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Terry Underhill                    ©


Some books  - Western Morning News - Terry Underhill

The other day I understood how the expression "I like to get my nose into a good book" came about. A new book arrived for me to review, but no sooner had I undone the packaging than my wife noticed the title ‘The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Perennials’. At that moment the phone rang and I placed the book down. On returning, my wife was sitting with her head almost lost between the pages, with her nose virtually on the page. Before I could ask her what she was doing, she took a deep breath and lifting her head said, "I love the smell of new books" and took another long sniff.

The book, being approximately 26 x 34cm is a coffee table type of publication, and flitting through the pages the quality of illustrations makes it suitable for just enjoying the pictures. However, after less than 20 pages of introduction and suggestions about cultivation and propagation, there is the plant directory section of about 275 pages covering more than 1,500 plants. Every plant is accompanied by a standardised list of information and a series of symbols. The publishers, Salamander, and the author, Professor Marshall Craigmyle, must know of my dislike of symbols, as they have included on the end of the book-mark tape a plastic slip showing all the keys, which very sensibly are red for negative attributes and green for positive attributes. Every so often there is a full page illustration of the highest quality. Towards the end of the book the appendices cover very useful alphabetical lists of perennials for different situations, colour effects and uses. I was delighted to find a long list of plants, many excellent garden plants, recommended as being rabbit proof. As a little furry creature with long ears and bob tail, white underneath, was seen in my garden the other morning, I may be referring to this list much sooner than I thought. The book may cost £30 but it is of excellent value, worthy of being a ‘special’ Christmas present to any gardener keen on herbaceous perennials.


Having mentioned what an excellent Christmas present the book on perennials would make because of the wealth of information and excellent illustrations, I began to look at some of the other books I have recently acquired.

Autumn might have just blown away and the first icy blasts of Winter hit our gardens, but the memories of the wonderful Autumn leaf colour, and masses of brightly coloured and beautifully shaped fruits still remain. Now is an excellent time to think about redesigning a corner of the garden and perhaps replanting with fresh trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. An excellent aide memoire would be Ethne Clarke’s ‘Autumn Garden’ published by David and Charles, as the useful text is backed by masses of lovely photographs taken by Jonathan Buckley, who specialises in garden and plant photography, supplying many well known papers, magazines and book publishers.

Sometimes just flicking through the pages of an illustrated book can fill one with ideas. I liked the simplicity of a few stems of bright green spurge, Euphorbia mellifera, against a background of the purple-leaved Vine, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’, with not a flower in sight, just a long season foliage effect. Lungworts, Pulmonaria, have recently become very popular, especially those plants with strongly marked foliage. Pulmonaria saccharata is such a plant, and the combination of the clusters of small, whitish flowers in the Autumn of Clematis x jouiniana being allowed to trail over the foliage appeals to me, as does one of the less vigorous forms of Pampas Grass intermingling with the mass of red hips of the shrubby Rosa glauca.

Few of us can afford the luxury of visiting Japan and soaking up the spiritual layout of their gardens, instead we have to visit copies or westernised Japanese style gardens much nearer home. Another way is to enjoy good photographs of Japanese gardens where the photographer has used his skill and knowledge to convey the atmosphere within the artistic presentation of his photographs. ‘The Art of Japanese Gardens’, published by David & Charles, is about designing and making your own peaceful space, and is a balanced mixture of photographs, diagrams and text. Some illustrations give an overall picture of the garden, whereas the majority are of individual features, illustrating their structure and use. There is a useful list of suitable plants, although the accompanying pictures are not up to the standard of the rest of the book.


Sometimes a book can be an aide memoire or a reminder of a special place visited. On the last leg of my drive from the Italian Alps to the ferry at Cherbourg, I called in at Giverney, Monet’s garden. This garden, created by Claude Monet and since restored as near his original design and planting as possible, is visited by nearly half a million visitors between April and October every year. It is now a popular destination for European garden tour operators. The photographer Vivian Russel must have made many visits and shown the utmost patience to produce the 200 or more photographs used in his book ‘Monet’s Garden’, published by Frances Lincoln. There is too much to absorb in the garden in one visit, although it is only a few acres and could be walked around in five to ten minutes by a ‘moron’; likewise the book, packed with pictures, history and information. There is no doubt that any visit to Giverney would be dramatically enhanced by reading the book beforehand. Those gardeners never likely to visit Giverney (shame!), can still earn a lot about colour and design, while all painters should find inspiration for future work from its pages.

If you wish to organise your own garden tours across the channel and perhaps further into Europe, then you could do no better than obtain the various garden guide books published by Mitchell Beazley. Current titles, each listing around 100 ‘special’ gardens are:- Gardens of France, Germany, Italy and Spain & Portugal, each touring guide similarly structured to their Gardens of Britain.