Cultivation of New Zealand Plants
By Lawrie Metcalf
Published by Godwit Press Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand, 1993
Reviewed by Mike Oates
Over the past thirty
years Lawrie Metcalf has made an enormous contribution to our understanding
and enjoyment of native plants. He is perhaps best known to New
Zealanders for his landmark publication The Cultivation of New
Zealand Trees and Shrubs, a book that bridged the gap between
horticulture and botany. Less known has been his work for the RNZIH
as convenor of the Nomenclature Committee overseeing the publication
of checklists of native plant cultivars. He is currently working
on the Hebe
checklist, a massive undertaking which includes over 900 cultivars.
It is planned to publish this in 1994.
Lawrie Metcalf is one
of New Zealand's great plantsmen, whose knowledge of plants has
been gained from study in their natural habitat as well as in cultivation.
This knowledge is reflected in his latest book, The Cultivation
of New Zealand Plants, which deals with herbaceous plants,
ferns, grasses, grass-like plants, and small shrubs. This book,
as he explains in the introduction, has had a long gestation, and
was originally scheduled to appear soon after the publication of
The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees and Shrubs. Work pressures
and later a deteriorating economy meant it was put on hold. With
the publication of this book and the recent updating of the book
on trees and shrubs, Metcalf has put the cap on a remarkable career.
The format of the book
follows closely that of its sister publication. Part 1 contains
a general introduction to growing the plants, including methods
of cultivation and propagation. Detailed information is given about
alpine and shade houses and the construction of scree and moraine
gardens. Finally, a useful chapter on plants for different situations
and problems that are likely to occur and how they can be remedied.
Part 2 contains an alphabetical
listing of the genera, followed by general information about propagation,
cultivation and pest and disease problems. Then follows a botanical
description of the garden worthy species and/or cultivars in that
genus, including detailed information on the cultivation of these
plants. All in all it provides information on 114 genera and over
The book concludes with
a comprehensive glossary and a chapter on early botanists and horticulturists
and their role in introducing N.Z. natives into cultivation.
Having used Metcalf's
first book as a standard text for many years, I find it invaluable
to have the same treatment applied to the rest of the higher plant
flora. The strength of this book is the linking of botanical and
ecological information with cultural details. With the plethora
of gardening books on the market today it is refreshing to find
one that deals with a subject in real depth and relies on first-hand
quality information rather than the regurgitation and lack of research
common in many popular publications.
The book covers well
known as well as rarely cultivated plants and will certainly encourage
people to grow a wider range of natives. One of the problems that
will always remain, however, is how people can get hold of the plants.
A short list of suppliers would have been helpful, especially details
of the New
Zealand Alpine Garden Society, an organisation that produces
an excellent seed list.
Metcalf mentions at the
start the difficulty of choosing which plants to put in the book.
There are always going to be pressures on space and not everyone
will agree with the choice. Certainly the selection is comprehensive
and includes many of the plants successfully grown at Otari and
recognised as being garden-worthy. It also includes plants that
we aren't growing now but that would be worth trying. A couple of
conspicuous omissions include Aciphylla squarrosa, a very
useful species that is hardy and easy to grow, if not quite as showy
as some of the other Spaniards such as A. glaucescens.
Also omitted, possibly because of publishing deadlines, are the
new Jury Celmisia hybrids that are easily grown and provide
spectacular flowering during spring.
Congratulations too for
the excellent colour photographs in the centre of the book, which
complement the text so well and provide the proof that our flora
is anything but boring. The variation in foliage, form and flowers
Having used the book
I find it hard to criticise it except in one fundamental area, that
being its title. It is downright confusing, and many staff who looked
at the book and who were unfamiliar with its sister publication
got horribly confused looking for trees and shrubs. Not every book
buyer reads the introduction and dust cover before buying it, and
I'm sure some readers and buyers are going to be disappointed when
they find out it isn't what it says it is. I can see the reasons
for calling it 'plants', but I believe a mistake was made, and it
should have been called what it is, 'The Cultivation of N.Z. Herbaceous
Plants, Ferns, and Grasses'.
In concluding, I would
recommend that anyone serious about natives and wanting to increase
the number they grow should read this book and use it. Together
with its companion volume (with which I hope it will soon be sold
as a set) it offers the most comprehensive horticultural treatment
of New Zealand plants ever published.
in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
1993 4(2): 19
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