On the third day of gardening books, we combine both practicality and beauty in a two for one. If I have one complaint about the Western Garden Book, it is its lack of photos of the plants it references. The illustrations do clearly show you the details of the plants, but nothing beats colorful photo images. That’s what I love about Botanica: The Illustrated A-z of over 10,000 Garden Plants and How to Cultivate Them and Trees And Shrubs
Encyclopedic in design they are stuffed with photos of plants; details of leaf structure, blooms and mature size images. It’s a handy reference when trying to make an identification. Although both are a bit light on cultural details, they do give you a great starting point with hardiness zones and mature plant sizes. But rather than reference books, I consider these two to be my wish books. Much like the old Sear’s toy catalog that my siblings and I would use to make our lists for Santa, these are the books that dreams are made of. Every page is filled with photo after photo, all in color. Pouring through the contents on dreary winter days allow gardeners to get that fix of green and spring color that they are missing. Reading through the Genus descriptions one can encounter varieties they may have never seen in their current location. For example in Botanica, the section on Alchemilla lists eight different species. Having only ever seen Alchemilla mollis I find myself thrilled to read about Alchemilla conjuncta with its variegated leaves or Alchemilla lapeyrousii whose leaves are trimmed in gold. Having only ever seen Alyogyne huegelii, I have lumped the plant into the category of those that look “too drought tolerant,” but A. hakeifolia with its yellow flowers and needle like leaf growth is something that could find a home in my garden.
When planning or designing a landscape, especially when it’s ones own, it is nice to know your options. Living in a smaller community with limited shopping resources, I find I see the same plants over and over again. (Which isn’t surprising since the same wholesalers sell to everyone in the area). Unless you have the ability to travel often, you may miss out on the perfect plant for your area. That is where these books are helpful. By reviewing the entries again and again, you will find new and interesting plants to seek out. Searching for what you want becomes much easier once you have a name.
The best thing about these elaborate books is that both are published by remainder companies. What remainder companies do is either purchase inventory of books that are no longer in peak demand or purchase the publishing rights to the books. What that means for the consumer is a book that will be priced at half its original publishing retail or less. These are the books you find on bargain tables. Both of these books are coffee table book size with several glossy photos on each page and for each I paid less than $20. Find them used and you’ve got yourself a real bargain.
Who is this best gifted to? Anyone in the trade. I can’t think of anyone from landscaper to designer who can’t use one of these books. At nurseries where I’ve worked, these books become ragged and worn by the amount of use they receive. They also make great gifts for plant enthusiasts and garden writers. Having references like these at your fingertips makes completing those articles that much quicker.