The long winter evenings have given me a chance to try to catch up with the piles of reading-matter that have developed over the past few months and as it's the season when pundits come forth with their recommendations for books for Christmas, I thought I'd give brief reviews of some of the noteworthy horticultural books I've been reading.
|Seamus O'Brien signing books at the |
London launch in June
I am currently reading Margaret Willes' The Making of the English Gardener (Yale University Press), a serious historical study of horticulture in Tudor and early Stuart (1560-1660) England. Its subtitle Plants, Books and Inspiration says a lot about its subject matter as the author delves into all aspects of gardening at this time, considering both the grandest and lowliest of gardeners, their plots and their plants. As a period of great innovation in garden design and architecture, as well as wonderfully rich in plant introductions, it is an era well-worthy of such a fine review and the book should be read by anyone with an interest in garden history or the origins of our garden flora.
Last, but not least, is an impulse buy from the Wisley bookshop, Stewart McPherson and Donald Schnell's Sarraceniaceae of North America (Redfern Natural History Productions). It is a fat doorstop of a book (809 pages) covering in great detail the remarkable diversity found in the pitcher plant genera Sarracenia and Darlingtonia. The latter is one of my favourite plants, and I've had an interest in carnivorous plants from my days at Oxford when the Botanic Garden grew a good collection well, and Barrie Juniper was researching their morphology, but I don't grow many now (except Darlingtonia). So buying this book was a whimsy, but such research and effort needs to be supported, and it is a great example of what a hortico-botanical monograph should be. A bit more copy-editing wouldn't have gone amiss, but for less than £40 it is a triumph. In the series, also with Stewart McPherson as principal author are Pitcher Plants of the Old World (i.e. Nepenthes and Cephalotus) in two volumes, and Sarraceniaceae of South America (i.e. Heliamphora). I suspect that these tomes will all be regarded as classic references and will soon be snapped-up by carnivorous plant enthusiasts, so it is probably wise to acquire them now.
I cannot afford all the books I fancy, so there are a few titles I would be happy to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Among them are The RHS Encyclopedia of Conifers, by Aris Auders and Derek Spicer in 2 volumes, evidently a must-have reference; Christopher Grey-Wilson's Guide to the flowers of Western China - the first (just about) portable fieldguide to the area and, not to forget an old love, The Amboseli Elephants: a Long-term Perspective on a Long-lived Mammal by Cynthia Moss, leader for forty years of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in which every elephant in the Amboseli ecosystem (Kenya) has been monitored as an individual, as part of a family and as part of its population: spending time with Cynthia watching the Amboseli elephants was a huge privilege and one of my most memorable experiences.