AHS Great Plant Guide

AHS Great Plant Guide
New York: DK Publishing
Publication Date: 
paper, 574 p., $16.95

This book is a thick guide for all regions of North America. It is divided into two sections that the reader can use for basic information on plants: The A-Z of Plants and The Planting Guide. The book starts with an introduction explaining how to use the guide, its symbols and general gardening information, including a section on how to choose plants and another section deciphering plant names. The book also includes the American Horticultural Society Plant Heat-Zone Map and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cold Hardiness Zone Map. These maps are useful references when considering basic information in the book about a given plant.

The A-Z of Plants section is a convenient reference tool to be used in the course of shopping for plants, since it is organized alphabetically by Latin name. However, in this section, it is evident that the editors overlooked many blatant mistakes. There are misspelled words, poorly spaced sentences and even a missing section with no continuation of content. In addition, the quality of the illustrations is consistently poor. For example, photographs fail to provide accurate representations of the entire plant form and are out of focus. Also, the book chronicles many exotic plants but fails to mention many noteworthy plants available to homeowners, such as Acer saccharum (sugar maple), any species of Quercus (oaks), any species of Pennisetum (fountain grass) or any species of Echinacea (coneflower). Finally, it covers areas other than the Midwest, so readers living in Zone 5 will need to pay special attention to the recommended zones.

The Planting Guide section is very helpful for finding lists of plants for a variety of purposes, such as problem sites or color-theme foliage. These lists include plants that are pictured in The A-Z of Plants section and those that are not listed but are recommended. The descriptions and cultural recommendations are not very scientific, but the overall quick and easy format of the book, which includes symbols and simple explanations, may appeal to the beginning gardener.

— Nancy Clifton