Book Review: Gardening With Native Plants Of The Pacific Northwest

Gardening With Native Plants Of The Pacific Northwest, by Arthur R. Kruckseberg

What is the motive for writing a book like this one? To be sure, I am no great shakes as a gardener, but for a variety of reasons I am fascinated by the proper placement of plants in the right place for the right purposes, and a book like this is clearly written with a variety of purposes that are not always obvious and upfront. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is quite possible that a book like this one would get a lot less attention of the author was open and honest about his various and complex goals in seeking to encourage the cultivation of native plants of the Pacific Northwest as opposed to non-native and sometimes highly invasive plants. The author, it must be admitted, has several purposes in play in this book, and they are complex purposes that are sometimes at cross-purposes with each other. On the one hand, the author is seeking to encourage readers–and this is a diverse group of readers, some of whom are gardeners with a small home plot and some of whom are people responsible for large and substantial public spaces–to utilize native plants for purposes of beauty as well as land reclamation, but on the other hand the author frequently is seeking to prevent the destruction of sensitive native plants like orchids, a nuanced approach to be sure.

This book is a relatively average-sized book at around 250 pages or so of 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages written and frequently illustrated (in black and white) about the native plants of the Pacific Northwest and their uses in gardening. The book begins with two prefaces as well as acknowledgements and then an introduction (1) that includes the natural environments of the Pacific Northwest, some garden and landscape uses of native plants, and the propagation of native plants. This is followed by a discussion of native trees (2), including conifers, evergreens, and deciduous trees. After this comes a chapter on some native ornamental shrubs (3), including evergreens and ground covers as well as deciduous shrubs. A longer chapter then covers some native ornamental herbaceous perennials (4), including ferns, ground orchids, lilies and irises, and herbs organized by size. After this comes a chapter on grasses and grasslike plants (5), including woodland and wetland settings, meadow grasses, seashore grasses, alpine and rock garden grasses, and grasses for the drylands east of the Cascades. This is followed by a closing chapter that includes supplemental annuals, herbaceous perennials, trees, and shrubs that were neglected in the first edition (6), as well as appendices that discuss collecting in the wild (i), lists of native plants for particular settings (ii), sources of information on native plants (iii), and native grasses and their kin (iv), as well as a glossary of terms, derivations and meanings of genus and species names, a selected bibliography, and an index.

In reading this book, one has to wonder about the layers of what the author is trying to say. For one, as is often the case in writing about native plants, there is a rather broad definition of what it means for a plant to be native. The plants considered to be native here include the entire range of the Pacific Northwest, focused on Oregon and Washington to be sure, but moving well into Canada and even in to Northern California, as those areas are also a part of the larger Pacific Northwest and share similarities with the core areas of the region. Of particular interest as well is the fact that this book was written as a second edition and the author realized that there were areas of the plants of the region that were somewhat neglected in the first edition, and so instead of adding the additions in the chapters where they would most fit, the author simply tacked them on at the end, which somewhat disrupts the flow of the book as a whole. This somewhat hurts the organization of the book, but it certainly made it easier to write, I imagine.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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