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Bulbs for NZ Gardeners and CollectorsBOOK REVIEWS

Bulbs for New Zealand Gardeners and Collectors

By Jack Hobbs and Terry Hatch
Published by Godwit Press, Auckland, New Zealand, 1994

Reviewed by Des Riach

In recent years there has been an unprecedented upsurge in the publication of horticultural and gardening books by New Zealand authors for New Zealand conditions. Trees and shrubs, particularly New Zealand natives, roses, rhododendrons, camellias, etc., have all been generously dealt with.

Until 1991, with the publication of the Hugh Redgrove-edited book on bulbs and perennials, this subject had been largely ignored, apart from garden magazine articles.

Bulbs for New Zealand Gardeners and Collectors is published on quality paper and is a delight to follow, particularly in the largest section of the book devoted to the description of 120 genera and 800 species of bulbs.

The genera are listed in alphabetical order in upper-case letters highlighted in blue and clearly separated from the last-described species of the previous genus.

There are chapters on bulbs in their native habitats and in cultivation in both garden and containers, on propagation, on pests and diseases, and — for the non-botanically knowledgeable — on what constitutes a bulb.

The authors have trodden with great skill through the minefield of nomenclature using, where possible, current names from the most up-to-date authorities. They admit that many of these changes are not yet universally accepted, and that it is undoubtedly disconcerting to find an old friend pictured with an unfamiliar name printed beneath. With some exceptions, the authors have provided the best known synonym with the name change, to minimise confusion. There is the odd spelling mistake, more likely a printer's error than the authors'; and how refreshing to see the generic name Chlidanthus correctly spelt and not, as it is so often written, Childanthus.

In most cases the photography is excellent, making the species easily recognisable. I wonder, will the manufacturers of colour film ever be able to provide a product capable of accurately capturing the glorious blue of Chionodoxa forbesii or C. sardensis?

Rarely is a book published that completely satisfies or is without error, and this book is no exception. Illustrations are most frequently pointed out to the reader as "opposite above" and "opposite below"; and then there is the odd transposition. Perhaps fewer pages could have been devoted to dahlias and begonias — there are innumerable books written on these. Far better to have given these pages to genera omitted altogether, i.e., Merendera, Bellevalia, Eremurus, or to have expanded the number of Colchicum species described to include some of the more dainty members, e.g., C. cupanii, kesselringii, triphyllum, etc.

There is the publisher's nightmare come true on page 153, where after a description of Ranunculus cortusifolius the reader is directed to an illustration of a Rhodopohalia, the R. cortusifolius illustration having been omitted. And is that really an illustration of Arisamea triphyllum on page 52?

The presence of scent, pleasant or otherwise, is mentioned for a number of genera and species, but what of Tigridia vanhouttei? A good description is given, but there is no mention of the foul smell the flower emits on a warm day.

Some guidance is given as to the ease or invasiveness of some of the species, notably in the genera Allium and Oxalis. It should be noted, however, that seven of the Allium and nine of the Oxalis species described are listed by MAF as prohibited imports into New Zealand in the latest proposed import regulations.

The publishers consider "that this book brings the subject to the attention of gardeners and collectors". Dedicated collectors, I am sure, will have already graduated to monographs of their favourite genera. For the keen gardener, whose knowledge of bulbs extends only to those available at the local garden centre, this book (despite the drawbacks outlined) should prove an invaluable introduction to the beauty and diversity of the world's bulb flora.

The book is rounded off with an excellent up-to-date bibliography, an index, and a useful list of New Zealand and overseas suppliers of bulbs and seeds.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1994 5(2): 25

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