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The Asian Reporter's
BOOK REVIEWS


PRAISEWORTHY PLANTS. Timber Press, based in Portland, has been publishing some excellent books about Asian plants lately, and The Jade Garden is one of the most recent.

 

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #24 (June 13, 2006), page 16.

Authoritative yet approachable

The Jade Garden: New & Notable Plants from Asia

By Peter Wharton, Brent Hine, and Douglas Justice

Timber Press, 2005

Hardcover, 228 pages, $34.95

By Josephine Bridges

Timber Press, based in Portland, has been publishing some excellent books about Asian plants lately, and The Jade Garden is one of the most recent. Like its fellows, this book is authoritative yet approachable. If you are intrigued by rare Asian ornamentals, look no further: Youíll find 150 of them here.

Quentin Cronkís preface compares and contrasts the vast continent of Asia with the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, where these botanical newcomers have been studied and proven safe and viable. Then, in one of the notes that follow, he describes the smell of durian as "something between wild strawberries and blocked drains." Thereís nothing like a chuckle in the first few pages of a book about botany.

Bruce Macdonald writes that The Jade Garden is dedicated to the honourable David C. Lam, who emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1967, where he became a respected real estate developer. In the mid-1970s, following "his philosophy of returning financial benefits to the community," Lam funded not only a new education, research, and visitorís center near the entrance to the UBC Asian Garden, but the surrounding landscaping.

Quentin Cronk, who is the director of the UBC Botanical Garden, describes "The East Asian Flora" in a brief essay; Peter Wharton introduces readers to "The Natural Landscapes of China and Bordering Regions ó a Botanistís View"; and Douglas Justice tackles "The Issue of Bioinvasiveness." Then itís on to descriptions of the plants themselves.

Brent Hine is the author of "Perennials," the first section of The Jade Garden. Here we encounter such botanical marvels as Phytolacca clavigera, more commonly known as Chinese pokeweed, "a versatile, handsome, and extraordinary display perennial that often has visitors to UBCBG enquiring, ĎWhat is that plant?í" No wonder. As the glossy color photographs show, the flowers resemble "a sugar pink confection" and the fruits "glow with jewel-like magnetism." And thatís just one of dozens of Asian perennials.

"Shrubs" is the work of Peter Wharton, and here too we find the strange and wonderful. Helwingia japonica doesnít have a common name, possibly because it has sometimes been "regarded as no more than a botanical curiosity." I share the authorís view that this plant "has charm and a quiet ornamental character," and I am especially delighted by the way the tiny flowers grow right in the center of the leaves.

Douglas Justice finishes up with "Trees." The leaves of both Carpinus fangiana (Monkeytail hornbeam) and Carpinus tschonoskii (Chonosuke hornbeam) are magnificent, and their catkins are not bad to look at either. Of Carpinus tschonoskii, the author writes, "The parallel rows of deeply impressed veins cause the leaves to ripple and pucker slightly, which, together with the bristle-tipped, marginal teeth, adds reflectivity and a definite lightness to the trees." The caption with the photograph of this tree describes its "spreading, silvery, muscular stems."

In addition to lyrical descriptions and lovely photographs, information on the distribution, hardiness, cultivation, and propagation of each plant is provided. A section describing "Noted Collectors of Asian Plants," a glossary, and a bibliography bring this volume to a close.

The Jade Garden will appeal not only to gardeners with dirt under their fingernails and a hankering for the exotic in the backyard, but also to the armchair gardener and traveller. Dig in.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon