A Comprehensive Guide to Cultivars and Species



Recommendations for Your Gardening Library: from the American Gardener


Graham Rice

LET ME BEGIN with the statistics on this two-volume set, which are impressive. This extraordinary encyclopedia covers every conifer genus, all 615 conifer species, and around 8,000 cultivars. It is packed with more than 5,000 color photographs. If you put these two large-format books on a scale together, they weigh in at almost 19 pounds. Their price is hefty, too, at $247, but I’m going to explain why they are worth every penny.

Created over a period of seven years by the Latvian conifer collector Aris G. Auders and chair of the British Conifer Society Derek P. Spicer, this encyclopedia is mind-bogglingly comprehensive. For example, it includes—by my count—282 cultivars of the Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and 413 cultivars of Lawson’s cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana). And of course it is right up to date in terms of the names and classification of conifer taxa.

All of this is very impressive, but does not reveal the many other stellar features these volumes boast. For instance, I attribute the excitement I felt when simply flipping through the pages to the clear layout, excellent typography, and beautiful photography. The A-to-Z arrangement of genera, species, and cultivars is easy to follow, and in addition to cross-referencing synonyms, the authors thoughtfully cross-reference common misspellings of names to alleviate confusion.

The unusually large format of these books is especially advantageous for showing off the numerous full-page images — from close-ups of cones to portraits of mature specimens. I also appreciated that many of the plants are depicted at different times of year, or that two or three features of the same plant are represented, providing a more complete picture of it than one typically finds in encyclopedias.

The text is written without too much botanical jargon, making it easy for anyone from conifer connoisseurs to casual gardeners to comprehend. The concise plant descriptions note characteristics such as growth habit, foliage colors, and growth rate—often very usefully including the height and spread at 10 years of age. The origins of many cultivars are noted, too.

Released a couple of years ago in Europe, it has just recently become available to North American audiences. This monumental yet attractive work is a must, not only for conifer enthusiasts, but for horticultural and botanical institutions everywhere. It will undoubtedly influence and inform gardeners, collectors, designers, researchers, and writers for decades to come.

Graham Rice is the editor-in-chief of the American Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Perennials. He grows conifers, perennials, and more in Pennsylvania and blogs about his experiences at TransatlanticGardener.com