Book Review of Japanese Maples: The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation, by J.D. Vertrees and Peter Gregory, Fourth Edition, Timber Press
As a landscape designer, a critical part of my work is in recognizing the subtle differences between plants and what they do, so that I can play off the most unique attributes and make a garden that feels different and unusual, while still using plant varieties that my clients will actually be able to find locally.
Choosing plants you know will thrive, while still incorporating a sense of inspiration and newness into each garden is a delicate balance. Books like this one are invaluable in choosing the most appropriate variety, or in choosing a substitute if something I love goes out of stock.
I’ve owned the third edition of this book for many years, and I go back to it time and again, because I’ve found the information available for free online spotty and inconsistent.
This latest edition is packed with over 600 varieties, many of which are new and currently available in the trade. They’ve added 150 cultivars since the last edition came out, and I’ve looked up the unusual varieties I know of and some old standbys, and found them all present.
The most helpful part of this book is undoubtedly the photos of each variety. There are over 500 photos in the book, and in the encyclopedia section, it seems like two-thirds of the varieties listed have an accompanying photo, which is great for helping me expand my horizons and try new maples (even in bare root season when you can’t see the leaves!).
Another thing I love is the guide in back which lists every variety in the encyclopedia in a chart, so if I’m looking for a red maple that doesn’t get taller than 8 feet, I can just refer to the back of the book. I’m a little grouchy that I have to translate from the metric system to unravel heights, but ah well – we should probably join the rest of the world in their oh-so-civilized units of measurement anyway, so it’s good practice.
Also? I was totally charmed by a few pages towards the back which list translations for common Japanese Maple cultivar names. One maple I love for its upright yet dwarf habit is ‘Beni Maiko’, which means “deep red dancing girl”. Another maple, ‘Beni kumo-no-su’, means “deep red spider cloud of webs”. How cool is that?
If you have an older edition of this book, I’d definitely recommend upgrading, as the new edition is about a half inch thicker than the old one and has so many more photos. Having so many new varieties listed is a real help as well.
Read more reviews and buy this book on Amazon.com
Check out Peter Gregory’s Timber Press page to learn more about his background and view the specs on the book