CENTRAL COAST GARDENINGESSENTIALS
BY JOE SEALS
Book Review by Wayne Handlos
A new book about gardening on the Central Coast of California has been self-published
by Joe Seals. I debated writing a review of this book because I thought I wouldn’t be
objective about it. Then I thought that many reviewers are not objective about what they write, so how would I be
different? I felt that objectivity would be a problem because I have taken many courses that Joe Seals has devised
and taught. I’ve known Joe since 2002 when we moved to California. He has offered advice over the years and has
brought classes to our garden on field trips over the years. In addition I have been on many of his “tree walks” and
plant identification tours. Then, he started offering courses which combined gardening and food, variously titled, but
considering the plants used and the food eaten in different cuisines around the world. Since these courses included
numerous recipes which the participants prepared for each class, this was like Hog Heaven for someone like me
who loves to eat.
To the book: it’s 318 pages long and can be purchased from the author for $35 (that includes sales
tax and shipping) by sending a check to DJ Books for the Good Life, P.O. Box 178, Arroyo
Grande, CA 93421. This book is a selection from the many classes Joe has taught and true to the
title it covers the “essentials” of gardening on the Central Coast of California. Because many of us
who live here are “transplants” from elsewhere (usually outside of California) we come with our own
preconceptions about gardening. Joe explains why we need to think and act differently when we garden
here in his chapters on our climate, garden zones and soil. Because of the uniqueness of our
Mediterranean climate and the small area that it occupies on the surface of the Earth, we need to adjust
our approach to our gardening practices and the plants that do well here. One of Joe’s signature
chapters is titled “Top Myths and Bad Practices of Gardening” and it debunks many ideas that gardeners
hold dear. He also has a slogan which we reiterated in almost every class:Right Plant, Right
Place,RPRP. Personally, I would say that this is the key to good gardening, not only here in California
but wherever you garden. In Joe’s book and classes, that philosophy is carried almost to religious
levels. That is not a criticism. Much of what underlies Joe’s good gardening practices would
usually be lumped under the heading of “organic gardening.” But unlike most “organic gardeners”
who approach this idea with missionary zeal, Joe makes the case for the sensible use of sustainable
and reasonable practices. His ideas are designed to make you successful without spending vast
amounts of money on soil amendments, fertilizers, pesticides and water. You might end up spending
more on the plants you use but this is because many that he recommends are not commonly carried
by the big box stores that dominate our society these days.
Joe’s book (as in his classes) includes lists (many lists) of plants which will do well in specific locations (Right
Plant, Right Place). His chapters include water principles (without going crazy about water conservation), alternatives
to lawns, a different approach to roses, fun plants, garden tools, composting, mulching, pest and weed management,
gophers, pruning. His plant lists help you choose and use annuals and biennials, perennials and subshrubs (maybe
a new concept to you but very important in the Mediterranean flora), bulbs, trees and shrubs, groundcovers and vines.
To help you find the plants which he recommends, he includes a chapter on sources and resources (where your might
have to go to find the right plant for your right place).
My only criticism is the inclusion of 10 introductory pages before you get to the table of contents. This information
should havebeen divided between a Preface (philosophy and acknowledgements) after the Table of Contents and
recommendations for Zone 14) into his final (unnumbered) chapter of Miscellaneous Notes and Final Thoughts.
The book is well written and well edited. It contains a gold mine of information. If you think your are a good gardener,
this will give you much to think about. You may not agree with everything you read, but you need to evaluate your current
practices on the basis of what is included in this valuable volume. I am biased but if you garden here on the Central Coast
you should have this book. You can also take more courses from Joe Seals.