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Climbing plantsBOOK REVIEWS

Climbing Plants

By Christine and John Nicholls
Published by Godwit Press, Auckland, New Zealand, 1995

Reviewed by Steve Benham, Records Officer, Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens

A recent and welcome arrival on our Botanic Garden library bookshelf is the title 'Climbing Plants' authoritatively written by Christine and John Nicholls. What makes this publication distinct from previous ones on the same topic is that it has been written specifically for New Zealand gardeners by authors who have drawn upon their 17 years of professional experience with this group of diverse and indispensable plants.

The publishers Godwit are also to be congratulated in making this the 4th title in their 'Godwit New Zealand Gardening Guide' series.

Choosing the right plant for the right place can, and often does, prove to be a nightmare to the novice gardener. The chapter "Plants for Places" will most surely overcome this perennial problem and I found it to be a good starting point when selecting the right plant for a particular aspect and use. Not finding the deliciously fragrant Holboellia latifolia listed under climbers with scented flowers was an obvious oversight.

Basic cultural notes, types of supports and uses are covered in the opening chapter, although a few words of caution when planting against buildings would have been useful. All too often amateurs and professionals alike plant far too close to walls where and soil conditions usually prevail. When planting frost tender plants I would advise spring planting. Far better for the plant to die in the nursery than in ones own garden!

This guide has an excellent layout and is easy to use, informative and on the whole scientifically accurate, considering the complexities of taxonomic nomenclature and the recent bout of instability. The Nicholls have obviously a good understanding of the importance of using correct and up-to-date nomenclature.

The body of the book is superb and is devoted to the A-Z of Climbing Plants. Each plant entry commences with the taxonomic binomial, followed by vernacular name in common usage, plant family, natural geographical distribution, evergreen or deciduous, height, aspect, soil conditions and hardiness rating. The general text for each entry is comprehensive and ends with garden worthy infraspecific taxa, cultivars and hybrids.

Clematis montana var. wilsonii and C. montana var. rubens have unfortunately been reduced to the cultivar status in the taxonomic hierarchy, whereas they should be classified as botanical varieties (see The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary - Index of Garden Plants, Mark Griffiths). The same has been applied to Jasminum affine forma grandiflora. The cultivar 'Bill Mackenzie' is not a selection of C. orientalis but part of the Tangutica aggregate and therefore should appear as C. (Tangutica group) 'Bill Mackenzie'. Also, C. orientalis hort. is quite a different plant from C. orientalis Linnaeus. The former is the commonly grown one and should be described as Clematis tibetana subsp. vernayi. Hedera helix cultivar 'Goldheart' is spelt as one word.

Generic names derived from Greek which end in -ma are neuter which means that specific epithets likewise must be neuter and end in -um. Therefore the correct spelling from the specific epithet is Schizophragma integrifolium.

The Nicholls have widely adopted, albeit in parenthesis the Dahlgren et al. classification of the monocotyledons. The family taxon Liliaceae has virtually disappeared with the appearance of a number of smaller families of more uniform content. The genera Gloriosa and Littonia have also been split from Liliaceae and according to Dahlgren et al. they should now be in Colchicaceae.

The excellent photographs are a great asset for identification although I only wished that there were more, using fewer large and more smaller photographs would have enabled a wider range to be illustrated. Eight species of Clematis indigenous to New Zealand are listed, but no photographs. Despite the excellent coverage of approximately 70 genera, I missed such garden worthy ones such as Actinidia, Muehlenbeckia and Tropaeolum.

Having highlighted the few minor criticisms, I thoroughly recommend this authoritative work to both amateur and professional gardeners alike. It is a must, especially for the gardener who has run out of space on the ground and the only way to go is upwards!

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1996 1(1): 25-26

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