Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Review: AHS Encyclopedia of Perennials
They had me at A for astrantia. They kept me with twenty pages on hardy geraniums. Then they sealed the deal with extended entries on helleborus, knautia, penstemon, and verbascum.
God knows most of us have at least one doorstopper of a tome filled with plant descriptions. Here at the GWI property, our shelves groan under the weight of such volumes as Botanica, Flora, and a host of smaller reference works, in which plants are generally arranged in alphabetical formats.
So I'm happy to report that the American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Perennials is considerably livelier than most other reference works. The text is well-written and accessible. Entries are divided into the useful categories of description, cultivation, propagation and problems, with an emphasis on practical uses rather than obscure botanical or historical information. Most significantly, someone on the editorial team saw the usefulness of sidebars and boxes containing information on companion plantings, flower structure, cultivation advice, and other odds and ends. The sidebars are often illustrated and help create the dynamic, information-packed look of the publication.
Oh, and the photography is beautiful. I was impressed by the vibrancy of the colors, especially in the close-ups.
There are a few caveats, of course. I was surprised not to see an entry on gallium, for example, and the entries on plants such as agapanthus, cosmos, diascia, and musa—all of which would never be considered perennials in Western New York—were more envy-inducing than informative. But books such as these are fun to read regardless of how relevant their contents are to a specific situation. Sometimes it's enough just to know what a pimpinella is; it doesn't have to be available at the local nursery.
Kudos to editor-in-chief Graham Rice and contributing editor Kurt Bluemel on a beautiful and useful guide.