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Book Review: June 2011

Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940

by Denise Wiles Adams

1869 Lily
Lilium auratum, gold-band lily.
B. K. Bliss & Sons, New York, 1869.

Timber Press specializes in books on gardening and horticulture, so when I saw this particular volume I really coveted it.

If you have an old house and want to landscape with perennials, then you need to take a look at this book. If you want to create a garden with a vintage flair or restore a garden to the period of your home, you NEED this book.

The book devotes very little space to the history, but covers the essentials including the types of plantings that are appropriate for basic building types such as Colonial or Craftsman styles.

More than 200 hundred pages are dedicated to the encyclopedia which covers trees, ornamental shrubs, vines and climbers. Large sections are devoted to herbaceaous, annual, tropical, and tuberous plants. A generous section is dedicated to heirloom roses.

Each encyclopedia entry contains its common names, synonyms, and genus with additional notes on introduction and earliest known American citations. The description and additional remarks are useful in themselves but combined with zones, related species, and commercial sources, the content is dense with value to any ardent gardener. If the book had only that much it would be worthwhile.

Heirloom peony - Sarah Bernhardt
Paeonia — 'Sarah Bernhardt' heirloom peony
© 2011 Antique Home Style

Adams has clearly created a labor of love. It is strewn throughout with beautiful photographs of flowers and plants as well as lushly illustrated with dozens of vintage images taken from old plant catalogs, magazines, and books. Many are bright lithographed prints that convey not just the floral image but the artistic and design sensibilities of the period in which it was produced.

Adams has created several wonderfully organized and useful plant lists including "All American Ornamental Plants," which are Restoring American Gardensplants that have been available in all time periods and regions. Additional ornamental plants are listed for each region of the country, which she has broken out by period.

For the diehard historical gardener, especially those charged with maintaining cultural resources, she has provided an appendix of historic commercial sources of plant material with years and plants noted.

She completes the books with contemporary sources of heirloom plants, a list of invasive heirlooms (avoid Ailanthus altissima and English Ivy to note a couple Portland menaces!), and a broad bibliography of modern and historical sources.

Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940by Denise Wiles Adams. Published by Timber Press, 2004.

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