Gardening with Drought-tolerant Plants
By Jane Taylor
Published by Godwit Press, Auckland, New Zealand, 1993
Reviewed by Ross Ferguson
This book appears to
be a direct reprint of Plants for dry gardens, first published
in the United Kingdom this year. Ms Taylor is a well known gardening
writer, justifiably respected for her knowledge, her accuracy, and
her style. Her previous books have proved most popular, and this
new book has also been well received overseas. It appears to have
been written for the international market, with great emphasis being
placed on hardiness zones (although these are rather perfunctorily
defined, without maps of the zones). The question, then, is whether
this is a suitable book for New Zealand.
Many parts of New Zealand,
especially those east of the main divide, have relatively low rainfall
and can suffer extended dry periods. Even in much wetter areas,
such as Auckland, gardens may require frequent watering during the
summer, particularly those gardens that are on lighter soils. For
gardeners in this country, the main use of this book is probably
indicated by the subtitle, Gardening with drought-tolerant plants.
A knowledge of which plants can tolerate drought, which look good
under dry conditions, and which can withstand the owners' absence
on extended summer holidays can only be very helpful.
A wide range of plants
are described under the logical headings of trees and shrubs, conifers,
palms and cycads, climbers, perennials and ephemerals, bulbs, grasses,
succulents, and xeropytes. All this in just on 160 pages. The inevitable
consequence is that many of the descriptions are very brief, often
with cursory, indeed superficial, information as to the plant's
form and the growing conditions required. Here, I would have preferred
more details as to the amount of water needed than hardiness. Other
important information is also not included, e.g., very sparse details
are given as to the eventual size of the trees and shrubs.
The plants listed vary
greatly in their suitability for New Zealand gardens some
would be only half-hardy in the north, others are only too well
adapted to our growing conditions. Jack Hobbs in his rather cautious
introduction issues a public health warning about 18 of the genera
listed. Certainly gardeners here would be ill advised to follow
the advice that the Chinese privet (Ligustrum lucidum)
is "even more beautiful... an indispensable tree or large shrub
for dry or desert gardens wherever the winters are mild enough for
it to thrive." Even more misleading for novice gardeners in this
country is the comment that "Crocosmia x crocosmiflora,
the montbretia, increases fast to form weed-excluding carpets of
narrow, arching, fresh green sword leaves." Weed-excluders are too
often weeds under another name. Expected plants are missing
for example, proteas, leucodendrons, leucospermums, and many of
the South African bulbs that do so well in much of New Zealand.
These problems are perhaps inevitable when a book is written for
many different markets with gardens having such different growing
The Dry Garden
is very well produced: the binding is strong, the type good and
clear, the layout most attractive. There is a pleasing absence of
misprints, and Ms Taylor has obviously made a special effort to
cheek nomenclature and adopt more recent changes. Many of the photographs
are superb, and most are informative, giving a reliable indication
of the plant. Some I found most irritating, being just out of focus;
these appear to be mostly by the one photographer.
The back cover of The
Dry Garden states that "this is the first guide to choosing
plants that will flourish during water shortages." This is certainly
not true, and I can think of a number of books on gardens for drier
climates or on Mediterranean plants. A good example is Beth Chatto's
The Dry Garden (J.M. Dent, 1978), which is almost dowdy
in comparison, but much richer in detail and especially valuable
for its discussion of general principles.
I enjoyed reading Jane
Taylor's The Dry Garden. It is well written and attractive,
it made me think, it gave me ideas as to what plants to try, it
was certainly good browsing on a cold and wet night during the Auckland
winter. I would recommend it, and would be happy to lend my copy.
However, it doesn't compare with some other books on the same subject.
Now Beth Chatto's book is one to treasure, one to be lent
to only trusted gardening friends who are also rapid readers!
in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
1993 4(2): 18
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