Conifer Society website review

American Conifer Society website home page
Plant society websites are sometimes - well, how shall we put it? – not very tempting, especially those of smaller societies. So, when I heard that the American Conifer Society had totally revamped its site, I gave it a little time to get the bugs out and I then took a look. And what a pleasant surprise.

The home page is appealing, colorful and contemporary, clean and uncluttered, with a navigation bar across the top and panels listing Events (Society events), What’s New (revealing how active the Society and its members are on the site, with regular additions, blog posts and discussions), and Videos (interesting, but could do with a technical upgrade).

The nuts and bolts of the Society’s organization and its activities are presented with the same attractive look, easy-to-read text and with clear and helpful secondary navigation. So often this part of a society’s site looks dull and far from enticing but the simple and elegant design works well.

The Discussion button brings us to a wide range of topics from the all-too-familiar deer problem, to plant identification, propagation and pests and to current queries such as whether it’s wise to knock accumulated snow off conifer branches. Sensible questions with thoughtful answers. All the discussions are available for anyone to read, but only Society members can ask questions or post replies. There are blogs too; posts are not frequent but they’re well written and genuinely interesting.

There’s a button for Regions, with material from the four regional chapters, and then the tantalizing button American Conifer Society website Conifer Database entrythat says simply: Conifers – where it all unfolds. Here you’ll find lucid background on size, shapes, uses and naming of conifers – plus the Conifer Database. This is a searchable database of information about conifers, and pictures, provided by the Society and augmented by its members – especially in terms of pictures.

You can search by conifer size, habit etc. or you can pick out a particular genus, species or cultivar to find out about. This is building into an invaluable resource - especially with the benefit of images uploaded by Conifer Society members which can give a far more comprehensive understanding of how a plant looks at different ages and different seasons than any book. But at present it’s a work in progress. The hardiness zone maps need to be clearer and many individual cultivars still have neither words nor text. So if you grow conifers, join the American Conifer Society and add to this expanding resource.

Like most plant society websites, the American Conifer Society site is built and supported by the society’s volunteer members. But, unlike some, this society has built a site that is appealing to potential members in its look and its content and also provides a valuable platform for its members to advance their enthusiasm for conifers, and exchange ideas and solutions to problems. And so much information is also available to the rest of us that it helps us all grow better conifers and tempts us to join.

You can join the Conifer Society here.

The cat killed my laptop

Mr Duffy meditates on his crime. Image: ©GardenPhotos.com My computer is dead. The handsome Mr Duffy got himself locked in the home office in the middle of the night - long story – decided that the only way to get out was to tear around all over the furniture like a mad thing. And he knocked a large external hard drive and the laptop off the desk. The laptop fell on the hard drive and its keyboard is bashed in. Now, instead of that reassuring Mac chime – all it did was make a plaintive little squeak, and died.

Of course, my back-up using Apple’s superb Time Machine is right up to date – but the standby machine is too old to run it. I can’t access my files until the new machine arrives. And some crucial software I use every day is too new (even though it’s not THAT new) to run on the old machine.

So for the first time in ages I feel cut off from the world – I’m a writer, I don’t use the phone, I write. And I get used to the email software pulling email addresses from the address book and never needing to remember them – but that address book is not now accessible. So if you’re waiting to receive a response to an email – I’m sorry, as of now I can’t access it and can’t remember your email address.

It sounds feeble, doesn’t it, the cat killed my laptop. Like that old schoolboy standby: the dog ate my homework. The dog ate my homework. Image: ©Ingham Intermediate School District (Came across this cartoon showing an alternative solution!) Talking of homework excuses, I remember a kid in my class at school arriving at school on a sunny summer day drenched from head to toe and with an empty school bag: he said he couldn’t hand in his homework cos his bike had hit a rock as he cycled along the river and he’d fallen in and his homework was swept away. Wouldn’t you rather just do the homework than deliberately ride your bike into the river?

Off to see the insurance company now…

Black Plants - all the books reviewed

Black Magic and Purple Passion by Karen Platt. Photo ©Karen Platt What is it about black plants? They not only seem to inspire fierce disagreement amongst gardeners – “What’s the point of a plant with black leaves, you can hardly even see it?”/“Simply sumptuous!” – but with another book on the subject just out competition is flaring between the new book and those already published by the acknowledged expert on black plants.

So. Karen Platt has been popularising black plants since her first book came out in 2000 and she now has three different books on the subject. There’s the latest print edition of Karen’s first book, Black Magic and Purple Passion, from 2004. She also has an eBook update to Black Magic and Purple Passion published just a couple of months ago and she has The Best of Black Plants, another eBook published back in the summer. All self-published by Karen Platt. This fall these are joined by a new title from Timber Press, Black Plants by Paul Bonine. (Ordering links at the end.)

Between the latest print edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion and the eBook update Karen covers an amazing 3,500 black plants. Of course, as her title infers, “black” is not always true black, in fact on the jacket of her book Karen refers to them as “dark plants”. There’s also purple and maroon and indigo. Take another look at our slide show, below, for some of the blackest. (Mouse-hover over the images for captions.)

Black Plants Stock Photos - Images by GardenPhotos .com

The large format 2004 edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion is excellent. And at only about 50% more expensive than the recent arrival, Black Plants by Paul Bonine, which includes only 3% of the plants, it’s excellent value.

The eBook update is a good addition, with 650 more plants, but is generally less successful. One big problem with eBooks supplied in pdf format is that monitors and printers vary so the same true color is difficult for everyone to achieve. Only one low-resolution print-out is allowed and the low-res image quality of the print-out is nowhere near as good as the printed edition of Black Magic and Purple Passion. And it annoyed me that every time I opened the pdf to look at the book I had to re-enter my password. It should remember.

Black Plants by Paul Bonine. Photo ©Timber Press Then there’s the new Paul Bonine book, Black Plants. This is a small book – 6.5inx7in – and covers just 75 plants. And I have to say that this smaller-then-usual format makes the book seem less significant than I’m sure the publishers would like. Each plant has a full page picture and a description opposite. Generally the images are good (Declaration of interest: four of our images are used in this book); the descriptions and cultural info are not generous and that’s because of the small format. The plant choice is at times odd: two ipomeas, no bearded iris – and why include a very blue Agapanthus when there are many much closer to black? But this is a well-designed, instantly appealing little book.

Black Plants looks good, and (depending where you buy) more or less matches the price of Karen Platt’s Best of Black Plants (pdf only) - and a printed copy will beat a pdf any day. Karen’s eBooks are only available as pdfs, not in other eBook formats. But Karen has more and better info. Paul also fails to recognize Karen Platt’s pioneering work in popularizing black plants – even when discussing a plant named after her.

So, where does that leave us?

If you want an attractive and inexpensive gift book - choose Black Plants by Paul Bonine
If you want the best print reference book – choose Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition)
If you want the most comprehensive reference to black plants choose the third (print) and fourth (pdf) editions of Black Magic and Purple Passion
If you’re a fanatic and want everything, add to these three The Best of Black Plants (pdf only).

Here’s how to order these books.

Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in North America
Order Black Plants by Paul Bonine in Britain
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion (Third Edition, print copy) from the author
Order Black Magic and Purple Passion update (Fourth Edition, pdf only) from the author
Order The Best of Black Plants (pdf only) from the author

Follow me on Twitter!


Startling news! You can now follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Graham_Rice !

Don’t worry, I won’t deluge you with the day-to-day details of my life but I will let you know when new posts go up at my three blogs (RHS New Plants, RHS Trials and Awards and here at Transatlantic Plantsman) remind you of lectures coming up, tell you when I have a piece published in a magazine and occasionally bring you other hot news or ask for help with something I’m working on.

But, you may ask, how do you follow me on Twitter? This piece from the New York Times outlines the options – on my Mac I use Tweetie. And there’s a page of ideas on the Twitter website. For real newbies there’s a handy video on the Twitter help pages.

It's just another way of keeping in touch and passing on the news. First there were drawings on the walls of caves, now there's Twitter!

UPDATE: Excellent overview of Tweetie here