Recently there has been some controversy brewing over the claim that one author owns the entire craze associated with black plants. I won’t get into the details here since Fern did such a great job over at Life on the Balcony. The entire back and forth conversation got me thinking about my own book collection and what I value. Here is a photo I snapped of the cacti and succulent books I picked up over the years. Some of them are very old, some are still quite shiny and new. I thought about whether or not I could condense my collection into one book and realized I probably could. If I had to give up all the books and keep just one, I would keep Graf’s “Tropica.” Why? Because it references almost all of the plants in the contained in the other books to some extent. It is a wonderful reference and I have used it many, many times over the years. Out of all the books on the shelf, it is probably the book I go to the most for technical information about a plant. So why not get rid of the other books? Why not pair my collection down to just one definitive manual?
Then my bookcase would look something like this. Now I have room for all sorts of knick knacks and kitsch. Perhaps I could display my collection of tin toys that languishes in the box in my closet. The shelf does get good light so maybe I should add to my collection of houseplants. Would a Streptocarpus look nice here? Or how about a Paphiopedilum. The wood is pretty. Perhaps I should just do something minimal like they do in Real Simple magazine and place a bird’s nest in one corner along with an herb scented sage green candle. But as I put the books back on the shelf I began to do what I always do with them. I started to fondle the covers and browse the pages. To this day I’m still amazed that the family of Euphorbia is so large it takes 8 volumes to detail them. The strangeness of the Caudiciforms with their stumpy trunks makes me think about just how wonderfully plants have evolved to their environments. The “Native Cacti of California” always makes me want to hop in the car and just go for a drive out into the desert to see what I can spot. No, it wasn’t just for their completeness on a subject that I kept them, it was for their uniqueness.
Some of the books I keep for purely aesthetic reasons. For example, “Cactussen” by Door A.J.V. Laren is written in a language I cannot even read (I’m guessing Dutch perhaps) so it does me little good in a technical sense. But what it does have is amazing tipped in plates of illustrations so photo realistic it is easy to delineate between one variety of cacti and another. The amount of time and effort that went into this from lovingly creating the illustrations to carefully placing each one in the book by hand is something rarely seen in today’s publishing market. Another book, “Epiphyllum Handbook” by Haselton was once owned by a Margaret Springer and inside she left a watercolor postcard of a beautiful red epiphyllum along with a typed out soil recipe by someone named Bud Fisher which reads:
1 part soil
1part steer manure
1 part coarse gravel, coarse sand or decomposed granite
2 parts leafmold
I tried this mixture years ago for some epiphyllum and have stuck with it ever since. Much better than the commercial cacti & succulent mixes which tend to dry out too quickly for these jungle cacti. I love that it came out of a book that someone else once loved and enjoyed pertaining to a hobby that we now share.
As I scanned the rest of my collection, I realized that I don’t even own a book on black flowers or plants. I do remember being in awe of the first really black tulips I saw in the catalog, but other than that this entire “craze” seems to have alluded me. I do own “Alba, The Book on White Flowers” by Deni Bown. It came out years ago and I can’t seem to recall seeing her writing anything negative about others that have written about white flowers years since. I think, most gardeners including myself would prefer the first bookshelf brimming with variety than the second bookshelf with only one book. It has also been my experience that most gardens contain more than one color of flower. So why someone would try to lay claim to something that is merely a part of a whole is beyond me. The garden writers that realize this will have books that will find homes in my collection, those that do not won’t.