Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers

Garden writing is often very tame, a real waste when you think how opinionated, inquisitive, irreverent and lascivious gardeners themselves tend to be.  Nobody talks much about the muscular limbs, dark, swollen buds, strip-tease trees and unholy beauty that have made us all slaves of the Goddess Flora.  ~Ketzel Levine

Do you collect gardening books?

I don’t collect them per say, but I do keep a small library of my most favorite go-to books when I need extra info on a perennial or a particular veggie’s habit. Now and then I find garden writing books at used book stores, read them then sell them back if they are good but not keepers. I do check out some from the library too, by fun to read authors like Beverley Nichols and Ann Lovejoy. I wish Mike McGrath would write more books…his humor never disappoints and always produces belly-laughs from deep within my own experiences. Maybe one day some genius will compile his newspaper columns into a book. I’d buy it for sure. I have Christopher Lloyd’s cyclopedia with pages and pages of his opinionated thoughts on plants. I love it. It is great for information and a chuckle or two as he shares his experiences in the garden.



So the other day was a beautiful day in May.  We went on a walk and found the first of the summer’s yard sales were set up. As usual we scrutinized the goods as we ever so slowly walked by. We certainly don’t need more stuff but I can never resist a look-see. One in particular had a bunch of books out for sale. Lo and behold I found a gardening book so I picked it up and started leafing through. Written in 1933 (how cool is that?) it had beautiful hand colored photographs and some illustrations for every flower and plant detailed within its pages.

Reading old gardening books is a little like old science books….things change. New discoveries are made and botanical nomenclature changes as plants are reclassified by who-knows-who, rendering them inaccurate, but I thought one can always learn new things, even if they are outdated, right? So…well, it was just a dollar after all…so…I bought it. It would be nice to have for the gorgeous old time photos alone.

It is titled Garden Flowers in Color. A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers by G. A. Stevens.

Once home again and comfortably flopped down on my chaise lounge, I read the introduction. The author states, and I quote “The text has been prepared with as much fidelity to the floral facts as that provided in the illustrations. It has been written, for the most part, from actual garden acquaintance with the wide range of subjects covered in these pages and it is believed that a book of definite educational value as well as a convenient adjunct has resulted” end quote.

Ok, so that said I commence perusal. Wow, lots of varieties back then that just aren’t seen these days. Educational and fun but not particularly helpful for researching today’s cultivars.

Hmmm, Funkia…the apparently old fashioned term for Hosta. Cool…I do have elderly customers at work asking for plants in terms we don’t use these days…this may be really helpful! Matter of fact one of our customers is 100 years old!! Scouts honor! I’ll have to ask her if she knows the term Funkia.

On and on I read, mostly it is indeed factual stuff…till I get to page 225. Rose Acacia. "Professionally known as Robinia hispida or Pink Locust." We sell Purple Robe Locust where I work and it is truly a beautiful flowering tree, but I’ve never grown one myself. Reading the description…”Robinia hispida is the botanical name of the Pink Locust, which gardeners for some reason or other have decided to call Rose Acacia. It is a clammy shrub, usually grafted on the top of a tall waking stick and stuck in the most conspicuous place in the garden. The flowers are obese and ugly, and they hang in sticky profusion from the foliage. It is a most unattractive thing without beauty or merit as a garden plant.”


Wait…what? But G. A., on page 7 you said your writing was prepared…”with as much fidelity to the floral facts…” Hmmm. Apparently this excerpt is more closely associated with the “actual garden acquaintance” you mention later. Ok, really, I have to ask…what in the world does “a clammy shrub” describe?

Well the rancor fun doesn't stop there. Weigelas don’t escape the author’s verbal lashing either…oh no my friends, read on...


“Among the commoner shrubs for ordinary purposes are the humble Weigelas. Great, rank bushes they are, with coarse foliage and still coarser and uglier flowers….But one of the most dreadful shrubs which have ever been foisted upon a defenseless nation is the supremely ugly variety called Eva Rathke. No one can imagine how hideous a flower can be until one of these monstrosities is brought to his attention. In fact the blight of Eva Rathke rests upon all Weigelas and no garden would suffer if all the Weigelas in the world were piled high and dry and burned to ashes.”

Oh dear, oh dear. A tad harsh? I've had Weigela. Mine was a lovely graceful variegated shrub with soft pink blooms much enjoyed by hummingbirds. Quite nice actually, er…in my humble opinion.

And who said gardeners were opinionated?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Blueberry, Brunnera, chive, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Lights’,Exbury azalea, Fuchsia, Geranium phaeum ‘lily lovell’ (mourning widow), Geum, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Peony, Phygelius, Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Rhododendron, Sage, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Schisandra rubriflora (strawberry vine), Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Trillium,Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower), Tomato

Authors photos

2 comments:

Desi said...

I love this post :) The author of your new gardening book must have been smited by someone with the name Acacia and maybe she loved Weigelas, otherwise his distaste for them both is unimaginable. :) So awesome that you found this at a garage sale and the pictures are fantastic. It's always a good day when there's a fabulous find!

Joan said...

Hi Desi! Ha, ha yes you must be right! Too funny and I agree, fabulous finds are great!! Thanks for visiting!