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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #28 (July 12, 2005), page 12.

Sumptuous compendium

Garden Plants of Japan

By Ran Levy-Yamamori and Gerard Taaffe

Timber Press, 2004

Hardcover, 440 pages, $59.95

By Josephine Bridges

In his captivating foreword to Garden Plants of Japan, E. Charles Nelson writes, "For the first time in many decades a book is available that shows us what the Japanese actually grow in their own gardens, the plants they prefer, admire, and cherish." Nearly 800 photographs accompany the thousands of species and cultivated varieties of tree, moss, and everything in between described in this sumptuous compendium, which was published by a company based right here in Portland. What more could you ask?

An exhaustive introduction includes topographic and political maps of Japan and a wealth of information on the country’s four climatic zones, Japanese plants and culture, the traditional Japanese gardener, and how to use the book, accompanied by photographs of kabuki (Japanese classical drama), bonsai, torii (shrine gates), and much more.

The heart of Garden Plants of Japan is 370 pages of description and photographs of individual species. Each species is classified by its Latin name (and synonym if there is one), followed by Japanese names, English names, and the taxonomic family to which the plant belongs. A description of the plant and information on soil, light, pruning, propagation, hardiness, and usage, including bonsai where appropriate, follow. Parentage of hybrids is noted, related plants are briefly described, and photographs abound.

"Trees and Shrubs" is the first and by far the longest chapter, comprising more than half this book. The most popular cherry tree in Japan, known in English as Yoshino cherry, is described in this section and illustrated with six lovely photos of this species in bloom.

An astonishing photograph of the vine known in English as Japanese creeper, Boston ivy, and Virginia creeper, covering an entire external wall of a vacant building at the site of the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, is the highlight of the section on "Climbing Plants."

Chrysanthemum grandiflorum is one of the more interesting plant species described in the chapter "Herbaceous Plants." This flower, while "widely cultivated in Japan, associated with the royal family, and symbolic of autumn," is originally from China.

"Bamboo and Sasa" is a gorgeous chapter with photographs not only of living specimens but also of bamboo fences, ladles, bows and arrows, and even a doll crafted from bamboo. I was a little disappointed that I never could figure out just what "Sasa" is from the written material, but that’s a microscopic flaw.

Brief chapters, lavishly illustrated, on "Grasses," "Ferns," and "Mosses" bring Garden Plants of Japan almost to a close, but wait, there’s one more photograph, a contender for the best in the book, with a mixed forest in the background and a rice paddy in the foreground.

Appendices listing names and dates of the major eras of Japanese history and giving conversions not only from millimeters and meters to inches and feet, but also from grams to ounces and hectares to acres come next. A brief but thorough glossary of botanical terms follows, and lastly there are bibliographies and indices.

There’s something here for everyone intrigued by Japan or by plants. As E. Charles Nelson writes in his foreword, "Garden Plants of Japan is both a manual for avid, practical gardeners and a fireside book for lazy browsing." Authors Ran Levy-Yamamori, a horticulturist, field biologist, and natural history writer, and Gerard Taaffe, a horticulturist, landscape gardener, garden designer, and teacher, have something to be enormously proud of here in Garden Plants of Japan.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon