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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #272

Hardy Heathers from the Northern Hemisphere by E. Charles Nelson, 2011

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2016-07-01

Hardy Heathers cover

“Hardy Heathers from the Northern Hemisphere” is one of the monographs in a series published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As do the others in this series, this book contains beautiful artwork. Many of the paintings were done by Christabel King, a highly regarded English botanical artist, for a 1980s proposed monograph that was never published. These paintings typically include multiple specimens, in combinations that were chosen for their artistic merit but not always their botanical relationships. Many other illustrations are even more historical, dating back as far as the 16th century.

While this detracts a bit from the overall organization, it does make this book visually rich. In addition to the paintings, there are excellent photographs of habitat and flower close-ups, lots of range maps, and very detailed diagrams – I never knew the tiny bits of a heather or heath could be so fascinating!

Author E. Charles Nelson includes the genera Calluna, Daboecia, and Erica in his broad definition of “heather” and has a great deal of curiosity for the range of forms of his subject and is eloquent in his language: “…gardeners have an ineluctable fascination with the anomalous, even the monstrous and bizarre…” Although he considers his interests to be primarily botanical and historical, there is a lengthy appendix of award-winning cultivars and cultivations notes are liberally sprinkled throughout.

His history is perhaps some of the most interesting. Have you ever wondered if a white heather was lucky? Many have, and Nelson gives a thorough review of the history behind this idea.

Excerpted from the Summer 2016 Arboretum Bulletin.

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