Q&A: Ingleside Author on the New Edition of Her Gardening Bible

Pam Peirce dives into the ongoing appeal of Golden Gate Gardening three decades on.

Pam Peirce talks about the new edition of Golden Gate Gardening. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

Longtime Ingleside resident Pam Peirce’s book Golden Gate Gardening is the must-have guide to gardening year-round in the Bay Area. It’s been a go-to resource for horticulturists for 30 years — and a new edition will be released this month.

“I realized that most of the people in the Bay Area do not understand the climate,” Peirce said. “It took me a good 10 years to get all the material together. I've used it in teaching at City College and a lot of people use it for teaching. A lot of people have learned to garden from it. So I'm really, really happy.”

With a new golden yellow cover depicting rustic drawings of fruits and veggies, the book is filled with new cooking book recommendations, seed buying locations, updated plant names, illustrations by Mimi Osborne and more.

Peirce has written several other books including Wildly Successful Plants Northern California and one essay titled “A Personal History of the People’s Food System” that was published in the book Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978.

The Indiana native also co-founded the former San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners and wrote several garden columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate.

“I guess I was always writing, but it took me a long time to come around to the idea that I was a writer and I guess I am because I keep writing,” Peirce said.

Peirce is hosting a book release party at the Garden For the Environment on Sept. 23. from 2 to 4 p.m.

The Ingleside Light caught up with Peirce to discuss the new edition of Golden Gate Gardening.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does gardening mean to you?

In the new introduction I wrote a five-point philosophy for gardeners and it was printed in full on barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com

The first one is that I'm increasingly grateful for the anti-consumer nature of food gardening. It allows me to keep in touch with the food production process that underlies human existence, a process that fulfilled our needs before we could fulfill the many wants that a consumer economy allows and promotes. Gardeners are producers, and so I call it “emotional archaeology” — not that we would wish to return to being dependent only on the food crops that we can grow — but that we can understand the human condition through the emotions that it engenders in us.

My second principle is that a garden teaches us the importance of plants in the human diet, that the very things that we can grow so much of are the very things that we should be eating more of so there they are. You can certainly grow enough greens to feed yourself very well in a very small garden. There are recipes in the book because I want people to know that they can. You can eat things throughout the year. 

The third principle is sharing. I figured that when I grow food, I've created food that didn't exist on the face of the earth prior to my having grown it so part of the meaning of gardening is food and to share it and to share plants too. I try to share the food, especially during the pandemic. I just took a bunch of greens to my neighbors, and I've been doing it ever since, and it's really very nice to see that it's completely outside of everything else. They just keep growing.

The fourth principle is that it's a connection with nature. Now I know that gardens are not nature; they're controlled. They're a very simplified form of nature, but we do pay attention, and we see the plants that are growing. And we see the insects and the helpful insects and we watch the bees and it's all useful to our consciousness.

Last of all, it's a practice, so it means to me a place to think or not think as I choose and just to be. I don't pray. I do not meditate but I garden, and I do so with intention. I cook with intention and I serve food with intention. That's what it means to me.

What can people expect with the fourth edition of Golden Gate Gardening?

I'm told that the beginning is very inviting, that people who have never gardened feel invited to, and enabled to garden. That's especially important for people who live near the coast because they have no idea what they can grow  and so one of the things that I did was encourage people who live near the coast with plants that they can grow and I included some things that are fairly uncommonly grown in America because they don't do well where the summers are hot and the winters are freezing, and the springs are short and the falls are short.

We have lots of cold springs and then inland they have to deal with high temperatures, and that it's getting hotter and hotter and dry and the warning not to waste water. I try to emphasize that you can garden in the winter, throughout our region and grow something. The rain takes care of a lot of the water for you and many of the pests are reduced so those are the things that I think are important to people, is learning that, that they can grow something in the fog.

Pame Peirce first published Golden Gate Gardener in 1993. | Courtesy Pam Peirce

What is something you want people to know about your book?

It has that philosophy of gardening in it, which it didn't have before. It has an entirely updated list of places to buy seeds which is important because some of them go out and some of them come in and it talks about seed patenting and the open source seed initiative. Independent breeders are breeding seeds and they're putting them on under open source seeds and that means they can't be patented, which is just wonderful because patenting of traits and varieties is very scary.

There are lists of flowers in the book now that are new that do well in cool weather and another list for warm weather and the resources in the back are all updated. Resources for gardeners, places to take the kids to learn about farming and places that help to grow food for the poor. In the very back, there's an appendix on suggested reading. I've updated that also. A lot of classic books that are out of print, you can still find and a lot of new books, including a lot of new cookbooks.

A lot of cookbooks are not helpful to gardeners. They’re designed for going to the grocery and having a recipe in your hand and buying a little of this and a little of that and a little of the other, quite uneconomical and then coming home and cooking it. Then you've got little bits of this and that left over, some of which are not in your staples. What do you do with that? So I put in cookbooks that will help you by telling you what to do with things that you grow and things that you have in the garden at the same time.

How does it feel to have your book still in demand 30 years later?

Oh, it's wonderful. What's really wonderful about it is that I've run into people who tell me that they started using this book when they were in college and now they're using it to raise children who know how to garden. I even met somebody who has several copies, who has a big garden in Moraga and his son is an adult and has children and is using the book to teach those kids how to garden. It's exciting that it's going on because that was my goal to help people through the years.

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