Gardening Gardening books

New Houseplant Book

20171103A.jpgHouseplant Handbook, David Squire, 224 pages, suggested retail price: $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-612008-232-4. Editor: Fox Chapel Publishing.

As a houseplant freak, I look at any new publications coming along in that field with great interest, always hoping to glean new information about this favorite group of plants. I recently received a review copy of a book called Houseplant Handbook by David Squire and here are some of my thoughts.

This is a fully illustrated book, with color photos that show most techniques step by step, and it includes all the basics of houseplant care, plus a few helpful hints you don’t see everywhere. And it does cover about 300 different plants (I’m trusting the press release here: I didn’t actually count them), which is pretty good. The information on each one was quite succinct, without much room for discussions about the differing needs of cultivars, but … there’s only so much you can fit into one book.

A typical how-to page from the book. 

As I read through this book, though, I had a creeping sense of déjà vu. The photos were all very 21st century, with people dressed very contemporarily, but the information seemed quite dated, as if the text had been recycled from an older publication, then new photos added, although there is no mention of a previous publication on the copyright page. I also noticed a few out-and-out mistakes, including photos that didn’t correspond to the plant described and some of the how-to photos were a bit odd (would you really fertilize your plants with a pitcher rather than a watering can?). It often looked like the photographer took the photos without anyone with horticultural knowledge guiding them. I mean, didn’t the author even review the book before it was printed?

Also, I found the choice of plants a bit off. There were lots of plants no one grows any more, but no mention of some of today’s more common ones, like the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) or even fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). The botanical nomenclature isn’t up to date, either, nor did any of the newer indoor gardening techniques (mini-terrariums, kokemama, etc.) merit a mention, again making me wonder if this isn’t an older book being repackaged.

Although the version of the book I saw suggests it was published in the United States (the publisher’s address is in Pennsylvania), this is actually a co-publication: the book was published simultaneously in the United Kingdom and is, in fact, a British publication. You’d think the American version would have received an appropriate revision, but no. Fortunately, once you’ve adapted to potting soil being called compost and have figured out what a dibble is, you’ll find it easy enough reading.

I did enjoy the often very long list of common names that accompanies each plant. I mean, who knew that stephanotis (Stephanotis floribunda) went under the common name Floradora or that the Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) was called the Blacking Plant?

Sure, the book has a few flaws, and if you already have a few houseplant books, you won’t learn much new here, but the Houseplants Handbook is still a decent houseplant guide that will be of interest to many houseplant enthusiasts. I’d give it a C+.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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