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February 2014

January 2014

Spectacular new conifer encyclopedia


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.

ConiferEncyclopediaBooks600As 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 PinusstrobusLouie900 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.


Although these are very heavy books, as I write still only charges $3.99 for shipping and in Britain delivery from is free! This, of course, may change.

The Petunia that's an Ipomoea and more botanical fibs

Mutant Petunias Sing The Blues - New York Times 6 January 2014. Screen shot from NY Times website, Jan 6, 2014, by BotanicalAccuracy.comThe news that two prestigious publications, Science magazine and the New York Times (left, click to enlarge), both used the same image of an Ipomoea to illustrate a story about a genetic breakthrough in the development of blue petunias took me from Garden Rant, where a guest post by Lena Struwe laid it all out in glorious detail, to Lena Struwe’s own Botanical Accuracy blog.

Dr Lena Struwe is Associate Professor at the School of Enviromental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey and her Botanical Accuracy blog is simply wonderful.

As well as her piece about the morning glory pretenting to be a petunia, she’s pointed out (in impressive and entertaining detail) that:
Batman’s nemesis Poison Ivy is often actually clothed in English Ivy to keep her decent;
The plants known as ‘Magilla Perilla’ and ‘Magilla Vanilla’ are very definitely Solenostemon (coleus) and not Perilla at all (see below);
Many retailers and wholesalers use images of Philadephus to show that their products contain jasmine;
The logo used to celebrate 50 years of Greening Singapore by their National Parks service shows mostly European weeds;

And more… It’s really fascinating, and funny – and all so thoroughly researched. Take a look –

And here are links to some of my posts here on Transatlantic Gardener that deal with similar issues:
The good, the bad - and the chrysanthemums
Fun with plant names
From the depths of the black lagoon arose – Dendranthema!
Another nursery plant name fiasco
Cannas, agastaches, bluebells, bluebonnets – and Star Trek Voyager

And here's Solenostemon (coleus) 'Perilla Magilla' - definitely not a Perilla. And, actually, it can't be called Solenostemon 'Perilla Magilla' - cultivar names are not allowed to include a genus name!
Solenostemon (coleus) 'Perilla Magilla'. Image ©

Screen shot from NY Times website, Jan 6, 2014, by

Powerhouse Plants For All Seasons: Tiarella 'Mystic Mist'

Foliage of Tiarella 'Mystic Mist' - a Powerhouse Perennial For All Seasons. Images ©
We’re past due for a look at another Powerhouse Plant, these are Plants For All Seasons - individual varieties which provide color and interest for at least two seasons of the year and not just a fleeting flush of flowers followed by months of not-very-much. I feature over five hundred of them in my latest book, Powerhouse Plants, and every month in Gardeners' World, Britain’s top-selling garden magazine (and also available in the US) I focus on one very special Plant For All Seasons, highlighting three features which bring color to the garden at different times of the year. This month, in the magazine, I feature Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire, next month it’s Mahonia ‘Charity’.

And every month or so, here on my Transatlantic Gardener blog, I bring you details of another Powerhouse Plant this month it’s Tiarella ‘Mystic Mist’ (above, click to enlarge).

Today, here in Pennsylvania, we’re snowbound but yesterday the rich red tints of Tiarella ‘Mystic Mist’ caught the eye in a shady corner by the front door, under the spiny, bluish green leaves of the hybrid holly, Ilex x meservae.

Flowers of Tiarella 'Mystic Mist' - a Powerhouse Perennial For All Seasons. Image ©GardenPhotos.comThis is its winter livery, but this plant seems to be in an almost imperceptible but constant state of change. For in summer, its bright leaves are densely dusted in silver speckles, with a rather variable red flash in its central veins. In winter the red and purplish tones are more dominant. In spring, short spikes of fluffy white flowers, opening from pink buds, add a third dimension (left, click to enlarge).

There have been speckled forms before, but ‘Mystic Mist’ is more vigorous and more robust in the garden. It spreads well, although it’s better in soil with good drainage. It throives with us tucked bteween the holly and a rhododenendron.

There’s just one problem. In Britain ‘Mystic Mist’ is available from Heucheraholics and from Plantagogo. But, in North America, its creator has withdrawn it. You may still find it in retail nurseries, but I couldn’t find anyone selling it online. That’s a shame. Let’s hope it’s back soon.

North American readers can find out more about Powerhouse Plants here.

British readers can find out more about Powerhouse Plants here.

And you why not take a look at some more fine Powerhouse Plants, Plants For All Seasons, here on my Transatlantic Gardener blog.