I’m awestruck. This is a most extraordinary book. And having myself edited an encyclopedia that ran to half a million words and 1500 pictures – I can tell you that just putting this book together so beautifully and getting it out at all is an amazing achievement. Then, as soon as you open it, you see how valuable this book is.
Seventy three genera, 615 species and around 8000 cultivars are presented in two volumes totaling 1508 pages in a format that’s noticeably larger than all the other familiar plant encyclopedias. Oh, and did I mention there are over 5000 color photographs? Five thousand! And if you thought you weren’t really very interested in conifers, those pictures will convert you in moments. The full page image of the big blue cone of Abies koreana (above, click to enlarge) is stunning. I want one. And it’s so unusual to be able to see so many examples of the same cultivar illustrated at different times of year.
As a guide to how comprehensive this book is, it includes (by my count) one hundred and ninety three cultivars of the US native Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) (P. strobus 'Louie' below, click to enlarge) and two hundred and three cultivars of the British native Scots’ Pine (P. sylvestris). I don’t dare count the entries under Lawson’s Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) but they cover almost thirty eight pages. So yes, it’s comprehensive. And all the classification and naming is all bang up to date.
Clearly and attractively laid out, the pictures are superb, with those used at full page providing a fine appreciation of the detail of cones or foliage or the habit of the plant. A very useful feature is that a height and width after ten years is given wherever possible. The extensive cross referencing of synonyms and even mis-spelled names is extremely valuable, they even note where every single picture was taken – at one hundred and twenty one different gardens around the world. Talk about thorough…
Put together by the Latvian conifer specialist Aris G. Auders and Derek P. Spicer, Chair of the British Conifer Society, over just seven years, they travelled the world examining and photographing plants and checked every scrap of serious conifer literature. The book is published in co-operation with the Royal Horticultural Society with expert editing especially from from Victoria Matthews, as well Mike Grant and Lawrence Springate, formerly RHS International Conifer Registrar. Quite a team...
Of course, this is not a book for everyone (the publishers' price is £149, after all), it’s far more than most gardeners need. But this is going to be powerfully influential book. Every college horticulture department across the world, every university botany department, every horticultural and botanical institution across the world, every conifer nursery, every major horticultural society – they should all have it. Every garden writer who writes about conifers should have it too. And many garden designers will find the vast variety of shapes and textures and colors on show inspiring. My copy is not leaving this room!
If you really want to know everything there is to know about conifers, start with this book.
The Royal Horticultural Socity Enclyclopedia of Conifers by Aris G. Auders and Derek P. Spicer is published by RHS/Kingsblue Publishing.
This book was published in Europe some time ago, but only now is there a guaranteed supply in North America. I waited to review it until it was generally available.