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December 2014

Books for the holidays

Gardeners always like to receive books as holiday gifts. Here are a few suggestions.


Great Gardens Of America by Tim Richardson (Frances Lincoln)
A reduced format, paperback edition of a sumptuous book first published in 2009. With wonderful photography by Andrea Jones, it features a more extensive, and more insightful, text than many well illustrated garden books. And at a more affordable price than the original.


The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre (Frances Lincoln)
From classics such as Great Dixter and Hidcote Manor, under appreciated gardens including Thorp Perrow and Helmingham Hall to modern creations by Dan Pearson and others – it makes you wonder why the gardens at Downton Abbey aren't more impressive.


The Gardeners Garden by Madison Cox, Toby Musgrave and more (Phaidon)
A very large, fat and extensive guide to the best gardens around the world which will be a travel guide to a few and an inspiration to many. Reveals vistas and details of more than 250 gardens ancient and modern with enlightening commentaries and over 1200 photographs.



Where Do Camels Belong? The Story and Science Of Invasive Species by Ken Thompson (Profile Books, UK, and Greystone Books, USA)
An essential truth telling using the science of invasive species to cut through the myth making and over exaggeration to explain the situation as it really is. Reviewed earlier this year.



Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops by Naomi Slade (Timber Press)
Inspiring, lively, well-written and well illustrated book which is a cut above the other recent non-scientific snowdrop books. Just in time for snowdrop season.

Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs by James Armitage, Dawn Edwards and Neil Lancaster (Royal Horticultural Society)
A very welcome and comprehensive revision of the classic tree and shrub reference guide written in accessible language and covering well over 13,000 trees and shrubs. Reviewed earlier this year.


Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Garden and Container by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz (St. Lynn’s Press)
An across-the-zones guide focusing on planting combinations, bringing out the best in foliage plants by partnering them together creatively. Good advice, well illustrated, good value. Winner of the Gold Award for Best Overall Book at the 2014 Garden Media Awards.

Month by Month Gardening Series (Cool Springs Press)
We all know that gardening in Maine is very different from gardening in California and these state-by-state guides provide invaluable local advice for local situations. Thirty six titles so far.

Choose one of the State by Sate, Month by Month Gardening Series published by Cool Springs Press

On the other hand, how about a copy of my latest book or my wife's latest book?!

Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers For Multi-Season Beauty by Graham Rice (Timber Press)

Trees, shrubs, perennials, climbers and more to bring multi-season color to your garden. Just one plant can bring four bursts of seasonal colour. "Offers a mind-boggling number of suggestions. ... It's about making the most of the space in your garden. And that's always a good idea." Philadelphia Inquirer


Bloom-Again Orchids: 50 Easy-care Orchids that Flower Again and Again and Again by judywhite
The easiest Orchids to Grow! 50 great choices, plus how to make them rebloom. Includes judywhite's 10 best tips for growing orchids. "…gorgeous photos accompanied by concise tips and descriptions. The book is easy to navigate and the stunning photos lure you in." - Miami Herald


Happy Holiday reading!

Supermarket surprises


DandelionsSupermarketMore unexpected things are happening in the produce aisle at the local Pennsylvania supermarkets – and not just the abominable blue and lilac poinsettias.

First of all, I spotted a much derided, invasive alien species on sale next to the kale – dandelions. Nice, fresh, bundles at $2.99/£1.90 a pound. They vanished and never returned.

And that’s another thing. Local supermarkets have started selling lettuce by weight. $1.99/£1.27 a pound I paid yesterday which is great: small heads no longer cost the same as large ones. Except that you end up paying for all the water they spray on the produce – complete with atmospheric thunderstorm sound effects – presumably attempting to keep it fresh. Of course, when you get it home and put it in the fridge it rots more quickly because it’s so wet – so you have dry it.

This is also the supermarket – Weis Markets, let’s not be coy – that uses large orange “Organic” labels to cover the blemishes on its apples and which failed to mention its Tuesday discount for seniors for a whole year of weekly Tuesday visits. If you spend enough, they also offer a discount when you go to get gas – but you have to drive more than thirty miles to find a gas station that participates. “Our gas rewards program offers up to twice the savings of other grocery stores,” they say. Maybe – but you have to drive ten times as far to get them.

But - on the plus side - recently they’ve had a really superb little lettuce that I’d not seen before. Small and fat, with soft slender stems, it’s pale green with a bold crimson zone covering about a third to a half of each leaf – it looks like a cross between a ‘Little Gem’ baby Romaine and a Boston/Butterhead type, it’s like a red-tipped, soft, ‘Little Gem’. It really is excellent so I'm trying to find out exactly whch variety it is.


Blue poinsettias: A sin against nature

Hideous blue and lilac poinsettias. Images ©
Last night at the local supermarket I spotted these: Blue poinsettias – and lilac poinsettias! I’d heard about them but never quite believed it could be true. I thought the red ones were bad enough. Silly me. The lilac one makes me feel especially ill.

These abominations are coming your way, Brits. Perhaps even with added glitter.

They're the perfect present for someone you’re obliged to buy for – but secretly hate! But guess what: after about a week they will start turning red.

And let’s be clear: any plant dyed blue is a sin against nature. Glad we’ve got that clear. Happy Holidays!

Erythroniums: Impressive new monograph from Kew

The Genus Erythronium by Chris Clennet. © Royal Botanic Gardens, KewBotanical science is the basis for all serious discussion of garden plants, the foundation for everything we know about the plants we grow. By classifying and describing our garden plants in an impartial scientific way, science provides a dependable basis for discussing and growing the plants. And the public expression of this fundamental research is the botanical monograph.

For more than twenty five years the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the greatest botanical institution in the world, has been publishing a series of monographs in association with the venerable Curtis’s Botanical magazine, founded in 1787. The latest title has recently appeared.

The Genus Erythronium (cover left, click to enlarge) continues in the style of its predecessors. The simple and elegant design of the pages entices us into the depth of the comprehensive content while the fourteen paintings, shared mainly between two fine, artists Christabel King and Pandora Sellars, combine the beauty of the individual species with botanical accuracy. These are augmented by more than sixty photographs, and 30 color distribution maps (below, click to enlarge).

The text by Chris Clennet, the Gardens Manager at Kew’s satellite garden at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, covers the 29 species with the thoroughness we expect although it’s only fair to be clear that the language of the descriptions is necessarily botanical. The natural distribution and ecology is discussed thoroughly and there are very helpful notes on the cultivation of each species are the result of years of experience and research. Erythronium californicum, painting by Christabel King and distribution map

There’s also an invaluable descriptive list of 49 garden hybrids and selections, the plants that are most widely available from nurseries and which most non-specialist gardeners actually grow. Included are useful notes on the distinctive features that separate similar plants.

The book is not intended for the occasional gardener. But for serious enthusiasts and growers, and for people like me helping everyday gardeners choose good plants and grow them well, books like this are indispensible.

I was fortunate to be involved in the publication of the very first books in this series, back in the late 1980s, and it’s heartening to see that the tradition is thriving. However, my admiration and appreciation of these books is tempered a little by one important point: the price. In spite of support from the Finnis Scott Foundation established on behalf of my old friend, the legendary plantswoman Valerie Finnis, this 148 page book is listed at £52.00/$85.00, which puts it beyond the range of many who would appreciate it. But it’s made me want to plant more erythroniums.

Look out for the latest in the series - Meconopsis. Out in the UK now, due in the US in January.

The Genus Erythronium by Chris Clennet is published by Kew Books and distributed in North America by the University of Chicago Press.


For more on erythroniums, see my blog post from back in 2006.