This is the first book to cover the whole of the genus Lathyrus, and not focus only on sweet peas. And a very fine piece of work it is.
Lathyrus: The Complete Guide, by Greg Kenicer and Roger Parsons, Plant Heritage National Collection holders, is indeed comprehensive. It covers all 150 Lathyrus species, 1,200 cultivars, and there’s also a directory of 450 breeders and companies associated with Lathyrus and this fat 500 page book is gloriously illustrated throughout.
Everything from the evolutionary origins of Lathyrus to recent taxonomic revisions are discussed, and the latest classification is clearly set out with the genus presented in its constituent groups so that relationships between species are easy to understand.
Many unfamiliar species are included, those of horticultural interest or potential being given more space than the less noteworthy species. Following the latest research, the garden pea, formerly Pisum sativum, is now included in Lathyrus as L. oleraceus. However, with differences in opinion between the botanic community and the agricultural community this may not prove to be the last word on the subject. However, the authors have taken the wise decision not to list or illustrate the many many garden pea cultivars.
As with other books in this impressive series, discussion of the cultivars is separated from descriptions of the parent species and there is also an extensive table usefully summarising the features of all the cultivars discussed – as well as a separate descriptive list of almost all the cultivars offered for sale in the last five years. This results in entries for many cultivars in three different places. Personally, I find this irritating but I can see that this approach combines comprehensiveness with an economy of space.
The book is, of course, dominated by the sweet pea with detailed discussions on its origins and recent development and with hints of interesting hybrids on the way. The whole story is clearly set out, bringing in detail of developments around the world to provide a full picture.
In spite of the technical nature of some of the material the book is an easy read, elegantly laid out and the photography ensures that even the less flamboyant species look tempting.
This impressive new work clearly relegates my own book on sweet peas to a dusty corner of the bookshelf!
“An elegantly presented, comprehensive and accessible presentation of everything you’d want to know about sweet peas and their annual and perennial relations.”
Lathyrus: The Complete Guide by Greg Kenicer and Roger Parsons is a Royal Horticultural Society Monograph. £40.