Book Review Heading


A New Zealand Handbook of Bulbs and Perennials

Edited by Hugh Redgrove
Published by Godwit Press, Auckland, New Zealand, 1991

Reviewed by Joy Ames

This is a revised, updated and expanded version of the 1953 publication The Handbook of Bulbs and Perennials for the Southern Hemisphere. Dedicated to the gardening public of New Zealand, it was compiled by Hugh Redgrove and an impressive list of fellow contributors, each with a wealth of experience and a delight in growing these plants in New Zealand.

It aims to provide a reliable guide to the identification, selection, cultivation, and propagation of over 350 genera of bulbs and perennials. In fact, it includes in alphabetical order, 382 genera, numerous species and cultivars, and 433 colour illustrations — considerably more than the 250 genera and 246 illustrations (mostly black and white) of the 1953 handbook.

There is also an excellent index, cross-referenced for genera, synonyms and common names. This is invaluable, especially for those of us who find difficulty in remembering recent name changes. It is to be hoped that all gardeners, nurserymen, garden centres and writers will use the correct current botanical names, as listed in this handbook.

So much has changed since 1953. Gardening is now the number one hobby, often closely associated with the use of flowers and foliage in floral arrangements. Ornamental horticulture is more professional, providing employment and export revenue from cut flowers, foliage, bulbs and plants. Garden centres have developed as well as specialist nurseries, with an increasing emphasis on perennials and bulbs.

New introductions, selections and hybrids as well as old favourites from both Northern and Southern hemispheres are grown in New Zealand gardens. It must have been hard for the editor to decide where to draw the line. In the handbook, small plants are limited to those which are conveniently grown at the front of a border. Larger plants include some sub-shrubs which are commonly grown with perennials in New Zealand gardens. 'Bulbs' include corms, tubers and rhizomes (ill-defined in the glossary) as well as true bulbs.

The sub-title 'Bulbs and Perennials A to Z' is apt. Each genus is easy to find, especially with the index.

The family and common name is below each heading. For all but a few less important genera, the number of species and natural distribution is followed by descriptions of major or representative species and cultivars (including many excellent New Zealand bred cultivars). The distinguishing features are described, as noted by an observant, practical gardener, not a botanist.

Height in centimetres and inches, season of flowering, and cultural details follow. Appropriate depth and distance of planting of bulbs is included.

It is interesting to note the connection between conditions in the country of origin, and advice on site selection and culture in our gardens; similarly between root structure and seasonal root growth, and advice on how and when to transplant and divide perennials successfully. Some comments on attractive plant associations are included.

The text throughout is concise and clear with a great deal of sound practical information presented in a most readable form. Considerable space is devoted to some genera such as Iris, Narcissus, Lilium, Gladiolus, Dahlia, Carnation and Dendranthema (Chrysanthemum!) in which the modern classification of the various groups as well as the species are included.

The greatly expanded sections on Hosta, Primula and some other genera reflect Hugh Redgrove's enthusiasm for these plants, and his wish for other New Zealand gardeners to share his pleasure in growing them.


A colour photograph alongside the name and description helps greatly to identify and remember a plant. In this handbook there are great number of excellent illustrations alongside the text, as well as a few attractive garden scenes. The quality is not consistently good, but anyone who has tried to make a photographic record of flowering plants knows the difficulties.

In spite of the considerable improvement in cameras, film and reproduction techniques in recent years, some colours, notably blues and reds, are not always true. The plant, light or weather may not be perfect. It requires a lot of patience, knowledge and luck to be at the right place at the right time to photograph a plant at its peak of perfection. One can always hope to improve ... next year! With such a diversity of plants — some a few centimetres, some over a metre high, the selection of illustrations from available photographs could not have been easy. Most of them demonstrate clearly the flowering characteristics of each genus of perennials and bulbs and in some cases the diversity of species and groups within the genus. That is a real achievement. The less successful illustrations could well be replaced in future editions.

Names and photographs of cultivars often date a reference book, but when they are outstanding they add to interest. I would like to see, for example, pictures of a bunch of New Zealand bred cultivars of Nerine, and of Zantedeschia, which in both cases are better than any overseas cultivars — as are the New Zealand bred cultivars of the dahlia and carnation which are well illustrated.

Pests and Diseases

These are mentioned only as they affect the routine culture and propagation of plants. Reading such comments as "Aphis chew ... ", "eelworms are almost microscopic" — and the recommendations for hot water treatment in a home garden, it is obvious that gardeners should look elsewhere for information on the identification and control of pests and diseases. Revision by specialists is recommended for future editions of the handbook.

There are a number of errors in the spelling of botanical names in the book. Some grammatical errors were noted and also obvious mistakes in conversions between centimetres and inches.

More serious, however, is the mislabelling of photographs and users of the book need to note those.

P. 24 Top left is Arisarum vulgare not Arisaema candidissimum.

Bottom — the white flower is Arisaema candidissiumum not A. praecox.

P. 43 Top left is Urceolina peruviana not Bravoa graminiflora.

P. 59 Top right is Chionodoxa luciliae not C. sardensis.

P. 215 Ornithogalum saundersiae not O. arabicum.

Others which are doubtful according to the text descriptions are:

P. 28 Arum maculatum, P. 67 Crinum x posoelli, P. 83 Dendianthema 'Yellow Noon', P. 89 Digitalis mertonensis, P. 254 Scabiosa columraria.

It would have been better to delay publication to allow thorough checking of the text, illustrations and captions, but no doubt there was a desire and maybe some pressure to print this long-awaited book as soon as possible. Corrections should be made before reprinting.

In the mean time, I shall be using this handbook frequently as a guide to the current nomenclature, identification, selection and more successful cultivation of bulbs and perennials. Already I have a list of more plants which I want to grow.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1992 3(1): 15

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