Please scroll down for more reviews... 

New Zealand Native Ground Cover Plants - $34.99

- Review by Des Snell, Editor of Commercial Horticulture

 Comprehensive coverage of NZ’s native groundcovers

Well-known writer on New Zealand native plants, Lawrie Metcalf, has teamed up with Lincoln University horticulture lecturer, Roy Edwards, to produce a new book, New Zealand Native Ground Cover Plants: A practical guide for gardeners and landscapers.

This 110-page book does indeed provide very comprehensive coverage of how best to use NZ native groundcovers in home gardens and in the landscape, from landscape design ideas, to plant selection, propagation techniques and ongoing maintenance.

The book gets right down to the basics, the authors not assuming their readers have even a rudimentary understanding of the fundamentals of plants or horticulture.

Botanical names explained

One page, for example, is devoted to explaining plant-naming conventions: “Botanical names are written according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and follow certain conventions. The same botanical names are used by botanists, horticulturists and other professionals all over the world. The scientific name of a plant usually consists of two parts (the genus and the species). Collectively these are called the binomial name . . .”

Often, how-to books of this type amount to little more than a catalogue of plants, with picture and description, and a few pages of general introduction.

But this is not the case with this book. More than half, the first 60 pages, is given over to detailed coverage of what is needed to successfully design for and incorporate groundcover plants into the landscape, the home garden in particular.

This coverage includes things like ground preparation, dealing with weeds, how and when to use herbicides.

Propagating to cut costs

Because by their nature groundcover plants may be needed in large quantities in a garden, detailed coverage is given to the various ways of propagating NZ natives, seed, division, layering, cuttings etc that the homeowner might be able to master to save costs.

The authors stress the need to choose groundcover plants carefully for any garden project, based on a knowledge of “the way plants grow and cover the ground. Knowing how groundcover plants can be used in a garden will help to achieve the goal of reducing maintenance while providing a satisfying vista.”

They say: “Making the wrong choices often leads to a garden that is planted with enthusiasm, only to be removed a few years later because the area has become overgrown, or because the plants are too large or unsuitable for the site.”

The second half of the book comprises a catalogue of plants chosen by the authors as suitable for groundcover planting in a wide range of gardens throughout New Zealand. It is not claimed to be an exhaustive list, but is a pretty thorough selection and should be enough to satisfy the requirements of most landscape situations.

Each plant is pictured in colour with a short description covering form, colour, etc, and the situations it might suit.

At the end of each description each plant is assigned a category, such as carpet former, spreader, hummock former, which would be very useful for making plant selections.

Aimed at smaller gardens

The authors note that any plant, not just prostrate ones, could theoretically be described as a groundcover, but their choice of plants to include in the book was made with smaller gardens in mind and therefore they included only subjects that grow to about a metre.

A sample is Hebe pinguifolia, about which they say: “An under-utilised plant. This is a variable species that grows in drier areas.

“There are two cultivars, ‘Pagei’ and Sutherlandii’, which are low-growing, silver-leaved forms and are ideal carpeting groundcovers.

“Each of the cultivars will grow up to a metre or so in diameter with a height of only about 20cm. Eventually their height will vary to produce a sculptured effect, which can be visually interesting.”

This is a book that will be very useful for both the amateur home gardener and the professional landscaper.

Review by Liz Legge

The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee - $49.95 

This book is a rich combination of everything I love about a book.  Horticultural history, a bit of mystery and drama combined with anecdotes and fact.  Throw in some tantalizing recipes that show how to do more with my humble Meyer Lemon, and you didn’t see me for the weekend!

Not only does Ms Attlee’s writing style and observation demonstrate her keen interest in and knowledge of Italy’s psyche, culture, politics and landscape, they also show her depth of horticultural knowledge and passion for the subject.

This book has been praised and reviewed by many literary and gardening greats with words such as “evocative, sizzling, intriguing, well researched and fascinating” – and it’s all of that.  But it also has the sort of key information and detail that anyone in the breeding and propagation, nursery, orchard and even landscaping fields will be fascinated by.

From the lemon trees of Lombardy, Attlee journeyed via Liguria, with its scented gardens and its chinotti, to the toe of the peninsula and on to Sicily, the paradise of citrus fruit. Her book is also a journey in time with accounts of the citron's long migration from the foothills of the Himalayas to the shores of southern Italy and the description and uses of citrus varieties first brought to Italy by the Arabs, who built gardens with a special system of irrigation still in use today.

 On the itinerary was Calabria in Southern Italy - home to luscious groves of bergamots and citrons - two trees that grow only there. The bergamot, a natural cross-pollination between a lemon and a bitter orange, is the source of oil essential as a fixing agent in scent and therefore vital to the multi-billion dollar perfume industry.  Most of the annual bergamot harvest goes into the production of oil, although some fruits are used to make “the most delicious marmalade on earth”, and is also used to flavour tea such as Earl Grey.  The account of Calabria’s Diamante citrons, which are vital to the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth, is a fascinating insight into the lengths Rabbi’s will go to procure the very best fruit which will often sell for as much as £250 each!

In many famous and historical gardens throughout Europe, the orangerie or limonaia was an essential building for overwintering the precious potted citrus of the nobility and they can still be seen at the likes of Versailles, Kew and Tsarskoye Selo in Russia.  At Castello, a Medici villa in Florence, head gardener Paolo Galeotti has restored the ancient citrus gardens containing the many rare and unusual specimens that were present in the 17th century limonaia.  One of his greatest moments was apparently finding a lost bizzarria tree, growing near Florence airport in 1980.  The bizzarria (Citrus aurantium bizzarria)was an arboreal (periclinal) chimera patterned with green and orange striped skin, with characteristics of both the sour orange and citron-lemon cross - known as a citrated lemon.  After successfully and somewhat bravely grafting the single twig from the bizzarria onto a rootstock of sour orange, he has ensured that it will never again be “lost” and can be seen today at the famous Boboli Gardens in Florence.

A whole chapter is devoted to the humble mandarin, particularly as it was once the main source of income for the mafia families of Sicily in the 19th century, until the competition of seedless, easy-peel varieties “forced” them into the heroin trade.  It is astounding to think that in 1860, Sicilian citrus production earned more money than any other agricultural activity in Europe!

These are but a few of the fascinating, historical or little known facts contained in this book and for me the only thing that would have made it an even better book, would have been photographs or pictures of some of the fruit, the locations and the many experts and personalities that were consulted or interviewed.  I do like the way that each region of Sicily or Italy is outlined in simple map form at the beginning of each chapter as you gain a context of the location and its terrain.

Helena Attlee is a regular contributor to magazines such as Gardens Illustrated, The English Garden, Country Life and Hortus and also leads garden tours to destinations around the world.  No wonder that she is also the author of other best selling titles such as Italy’s Private Gardens, Great Gardens of Britain and The Gardens of Portugal to name a few.





   The Naturalist by Thom Conroy  

   Please click the link above to read the review - $37.99 



Review by Peter Arthur

Magnolias in Art and Cultivation” $229.00 by Barbara Oozeerally, Jim Gardiner and Stephen A Spongberg is a beautifully illustrated book containing information on all the magnolia species and about 100 hybrids hardy in the British Isles and Europe.

It is big (268 pages) and cumbersome (235mm across by 340mm up and down) and really needs to be read sitting at a table.  Its size however allows for full, life-size paintings of the flowers by Barbara Oozeerally. She is a botanical artist who has won many awards including two RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Gold Medals. There are 150 full-page paintings of magnolia flowers, including their leaves where appropriate and some seed capsules. There are no paintings of the whole tree, just close ups of the flowers etc.  To my way of looking, she hasn’t got the texture of the leaves quite right – they all look a bit like Magnolia delavayii, a bit hard, heavy and coarse but the flowers themselves are beautiful.
There is an excellent informative and authoritative text by Jim Gardiner, RHS Director of Horticulture, and a member of the IDS Scientific and Education Committee. He wrote “Magnolias, A Gardener’s Guide” and is past President of the Magnolia Society International.  He gives the history of each plant, its discovery and the story of its introduction to the west.
Full botanical descriptions of each magnolia are provided by Stephen A Spongberg, Curator Emeritus of the Arnold Arboretum, and Director of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard.
Such a book was attempted many years ago by English nurseryman Neil Treseder and well known botanical artist Marjorie Blamey. However, the cost of publishing it was going to be prohibitive so Neil Treseder published his text “Magnolias” in 1978, and then in 1981, Marjorie Blamey published a big format  “Book of Magnolias” with her paintings.
“Magnolias in Art and Cultivation” is laid out in alphabetical order starting with M. acuminate the cucumber tree from America. The major hybridists are listed by surname, first letter of, and include the late Os Blumhardt of Whangarei and his ‘Star Wars’, ‘Early Rose’ and ‘Red Lion’.
The Jury’s from Tikorangi, near New Plymouth get good coverage for their famous hybrids—‘Apollo’, ’Athene’, ‘Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, ‘Lotus’, ‘Mark Jury’, ‘Milky Way’, ‘Serene’, ‘Felix Jury’, ‘Black Tulip’, and ‘Vulcan’.
The book, which is literally a work of art, has been published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with support from Vicomte Philippe de Spoelberch, owner of Herkenrose Garden and Arboretum Wespelaar, Belgium. He is currently Vice Chairman of the IDS. 


Review by Ann Chapman

THOUGHTFUL GARDENING by Robin Lane-Fox - $34.95 

One of my greatest joys when living in England was the Saturday morning Financial Times. My husband would read the financial pages being a much more serious person than me, and I would head straight to the gardening section. 

Kids forgotten, jug of good, hot, strong black coffee to hand I would read the weekly column by Robin Lane Fox. He became my guru for his knowledge, lyrical style, and his humour.  From him I learnt about thugs, what not to grow, how to grow and what simply charmed him. All written in the hand of a classical scholar.  Robin is not only a fellow and tutor in ancient history at New College at Oxford University but he also is their garden master. His award winning books span Alexander The Great and The Classical World – An Epic History of Greece and Rome to Better Gardening and Variations on a Garden. Both garden books are much loved and well thumbed by me. They are a source of gardening inspiration and writing inspiration.
So imagine my delight when Lloyd turned up one day after collecting the mail with a published collection of his Financial Times columns and much more.
Called ‘Thoughtful Gardening. Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners’ it is his latest book after a twenty-five year sabbatical from book writing. It celebrates the fortieth anniversary of his weekly columns. It is a journey through literature, language, gardens and gardeners. Robin takes you from winter, through spring, summer and autumn and discusses not only plants but amongst other things weevils, goats, irises on drugs and space invaders.
It is a very easy read, each chapter a mere two or three pages. It is the morning coffee, the lunchtime break and the cup of tea book. A chapter for each break during the day and the desire to have more than your nominal half hour break as Robin seduces you to read more and more.
It is a must have for the serious gardener and also the novice or for anyone who just enjoys a master wordsmith at his best. There are photos to accompany you on your journey but it is the words of Robin Lane Fox that really paints the picture.
As for the title? Well Robin quotes that great gardener Vita Sackville West who wrote her own column for the Observer.
‘The practicing gardener is always a Martha; it is Mary who sits back in admiration, saying how pretty that looks! Mary thinks it has just happened, as a gift from heaven; Mary is a dreamer, overlooking the practical pains and trouble that have gone into the making of the effect Mary admires. Mary can just sit. Martha, if she can spare the time for it, can and must sit and think.’
Over the summer holidays I will try and be a Mary after the last few months of being Martha and sit and enjoy with a coffee, a tea or a wine.


Review by Peter Arthur

GINKGO: The Tree that Time Forgot by Peter Crane - $69.95 

"I've been taking taking ginkgo for my memory for quite a while - when I remember" is a quote from Peter Crane's recently published "Ginkgo" a 384 page hardback.

Written for the layman it covers the history and uses of the ginkgo tree, plus has interesting chapters on paleobotany and plant conservation.  The author, former Director of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and currently Dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental studies is in favour of saving rare and endangered plants like the Wollemi pine by getting them spread into parks and gardens throughout the world. 

The ginkgo, one of the world's oldest surviving plants, has remained unchanged for more than 200 million years and its fossilized remains have been found from the Arctic to Tasmania. "The presence of the forests with ginkgo in the Arctic around 55 million years ago is a vivid reminder that the familiar configuration of our planet, with permanent ice at the poles and year round warmth only in the tropics, is the exception rather than the norm in the past 200 million years of life on earth". The fossil records show the Arctic has mostly been covered with trees rather than just ice, and ginkgo was only one of many species growing there.  A link to the age of dinosaurs, it survived the great ice ages as a relic in China, where about a thousand years ago it was discovered to have medicinal properties as well as edible nuts. Man started to cultivate it and today ginkgos are found throughout the temperate world, widely used as an ornamental street and shade tree, with the Asians cultivating it for the nuts, and the west for the medicinal leaves. It tolerates pollution and is pest and bug free.  In Hawke's Bay there were some large plantings of ginkgos for their medicinal leaves. The trees have been trained like grape vines and the only planting I have observed is actually amidst vineyards and appears from a distance just like more rows of grapes.

The plants are still in the ground but the business itself has hit bad times.  Out of Tauranga Graham Dyer has planted a large orchard of strains specially selected for their nuts, which can be roasted and eaten with drinks like salted peanuts, or used medicinally for lung and medicinal ailments. It takes 20 to 25 years from seed before nut production begins, but this is hastened by grafting. There are male and female trees, with the females producing small plum like fruit, which when it falls has a disgusting smell of human vomit or rancid butter due to the presence of butyric acid in the fleshy seed coat. In 2007 anti-whaling protest group Sea Shepherd sprayed butyric acid at Japanese whalers. It is foul smelling stuff and as a result grafted or cutting-grown male trees are those used for street and ornamental plantings.

The ginkgo leaf has a most distinctive shape like a maidenhair fern, which turns a beautiful yellow before it drops in the autumn.  Ginkgo leaf extract is used to control narrowing of the arteries surrounding the heart and brain which results in reduced blood supply. It has been widely applied to the symptoms of 'cerebral insufficiency' often seen in elderly people, including difficulties of concentration and memory, absentmindness, confusion, lack of energy and other symptoms.

First commercialised and standardised in 1964, by 1988 German doctors were writing more prescriptions for drugs containing ginkgo extract than for any other plant-derived drug. By the end of the 1990's sales of crude ginkgo leaf extract were worth around US$1 billion and recently ginkgo has become the top selling herbal medicine in the United States.  The ginkgo is a beautiful tree with many uses but its timber is not much good for anything but pulp. 

 The book is a good read and incredibly well researched. There are 105 pages comprising appendix, notes, bibliography and index.


Review by Peter Arthur

GARDENS OF SICILY by Clare Littlewood with photos by Mario Ciampi - $85.00 (Currently unavailable)

One of the joys of selling Touchwood Books to Liz is that I now have plenty of time to read in a slow and leisurely manner. 

In December 2012 I ordered this book for myself when I first saw it on the publishers 'forthcoming titles' list as I had never seen a book devoted solely to Sicilian gardens. It's a big format, 300 page hardback with 258 colour photos showing landscapes such as the rugged lava formed Alcantara Gorge, olive and citrus groves, public and private gardens. There is a relaxed feeling to many of the gardens, most of which have ancient histories and as a result look a bit old and battered by time and the elements. Some are on sites, once occupied by the Greeks (who always liked a good view) followed by the Romans, the Muslims with their irrigation channels and then the Italians. The mafia only gets brief mention. The Mt Etna volcano has had much more impact on the landscape. The book looks at about 20 gardens, several of which have never been shown in books before and the range of plants grown for the heat and dry include lots of cacti and succulents, palms, figs, Chorisia, Brachychitons, Melias, oaks, Taxodiums, and in more sheltered spots roses and camellias.

I recently visited a garden laid out by the Christchurch landscaper Alfred Buxton in 1930's at Poraite, a hot, frost-free, dry knob just west of Napier.  Buxton's original large landscape was planted up prior to the building of a large brick mansion, and included beautiful stone walls, a swimming pool and steps leading from one level to the next. Diane's father was working on the house but got sunstroke and was in Napier Hospital when the 1931 Napier earthquake struck demolishing the partly completed house. The building project was abandoned and the property was eventually subdivided but the plantings flourished and today there are some huge palms and trees including a massive fig of the non-eating sort. The particular garden I visited could have come straight out of this book with its cacti, succulents and other frost prone plants that like the dry and the bright Hawke's Bay sunshine. It is a book I'm pleased to have bought - it's interesting to read about the history of the gardens, and often the eccentricities of previous, or current owners.