Don's Book Reviews

Here are reviews of four books that deal with subjects we are especially interested in. As you will see from the reviews, three of them have offered inspiration and assistance in creating our garden.

Conifers Japanese Maples

van Gelderen, van Hoey Smith

Japanese Maples

Maples for Gardens Maples of the World

Maples for Gardens
van Gelderen, van Gelderen

Maples of the World
van Gelderen, de Jong, Oterdoom


by D. M. van Gelderen, J. R. P. van Hoey Smith
Published by Timber Press


This a great picture book of over 1000 conifers. There is a short section at the beginning of the book which introduces each Conifer genus, and then come the photographs of the trees and shrubs. Each has a brief comment about the plant. The photographs are generally excellent, the comments are useful but short.

Browsing this book, you are amazed at the variation of form, color, size, look and feel available in conifers. There is not enough information to allow you to use it alone to identify unknown plants, but it can probably help you to narrow down the possibilities. My experience, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, is that using it to find exactly the right conifer is also disappointing because the chosen plant is all too often not available. This, of course, is not the fault of the authors. Nonetheless, I find myself referring to this book fairly often, especially when trying to find the right plant for (yet another) garden modification.

Besides, I love the book, and sometimes browse it simply for pleasure. Dreaming of the (much larger) landscape of my imaginary estate with all the trees and plants which I must have, but cannot fit in my current garden.

Japanese Maples

by J. D. Vertrees
Published by Timber Press

Japanese Maples

The American Horticultural Society has given its Great American Garden Book award to this book, and it is indeed a great American garden book. If you are interested in Japanese Maples you must own this book. It has everything -

  • Chapter 1 - Character and History
  • Chapter 2 - Taxonomy and Nomenclature
  • Chapter 3 - Culture
  • Chapter 4 - Propagation
  • Chapter 5 - The Cultivars Displayed
  • Appendices
    • Japanese Names and Their Meanings
    • Cultivar Names Not Elsewhere Described
    • Guide to Use and Character
  • Bibliography
  • Index

This book has the most complete descriptions of the cultivars, their look through the seasons, their habit, etc., that I have seen in any book available in the bookstores. It has gorgeous photographs. It also contains a list of the cultivars and their comparative heights and forms, their light requirements, their garden effects, and whether they are suitable as container plants, bonsai, or companion plants.

There are a few errors, so having another book for comparison might be advisable. 'Katsura' is not a dwarf; it is one of the most vigorous of our maples. We bought it and planted it expecting a dwarf. We love it and it does what we wanted in its spot as far as color and foliage goes, but it wants to be much bigger than the spot allows so we are forced to prune severely. So far that has worked without ruining the look of the tree but . . .  That is not the only error, but I don't have any definitive list available. Nonetheless, this is the book I refer to constantly, it is the book that makes me want to own 40 acres of maples, it is the book that inspires lust for just one more maple on our small lot. It is the book that inspires vacations to places because they have a garden, or nursery, or arboretum with a good collection of maples. It is the Japanese Maple book.

Maples for Gardens:

A Color Encyclopedia
by C. J. van Gelderen & D. M. van Gelderen
Published by Timber Press

Maples for Gardens

This book, by some of the same authors as Conifers and Maples of the World, is difficult for me to review. It feels rushed to me, as if it was a money-making effort, and not one of love. The photographs are, in general, disappointing. Many of the trees I love, I would not have bought based on the photographs in this book.

The initial Chapters - The Magic of Maples, Maples in Nature, Classification of Maples, Maples in the Garden take up 25 of the over 260 pages and are of such brevity to be of little use. The rest of the book consists of pictures of the trees with short descriptions (50 to 200 words). The concept was exciting to a gardener, but the execution is not. I expect that, had the photographs been better, I would be raving about this book as I did about Conifers. This is, after all, primarily a picture book. But when you look at the photo of 'Osakazuki', a cultivar known for its fall color, and see nothing to get excited about . . .  Similar complaints for the Golden Full Moon ( Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' ), 'Shigatatsu Sawa' which is called 'Reticulatum' in this book, etc. The cultivar names are often modified or a different one used than I am used to, so that finding them is often difficult.

There may also be errors in some of the photos, but perhaps they are just poor, unrecognizeable, pictures.

In all, a disappointing book.

Maples of the World

by D. M. van Gelderen, P. C. de Jong, H. J. Oterdoom
Published by Timber Press

Maples of the World

This book, by some of the same authors as Conifers, which I previously reviewed, was a massive undertaking, and, to some extent, is beyond my capacity to review. I'm going to review it anyway.

Its title reveals its scope, and if you were not aware of the numbers and variability of maples in the world, as I was not, it will amaze you. It will speak to scientists as well as gardeners, for that is the depth it goes into the subject. The photographs (over 200) are, in general, very good and in some cases excellent. It covers many cultivars and not only of Japanese Maples. The text on each plant is more limited than in Vertrees but often includes the availability of the plant in the trade, which is quite useful to a gardener. The book also introduces the new, proposed, revision of the genus Acer and taxonomy.

It does not have the flavor of Vertrees and does not inspire me as his Japanese Maples book does, but it is an excellent reference and I use it to compare with Vertrees.