Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book Reviews of two NY Times plant books

I have a collection of 20 to 30 books on plants.  Among those are two books that I really enjoy, both published by the New York Times.  The first is the 1973 book The New York Times Book of House Plants by Joan Lee Faust with illustrations by Allianora Rosse.  The first section of the book contains the requisite general care guide that explains watering, lighting, repotting, etc.  It also contains a Calendar of Care, that outlines when certain tasks (repotting, fertilizing, dormancy) should be performed with your houseplants.  The meat of this book is a section of profiles and hand drawn pictures of 150 different common house plants.  The plants are alphabetical by their common name, but there is at least a Genus (and usually a species) included for each plant (most of which are correct).  I remember looking at my mom's copy of this book a number of times growing up and purchased a copy of my own in a used book store about a year ago.  I think what I like most about this book is the illustrations.  It's weird to say this, but it almost seems that the illustrations convey more about the plants than a picture could.  I know that a photograph is worth a thousand words and all that, but there is a simplicity in the illustrations that speaks louder than the detail of photographs.  There is something very elegant about them.  The qualities of the plant that are apparent to the human eye are accentuated very well in these pictures.  Here is one such example:

NY Times Book of Houseplants - Philodendrons
[On a separate note, there is a really good catalog of aquatic plants with illustrations at the Tropica website.  It is linked on my sidebar.  Check it out if you are interested in aquatic plants, or this type of plant illustration.]

The plant descriptions and care guidance are decent, but nothing special.  After the 150 common plants is a list and very short description (with no pictures) of 19 "unusual" houseplants.  These include impatiens, lantana and hydrangea.  I find nothing unusual about these plants, so it is either the book showing its age, or it is simply the fact that these books are not usually kept as houseplants.  You normally find them planted outdoors or in pots on front porches.

This book also contains a section on miscellaneous topics, including gardening under lights, bottle gardens & terrariums, bulb forcing, and propagation.  The most outdated section of the book is a short directory of places to buy houseplants.  It is one of those things that will forever identify this book as being written pre-internet.  I probably would not have much of a plant hobby if the nearest place to buy houseplants and supplies was a five hour drive from me.  :)  In a book published in the last couple of years, this section would not even be considered.  It's unlikely that there would even be a list of website URLs where you could find information or buy plants or supplies.  With the onset of the internet, that type of information is easily accessible to anyone interested.  The internet is a wonderful thing - though I often find time slipping away all too quickly in its grasp.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of this book, you can get one very cheap on Amazon.

The other NY Times book in my collection is a more recent one.  The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers: Based on the New York Times Column 'Garden Q & A' is a really long title, huh?  Well, it's also a great reference book.  I came across this book on a shopping spree (of sorts) at a huge book store in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.  I had about an hour to choose any one book that I would like to take home for free.  This was a crazy idea of my parents-in-law.  [A crazy idea that I enjoyed very much, might I add.]  Anyway, after an hour of looking, this is the book I wanted to take home with me.  The book is divided into sections on flower gardening, landscape gardening, kitchen gardening, potted gardening and garden keeping.  Each of these topics is broken down further into some subcategories.  Questions range from the very general "What type of plant would you suggest for such and such location?" to the more specific "Most soil recipes call for perlite, vermiculite, or both.  What are they, and what's the difference between them?"  Okay, well that's not all that specific.  As I thumbed through the book looking for a specific question I realized that it doesn't get too specific.  This book is fun to read through and to learn some things.  But it's really not a great reference book for learning everything there is to know about any one subject.  It's aim is definitely breadth over depth.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of this book, they are going for about $14 new and less than a dollar for a used copy on Amazon.


  1. Hi Zach - no trouble leaving a comment this time! Looks like you got everything fixed :)

  2. All New Square Foot Gardening is a great book for outdoor gnireadng including seed starting. I also second the suggestion for Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. As far as houseplants it depends what you want to grow. I think Taylor's Guide to Houseplants is good but if you are like me and prefer growing more unusual stuff like lemons and herbs it won't be very helpful. It is a good idea to find some at the library so you can look through them thoroughly and see what you think.