Book Reviews: Horticultural

The Gardener's Guide to Growing Fritillaries. Pratt, Kevin and Michael Jefferson-Brown, 1997. ISBN 0-88192-387-7 (cloth US$29.95) 160pp. Timber Press, 133 SW Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland OR 97204
-- The Gardener's Guide to Growing Fritillaries claims to be the first book on the genus Fritillaria (Liliaceae), whose members are commonly called fritillaries, in over fifty years, and a library search reveals that this is almost true -- a library search revealed a 1953 book for gardeners by Christabel Beck. The authors of the present book hope to revive and promote interest in these bulbous monocots, which they admit are not the easiest bulbs to grow and flower. Fritillaria contains species native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, and you may recognize F. meleagris L. as part of the logo of the Scandinavian Society for Plant Physiology.

The authors of The Gardener's Guide to Growing Fritillaries begin by giving the reader a solid, non-technical discussion of the botany of fritillaries, with a careful explanation of the terminological simplifications employed -- e.g. replacement with the more familiar "petal" for the less familiar but botanically more correct "tepal." This introduction also includes several good figures illustrating the range of leaf, bulb, and flower types found in Fritillaria. It should be noted that the authors include the Korolkowia and Rhinopetalum sections of Fritillaria in their definition of the genus, while some reports in the literature split these off to make two additional genera. The cultivation of fritillaries indoors and out, and in association with other plants as in heather gardens, is considered. A clear and concise chapter on propagation and breeding concludes the well-organized first third of the book. Directions are given for propagation by seed, bulblets, and scales, all of which should be within reach of the amateur gardener.

The next several chapters, though interesting, do not fit into a clear organizational scheme. Fritillaries in the wild are discussed with an emphasis on the climate in the area of origin, followed by advice on fritlllary culture from three well-respected British horticulturalists; Kath Dryden, John Hill, and Christopher Grey-Wilson; who have worked with fritillaries. North American fritillaries receive their own chapter as does the showing of fritillary blossoms in competition.

The last third of the book is taken up with useful lists regarding the types and culture of various fritillaries. The different species of fritillaries and notable subspecies and clones of those species are presented in brief descriptive paragraphs which are generally concise and informative. Next comes appendices which include lists of sources for fritillary material and a very handy table giving the flowering time, size, color, ease of cultivation, and necessary summer soil conditions for a large range of species and clones. One significant drawback here is a lack of sources in the United States and North America for fritillary material in the list given. This absence and the lack of an explanation is especially surprising given the inclusion in this book published in North America of a whole chapter on species native to North America. More pictures are needed for the descriptive section, particularly since this is the first book on fritillaries for some decades and since the authors stated as an important goal the promotion of interest in Fritillaria. Preferably, each species should be illustrated.

In general, this is a valuable book for a professional library. In places the text tends to be verbose, making for slow and confusing reading. For example, on p. 33 one reads "If you are trying outdoor cultivation of some of the species that are normally grown under glass and benefit from summer drought, it could save life and encourage further flowering next season if you provide cover with a cloche or a sheet of polythene, extending it well beyond the bulbs' site and securing and disguising it with scatter of compost or shredded bark." In spite of this, The Gardener's Guide to Growing Fritillaries makes for enjoyable reading. - Douglas Darnowski, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana IL 61801


Growing Bulbs: the Complete Practical Guide Matthew, Brian, 1997. ISBN 0-88192-384-2 (cloth US$29.95) 160 pp. Timber Pres, 133 SW Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland OR 97204 - Growing Bulbs: the Complete Practical Guide presents a clearly and concisely written account of growing various showy flowering plants, most of them monocots from seasonally harsh climates, which possessing a storage organ. The author holds the prestigious Victoria Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society and is a widely respected expert in the cultivation of this horticultural class of plants. He has written several noted reference works such as The Iris and The Smaller Bulbs, and here his stated goal is to produce a book which is dedicated more to the cultivation of bulbs than to the consideration of the species themselves and their interrelationships. The author's wide experience in growing most of the bulbs discussed in this book is a significant factor in fulfilling the "complete" and "practical" claims of the title.

This book is intended to be accessible to amateur growers, not just to botanists and tradesmen. For this reason, botanical terminology is used loosely -- "bulbs" in the title and text refers to a horticultural class of plant species having storage organs including corms, rhizomes, true bulbs, and tubers. Matthew's care shows in that he carefully explains both where he uses language loosley and why he does so. In discussing each of the genera or species of "bulbs" he usually gives the correct botanical term for the storage organ of that particular species. Growing Bulbs: the Complete Practical Guide contains a solid review of the basic botany and biogeography of this horticultural group along with advice on indoor and outdoor cultivation of the various species, according to the climate of the region in which the species occur in nature. Though the author gardens in southwestern England, he is careful to make available cultivation advice for various regions of the world in which the reader might be gardening. Propagation instructions are included for the amateur bulb-grower along with information on important pests and diseases of the species discussed. Some miscellaneous topics such as the promotion of flowering in many species, such as some Narcissus and Iris, by exposure to smoke also are discussed.

Matthew's book concludes with a review of the various genera of plants having bulbs, in the loose sense which he uses, giving a thumbnail sketch of each. One strength of this book is that the author has grown most of the species discussed, and he has raised close relatives of most of the others. This gives a solid practical grounding to the cultural information provided -- this is indeed a "practical guide."

Two weak points of the book also occur in this review of genera due to the brevity of this section. Only a minority of the entries are accompanied by a photograph of a species from the genus described. Since the book is not intended solely for an expert and professional audience, more photographs are needed, particularly of less common species. A few entries should contain more detail -- for example the entry for Tulipa which consists of only a few paragraphs, omitting discussion of the various horticultural types of tulips. Since this book is aimed at amateurs and is designed to be "complete" and "practical," discussion of these groups, e.g. Darwin tulips, or even a mere mention that these groups exist is needed.

In general, this book is excellent, living up to the "complete" and the "practical" in the title, of use for amateur weekend gardeners and for professionals looking for a simple ready-reference. The depth of the author's experience is balanced by the breadth of the range of horticulturally valuable genera considered. The simplified botanical nomenclature which is employed is both appropriate and clearly defined for the target audience. This work would be useful for the weekend gardener, the reserve list for an introductory course in horticulture or floriculture, or for a professional library. Given the high quality of botanical publications consistently produced by Timber Press, it is no surprise that this book comes from them. - Douglas Darnowski, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana IL 61801

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