Berkeley is leading the way in edible gardening, according to Sunset's Garden Editor Kathleen Brenzel. Photo: courtesy Sunset

Tonight, at Builders Booksource on Berkeley’s Fourth Street, Kathleen Brenzel will introduce the new, ninth, edition of the “Sunset Western Garden Book“, the iconic gardening bible which is in its 80th year.

Brenzel, Sunset’s Garden Editor, paused on her busy book tour to answer some questions posed by Berkeleyside. Naturally we selected to focus on Berkeley.

What do you think of when you think of Berkeley and gardening?
Diversity. Woodland, meadow, and even tropical gardens thrive here.

How would you describe Berkeley’s climate for gardening?
The best. Zone 17 — the bay- rimming lowlands — are frost free. But they get cooling fogs and humidity in summer. Zone 16, the Berkeley hills, practically never sees a white frost, either, and cold air drains away from these slopes. Wind is a factor, though.

What does that mean in practice?
Plants that need lots of heat — citrus, hibiscus, and gardenia, for example — struggle in zone 17, but may do better in zone 16. Even tropical macadamia nut trees and kahili gingers grow in zone 16.

What are some of the easiest/most difficult things to grow here?
Easy: many native plants, including cleveland sage and ceanothus, but also penstemons (Penstemon spectabilis and P. hybrids); lavender, grasses, and tropicals such as Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia); banana, canna.  More difficult: crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), a gorgeous flowering tree that thrives in neighboring zone 14 (inland), but gets mildew closer to the bay.

Are Berkeley (and the East Bay) ahead of the curve in some ways, eg. edibles (including in schoolyards), gray water, chicken raising?
Although chicken raising is a passion everywhere, Berkeley is leading the way in edible gardening, and water-conserving garden design. The need to conserve water will continue to grow.

Any famous Berkeley gardens or gardeners come to mind?
The UC Botanical Garden tops my list; gorgeous native plants, succulents, cactus, and wonderful trails through the plant collections. The Municipal Rose Garden on Euclid Ave is a landmark — all those terraces of roses stepping down to a bay view. And the Edible Schoolyard Project, by chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame.

For gardeners, Michael Pollan tops my list; his front yard veggie garden is great, but his books, especially “Food Rules”, are really changing how people look at the food they eat.

What: The new “Sunset Western Garden Book” launch event, introduced by Sunset Garden Editor Kathleen Brenzel who will sign copies.
When: Thursday, March 29, 7:00pm-9:00pm
Where: Builders Booksource, 1817 4th Street, Berkeley, CA

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...