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Lavender: the grower's guide

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Virginia McNaughton
180 pages with illustrations
Timber Press, 2000. $29.95

Reviewed by Karen Preuss

When I think of lavender, I picture great sweeping fields of every imaginable shade of purple, pink and white. I usually imagine them in Southern France, and me there with a good bottle of wine-but that's another story altogether! In reality, I satisfy my craving with a few potted cultivars on my sunny patio, and dream of the day when I have an actual yard in which to plant masses of this fragrant plant.

With literally hundreds of lavender cultivars available worldwide, a definitive reference work on this popular plant is an important addition to any gardener's library. New Zealand native Virginia McNaughton's Lavender: the grower's guide is just such a book. If you're looking for a book on designing with lavender, look elsewhere. This is a densely packed reference book for serious lavender lovers.

Most of the book's 180 pages are devoted to descriptions of over 200 lavender species and cultivars. McNaughton includes varieties from Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and North America. She provides detailed descriptions of each, using both qualitative and quantitative measures, and pays special attention to the issues of nomenclature that have long plagued lavender literature.

Two chapters: The Botany of Lavender, and History, Classification and Lavender Species, are worth the price of this book alone. As a self-admitted hobby gardener, I know a lavender plant when I see one, but I don't know much about individual cultivars. These chapters are a revelation. The Botany of Lavender is exceptional for its depth and attention to detail. Close-up photos of lavender spikes, superbly labeled, along with clear text, will teach you everything you ever needed to know about the composition of each species.

In the chapter History, Classification and Lavender Species, the author provides detailed descriptions of the six sections of the genus Lavandula:  Stoechas, Dentata, Pterostoechas, Chaetostachys, and Subnuda.

Readers are well advised to read both of these chapters before delving into the cultivar descriptions that follow.

In reading Lavender: the grower's guide, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the variety of cultivars available. Granted, not every cultivar is available in our part of the world. A short but effective appendix organizes the cultivars by color; another indicates those cultivars suitable for container growing, both helpful to gardeners who want to add more lavender to their gardens. I especially appreciated the glossary that is provided at the back of the book, and found myself referring to it as I worked my way through the hundreds of cultivar descriptions.

Readers with an eye for detail will notice that this book was published in 2000. A good companion to McNaughton's work is The Genus Lavandula, written by Tim Upson and Susyn Andrews, and published by Kew in 2004. Together, these two monographs offer the most comprehensive information available on the Lavandula species. I plan to take at least one of them with me when I visit area lavender farms this summer.

Karen Preuss is the Library Manager of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (formerly Center for Urban Horticulture).

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