Top positive review
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An excellent handbook on ornamental plants
on 16 November 2000
The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is a heavy packet of information about 15.000 garden plant taxa - species, subspecies, varieties and cultivars. Ca. 6000 colour photographs are included, so there is a photo of more than one third of the taxa, which makes this book stand out from the majority of other garden handbooks. The appearance and layout of the book attract to leaf through it, and the lucidity of the text makes reading a pleasure.
The first 47 pages (pp. 8-54) contain a botanical and horticultural introduction, short and compact, with ample illustration. The first section of this introduction explains the terms, abbreviations and symbols used in the book. The main part of the text is used to give information and practical hints for cultivation. Items such as hardiness of the plants, garden environment, cultivation outdoors, care under glass, pruning, propagation, pests, and diseases and other disorders are shortly covered. Ornamental plant groups are handled in 23 pages, clearly and informatively.
The actual contents of the book are the descriptions of the taxa. They are arranged alphabetically according to their Latin names. This is a practical choice, which makes it easy to find a plant with a known name. Of course, systematic order would have made it possible to identify unknown plants more easily by leafing the book and comparing them to their possible relatives. This is a matter of taste, and probably most non-botanists are satisfied with the solution. The most common synonyms are given (in small print), with a reference to the accepted name. Under each genus, there is a short account of the amount of the species, their distribution, description of the main characters, information about their flowering and use in the garden. Practical advise on cultivation are included either here or under the species and cultivar descriptions. Hardiness of the plants and advice on propagation, and pruning of trees and bushes are given. Possible pests and diseases are shortly listed. The species and cultivars are again listed in alphabetical order under the genera. The assortment is mainly exhaustive, though one must remember that there are many popular garden plant genera with thousands of cultivars, and it is impossible to fully cover this kind of abundance. The length of the descriptions varies, but usually it covers the most important features a gardener is interested in. They include also the hardiness of the individual taxa, and the minimum temperatures for frost tender plants. Photographs are mainly technically excellent and though they are rather small, the reader is given a good idea of how each plant looks like. Some trees and bushes are hard to identify from the pictures - they would have demanded illustration of both habit and details.
Almost the only thing that bothers me with this book is that it includes an overwhelming assortment of exotic taxa - at least exotic from my point of view, but lacks several species that are rather commonly cultivated in my own home area. Many of the genera are tropical or subtropical, and though the greenhouse effect would warm up our climate sometimes in the future, we have no possibility here in the northern corner of the EU to cultivate them (though, many of them are actually known as indoor plants). On the other hand, this makes the book very useful as a reference book to a very wide range of cultivated plants, both domestic and foreign. In all, I can warmly recommend the Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants to everybody with an interest in ornamental plants!