Botanical 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.
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.