Documents: Latest From: Jodi DeLong:

The Botanical Garden

...a book review
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

January 26, 2003

The Botanical Garden by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix. Firefly Books, 2002. Volume I, Trees and Shrubs, 492 pages. Volume II, Perennials and Annuals. 540 pages. Over 2000 full colour photographs, index and bibliography in each book. 95.00 per volume, hardcover.

When Firefly Books Fall 2002 catalogue arrived at my mailbox in midsummer, I took one look at the cover and got very excited. Several pages inside, and I found the source of my excitement: these two masterpieces of botanical exploration.

There was a time when many gardeners flinched at the sound of botanical names for plants. But stop at a garden centre, or listen in to a couple of gardening enthusiasts, and you¹ll hear people talking about Rudbeckia, Campanula, Liriodendron, Coreopsis: the scientific, genus name is also the common name for many plants. Gardening grows ever-more popular, with new hybrids and varieties of perennials, annuals, flowering trees and shrubs available each year. Consequently, more gardeners seek to learn about the relationships between different types of plants.

The Botanical Garden, Volumes I and II are hybrids themselves, combining the best attributes of scientific exploration with informative text to create the ultimate gardener¹s resource books. Plants have been classified according to the latest botanical information, including recent studies in DNA, which have yielded some interesting surprises regarding ancestry and relationships between species.

Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix have collaborated on 23 illustrated books of natural history and horticulture in the past 25 years. Their expertise shines through in these collaborations, giving readers a breathtaking look at hundreds of garden plants.

Over 1000 genera of plants from temperate growing zones are profiled in the two volumes. Plants are classified by family and arranged in evolutionary order, from the oldest such as treeferns, mosses and true ferns to the most complex flowering plants and trees. Each plant profile features a complete physical description, key recognition features, how the species evolved and its relationship to other species, ecology and geography plus a comment section.

The comments offer far more than tidbits on the decorative uses of plant species. Here we learn that possibly the most ancient of living trees is the Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, which existed some 200 million years ago, extracts of which are proving useful in treatment of Parkinson¹s disease and memory loss. Isatis tinctoria, or woad, has been cultivated as a dye plant for centuries, with the indigo produced from its leaves formerly used to dye uniforms until imported indigo (Indigofera) became more commonly available. The very lovely yellow gentian, Gentiana lutea, is a valued medicinal plant, and additionally the roots are used to flavour some liqueurs. These are just three intriguing facts that add to the gardener-friendly aspect of The Botanical Garden.

The engaging text of these books is in itself enough to recommend them as essential additions to a gardener¹s library. Then there are the photographs.

Roger Phillips trained originally as a painter and took up photography thirty years ago. His innovative use of colour photography has been instrumental in portraying accurately plant subjects, by photographing specimens on a white background. The plants quite literally look like they are lying on the page and could be touched and smelled. With no distracting background, details of floral and leaf structure are more obvious.

Many of the photographs feature plant specimens with flowers dissected, or in cross section to show their reproductive parts, as well as flowers in whole, whether clustered or solitary. Not for these books the pretty--but uninformative--photographs of clumps of flowering perennials, or annuals growing in pots. These pictures, though focusing on the botanical structure of the plants, also show the wonder and beauty of hundreds of plant species that share our world.

One slight weakness to the books is that although information given for each plant is carefully annotated, there are no phonetic pronunciations for botanical names. Even as a student of botany, there are many scientific names of plants which cause me to sound as if I¹m gargling marbles and haggis together. Since our school system no longer offers Latin as a language course, most of us can only do a best-guess at pronunciation of botanical plant names, unless we¹ve heard them. But this lack is a small one in the overall presentation.

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