03 July 2007


I read a lot of plant books, as you might have guessed. Approximately 90% of the ones that are worth reading are published by Timber Press. So I was eagerly anticipating their release of Martyn Rix's Subtropical and Dry Climate Plants. Rix is the editor of the best magazine ever.

Despite the unfortunate subtitle, there is nothing definitive about this book. It is rather an whirlwind tour of plants from around the world (many from not particularly dry climates). It makes no sense to yoke subtropicalness (both wet and dry) indiscriminately to dryness (both mediterranean- and monsoon-climate) like this unless the organizing principle is really: things Brits fantasize about growing in Cornwall or Chiantishire (or maybe after a few more years of global warming...)

This approach is both innocuously and insidiously shallow: UC Botanical Garden is called the "Berkeley Botanic Garden", and its "African Hill" the "Cape Rock Garden"; Brugmansia x candida certainly does not require "ample water" in summer in my subtropical garden. This problem is compounded by poor editing, in what I hope is not a sign of declining standards in the wake of Workman's acquisition of Timber last year. (I don't suppose I can blame the editors for spelling Rix's name wrong on their web page).

The organization is stupefying, with plants lumped into sections with names like "Acanthus, Monkey Flower and Related Shrubs" whose only principle is that they fit into a single spread. Thankfully there is a full index.

This organization makes it hard to assess the selection, but the list of both species and genera is idiosyncratic. This is actually the book's great strength: it is odd, for example, to ignore Penstemon completely (because the cvv. common in England are hybrids adapted to more temperate climes?), but the compensation is, say, two species of Bomarea (bizarrely located under "Chilean climbers"). Interesting taxa of common genera like Clematis cirrhosa and Dianthus 'Old Spice' are singled out at the expense of the "usual suspects" to be found in many such books.

But the main reason to buy this book is the photographs, something like 800 of them, almost all taken by Rix himself. Of course some of them are merely pedestrian, and the quality control on the printing leaves something to be desired, but the cumulative effect is a treasure trove of (mostly) subtropical plant porn. The text attached to them, notwithstanding the problems enumerated above, is a valuable bonus.

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Blogger Margaret said...

Hi BT. I only just noticed your comments on my flickr pages---sorry for the delay in responding to them!

7/05/2007 2:52 AM  
Blogger mmw said...

no worries mate!

(as I believe one says down there).

7/06/2007 12:17 AM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Yep, that's exactly what we say. Mate. ;)

7/08/2007 7:29 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

Well... 30 degrees latitude, north or south, does mark where you would find most of the deserts of the world. There's the link between "dry" and "subtropical," at least for me, since the tropics end at 27 degrees, north or south. But...from what you say it seems that was not the intent of the authors. Anyway, 30 degrees is a pretty rough marker.

Hmm. Good review, though.

7/09/2007 3:34 PM  

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