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Worthwhile botany lessons for gardeners
on 15 December 2013
The author of RHS Botany for Gardeners is Geoff Hodge, who is a freelance gardening and horticultural writer based in the UK. The book is highly attractive, beautifully produced, printed on quality papers with botanical type watercolour paintings and illustrations on almost every page. As the illustrations are artistic, beautiful rather than photographic, they do not always reveal sufficient detail about the plants as one would sometimes wish. The book is well organized and intelligently edited into 9 chapters: The Plant Kingdom - Growth, Form and Function - Inner Workings - Reproduction - The Beginning of Life - External Factors - Pruning - Botany and the Senses - Pests, Diseases and Disorders. There is an Index as well as a Bibliography. Royalties from the sale of the book go to support the work of the RHS.
The aim of the book is to provide gardeners with sufficient botanical knowledge to help them understand more completely how plants grow, flourish, and reproduce, as well as understanding the factors, internal and external, which affect their well being. The inference is that a more knowledgeable and better informed gardener should be able to achieve better results. The text is always botanically scientific, but written at a level comprehensible to most educated people, and any specialist botanical words introduced are always adequately explained first. The book is practical rather than cerebral and only those principles of botany are discussed which would be of natural and practical interest to gardeners. At intervals throughout the book there is a double page interlude devoted to describing the life and work of a famous, and not so famous, botanist from the past; fifteen botanists in total, always interesting, who contributed in their unique way to the history of botanical discovery.
The book introduces some species of the plant kingdom which may be little understood by gardeners, although to be found in every garden... the algae, mosses, liverworts, lichens and ferns. Conifers, Cycads and Ginkgo, and the more familiar flowering Angiosperms are discussed as well as how plant names are derived from botanical Latin: genus, species, hybrids and cultivars. The role of meristematic tissue in plant growth and cell specialization are illustrated as are the different types of buds, root structures, stem modifications, including woody growth and underground stems. The internal structures in leaves is revealed as are the different types of flowers and their fertilization producing the wide variety of seeds and fruits and their varying means of dispersal. The microscopic structures in cells and their importance to photosynthesis and plant nutrition, as well as water transportation, are examined, including a section on plant hormones. The botany of plant reproduction is studied including vegetative reproduction, simple division, offsets, grafts and cuttings, pollination secrets, and even apomixis (seeds without sex) are described and analysed. Other subjects discussed are: plant breeding, seed dormancy, germination, seed saving, soil types and structure, soil fertility and plant nutrients, the plant's physiological responses to pruning, phototropism, photoperiodism, geotropism, even scent as an attractant. The final chapter deals with the botany of plant diseases and pests, especially how plants defend themselves and what action the gardener can take to help.
The book doesn't claim to be comprehensive, it is but an introduction to a large and serious subject and, with over 3,000 botanical words and terms explained, it does provide the information, the basic knowledge, a gardener needs to understand the natural forces at work, acting and interacting, within his garden. Perhaps knowledge is very close to power? And, of course, powerlessness.