It is the first of April, the weather is dreadful but it has provided an opportunity to catch up on book reviews. There is always a queue of books to be read and often it is more pleasant to read the next one that write about the previous. This must be one of the busy publishing times of the year as a number of new titles have arrived in the post this week – enough to prompt me to clear some from the stack by the fireside to make room for the new arrivals.

This present batch is a diverse one so likely to have something to appeal to everybody. Owen Johnston’s “Arboretum” is written by a man who loves trees and presents his research in a most enjoyable manner; Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s  “Planting in a Post-Wild World” has been taking the American gardening world by storm with its suggested approach to planting; Ken Druse has written another classic with “The New Shade Garden”; Paul Dickey and Marion Brenner present a marvellous selection of “Outstanding American Gardens” while Linda Chalker-Scott tells us “How Plants Work” in an entertaining and informative manner. There is much to enjoy and I hope you do enjoy some of them.

Arboretum cover image

Arboretum: When 35 years of intense interest and study is condensed into a book it is sure to contain a depth and breadth of material rarely encountered elsewhere and when it is written in a style that is both entertaining as well as informative it cannot but be recommended – especially at this time of year when we celebrate our annual Tree Week. Dr. Owen Johnston’s interest in trees, begun at the age of 13, has continued unabated ever since. Over these years he has researched and recorded more than 80,000 specimen trees; is presently Registrar to The Tree Register maintaining the definitive database of exceptional trees in Britain and has previously published The Collins Tree Guide and Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland. It strikes me that the greatest achievement of this book is that it makes an enormous volume of information accessible in a manner which is very enjoyable for the reader. Trees are impressive, the largest plants of our gardens, landmarks on our landscape, with longevity which diminishes our short span and it is a joy to share Owen Johnston’s love of them.  A book I recommend highly.

Arboretum – A History of the Trees grown in Britain and Ireland, Dr. Owen Johnston, Whittet Books, Stanstead, 2015, HB, 480 pages, £40,ISBN 978 1 873580 97 4.

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Planting in a Post wild World

Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West proposes a major change to the way we select and develop our gardens, that we should seek to imitate how plants grow in the wild – all together in resilient plant communities which grow together rather than a collection of individuals; that plants be valued for their performance and adaptability and be chosen because they fit together in their growing requirements and so provide us with care-free gardens which imitate nature. They begin from the premise that we all love and long for natural planting yet our gardening activity very often is epitomised by a constant fight against this very nature. The approach is very similar to that of Piet Oudolf and Nigel Dunnett and, while I have admired these gardens in certain locations – the High Line and around the Olympic grounds in London, for example – I don’t feel any immediate longing to apply these suggestions in my own garden. Because of this, I found the book interesting but without relevance to my own gardening. It may well appeal to those engaged in landscape design in public spaces. The American Horticultural Society recently announced its book awards for 2016 and this was among those chosen for award so it has come highly recommended.

Planting in a Post-Wild World, Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, HB, 270 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-10-60469-553-3


the new shade gardens

Very often it is only as one’s garden ages that the necessity of dealing with shade becomes an issue. The trees which were so small when planted can create planting conditions we had not anticipated. We can view these changes as a problem or as an opportunity but we certainly cannot ignore them and expect the sun-loving plants which we first planted to continue to perform in the new conditions. Ken Druse has a range of excellent books to his credit and he continues with this latest. He gives a comprehensive guide to creating a shade garden dealing with all aspects of the process from design, soil preparation, tree selection and pruning and, most enjoyably, the vast array of flowers which grow best in shade. While aimed primarily at American gardeners it will be of great interest and relevance to Irish gardeners also. The illustrations are excellent and the writing perfectly enjoyable. A good one – as always from Ken Druse!

The New Shade Garden, Ken Druse,  Abrams & Chronicle Books, London, 2015, HB, 255 pages, £25, ISBN: 9781617691041


outstanding american gardens

In the United States, The Garden Conservancy marked its 25th anniversary with this wonderful publication, Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration. 25 Years of the Garden Concervancy The Conservancy was founded in 1989 and has over 3,000 private gardens across the country that have opened to the public through its “Open Days Program.” This book presents eight gardens that the conservancy has helped preserve and another 43 private gardens that are part of the programme.  It is a book of beauty and delight and amazing diversity and, given the geographical spread of the gardens over many climatic regions and the fact that they are presented in various seasons, it presents a fabulous selection of designs, plant selections and utter beauty for us to enjoy. The general layout might be compared to that of a magazine as gardens are presented through excellent and large size photographs while the text rarely extends to more than a page. It is sufficient to give us a very pleasant and enjoyable peep into a wide selection of gardens, gardening styles and plant selections. I found it thoroughly enjoyable which was best read a little at a time.

Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy, Page Dickey and Marion Brenner, Abrams & Chronicle, London, 2015, HB, 270 pages, £30, ISBN: 9781617691652


how plants work

Some knowledge of what influences how our plants grow is certainly going to be a benefit to any gardener. We, generally, pick up snippets here and there – magazine articles, our own experience and the experience of other gardener, for example – but it is worthwhile reading some material which is more authoritative and comprehensive. Linda Chalker-Scott has a background in horticulture and is a certified arborist, as well as other experience and qualifications which qualify her as someone we can safely listen to. She has both the academic background and the practical experience we would hope to see in somebody writing a book on How Plants Work – The science behind the amazing things plants do. A book promising to introduce the reader to the science of their hobby might be a little off-putting but all is presented in a light, enjoyable, readable, accessible and enjoyable manner that it is interesting from beginning to end.

How Plants Work – The science behind the amazing things plants do, Linda Chalker-Scott, Timber Press, Portland/London, 2015, Softback, 235pages, £15, ISBN: 978-1-60469-338-6


Paddy Tobin

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