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Showing Its Age, Needs More Texas Orientation
on December 9, 2011
Texas is in a funny location. It's too far west to be considered southern. It's too east to be called the West. It's somewhat south to be called part of the Great Plains. Yet it's referred to as all those things. I consider it Texas and home. Nevertheless, the Southern Living Garden Book includes Texas, albeit not very well.
First off, the Southern Living Garden Book is, in my experience, the best general reference available because of its extensive plant encyclopedia and the inclusion of the American Horticultural Society's heat zones. But the book is in need of some editing and updates.
The heat zone map included in this book remains a work in progress. Their map puts us in Heat Zone 9, but we're really Zone 10, based upon my examination of historical temperature data and gardening experience. This year, due to the drought, we were Zone 11. You have to keep such variations in mind, because the El Niño/La Niña cycles may raise and lower your heat zone from year to year. This year taught me to move more towards Xeriscape. Also, a thermometer survey showed that near the south-facing street is as much as 20° hotter than just 30 feet back under the Pecans. (We're installing a 60 foot dedicated cacti/succulent bed.) Considering these factors in your landscape plan will make the Southern Living Garden Book a more valuable reference when you look for the right plants for your nano-climates.
Some plants were inaccurately rated for both heat and cold hardiness by the Southern Living Garden Book, experience showing that they aren't tough enough for our heat. For example, they claim Fatsia japonica is hardy enough for Heat Zone 12. Hah, hah. Experience shows it's perhaps good for Zone 9. We had one below-average summer and it lived. The next year, back to Heat Zone 10, and it died. This year, I tried once more, placing a new specimen in a more protected area. It did fine during the winter, despite two streaks of three 15° nights, but last summer's heat killed it. The book also says Fatsia japonica is marginally hardy for the Lower South (USDA cold hardiness zone 8, which is where we live). Perhaps the book needs to split Lower South into two zones to reflect the USDA's division into Zones 8A and 8B. We live in 8B, which may explain why Fatsia japonica is cold hardy here.
The editorial offices reside in Birmingham, Alabama, which may explain why this book is more southern oriented and not so relevant for Texas. The editors would benefit from corresponding with the experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Texas A&M, the latter being the source of the Texas Superstar plant list of heat- and drought-hardy plants for Texas. By incorporating this expertise, the next edition of the Southern Living Garden Book-and it definitely needs an update-will be much more valuable to Texas gardeners. The current edition doesn't include many species listed by those two Texas sources, including many Texas natives.
On the plus side, compared to the Texas-centric gardening books I've read, the Southern Living Garden Book provides the most extensive plant information and is a useful addition to your garden library.