garden Book” a loving home.

  • My favorite plant: Cercis siliquastrum, LOVE TREE.

    I’ve had many editions of the Sunset Western Garden Book. Unfortunately, I’m about three editions behind the times.


  • I have a collection of Sunset books from the 70’s I picked up at an estate sale. They are always a wealth of information. This one looks fantastic!

  • What’s my favorite plant? How could I choose. That’s why I would love this book! I’m constantly using it at work to reference plants that I simply must have. Having a copy of the new edition at home would mean I could feed my plant coveting obsession ’round the clock.

  • Pick me! Pick me! As much as I keep hearing fabulous things about the new version, I have been reluctant to buy one since I have two copies of the older version! The Sunset Western Garden book has always been my book of choice!

  • Right now, today, my favorite plant is the shrub Caryopteris “Sunshine Blue”. I’m in the process of creating a garden and this lovely beauty has given me lots of babies to spread around. I also like that it flowers later in the year.

  • Back when I was a student in NYC I longed to move to California so I bought the Sunset Western Garden Book and at night I would read it before bed and dream of all the wonderful plants I would be able to grow “some day”. Finally made it to California and now have that garden of my dreams so I’d love to get a free copy of the latest edition.

  • Sounds like this would make a great read. I love how you mentioned that the book within the book is “the Inception of gardening books”, this made my night. My favorite plant would have to be a sunflower. Sunflowers have always been a favorite of mine ever since growing them for the first time when I was seven years old. Thanks for the review!

  • That looks fantastic! The cover alone makes me want to dive back into the garden again!

  • Rebecca, while I don’t live on the West Coast, I feel sure there would be relevant sections for central Texas and I’d love to read it.

  • I would love to have this book because it would be so helpful to have when gardening…figuring out how and when to plant, fertilize & how to get rid of bugs!!!

  • I would love to own this book since I have been removing lawn and want to use drought tolerant plants that attract birds and butterflies but the plants also have to withstand cold temps in a zone 8 USDA zone along with hot summer temps.

  • My favorite plants in the garden would have to be hibiscus. I love the bold, dinner-plate sized blooms in the garden, towering over elephant ears and cannas. I can have a little bit of the Tropics in my North Carolina garden!

  • My favorite flower is the sweet pea because April is my birthday and that is the flower of the month. That is an annual. Maybe my favorite perennial is hepatica. Comes in many colors and is an early bloomer so after my many kinds of snowdrops are nearly done then the soft blues and pinks and some white hepaticas bloom.

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