Every plant has a story and these add to the interest and enjoyment gardeners get from them. Noel Kingsbury, in his Flora, The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden, has taken a selection of 133 plants, not an encyclopaedic collection but enough to enthuse and encourage the readers to, perhaps, search out such delightful snippets on other plants which interest them.
I found the introductory chapter somewhat tedious with its explanations of terms used in the book, an outline of the various plant types along with evolutionary history and ecological survival strategies of plants. There were notes on plant longevity, whether annual, biennial or perennial, whether plants were clonal or not, spreading or not, bla, bla, bla, whether they were pioneers or competitors, notes on biodiversity, lists of topics/headings used in the book bla, bla, bla. Why so much time and space was given to such topics when they did not compliment the rest of the book puzzled me. Perhaps it was to give a certain gravitas to what otherwise is a light – and very interesting and entertaining – collection of short essays on garden plants, somewhat in the style of a collection of magazine articles.
The collection of essays explores, though not in a regimented formulaic manner, various interesting areas of each plant: the meaning of the botanical name, the origin of the name, uses of the plant whether culinary or medicinal; its uses in herbalism and its place in superstitions; history of its use in gardens; natural geographical distribution; history of its introduction and notes of cultivars raised and grown in our gardens. Many of these entries are illustrated with historic photographs and paintings which are both especially attractive and interesting in themselves and add greatly to the enjoyment of the book.
Leaving the introduction aside – and one is unlikely to return to it – the remainder of the book is very enjoyable and the reader is likely to dip into it again and again.
[Garden Flora – The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden, Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press, London, 2016, Hardback, 368 pages, £29.99, ISBN: 13:978-1-60469-565-6]