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Book Review

Grow What Where - Natalie Peate, Gwenda Macdonald & Alice Talbot

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

There is a remarkable durability with "Grow what Where" and it keeps getting better.

Book cover

From a very modest beginning in 1978, when a small, soft-covered book was published by the Australian Plant Study Group featuring around 1900 species in 64 lists, it has grown to the present much enlarged edition which boasts over 3000 species in 100 lists. And you get a bonus CD Rom thrown in to help you find plants suitable for the most complex situation. During the 1980s, at the height of the "craze" for native plants, it spawned four other "Grow what" books. There was even a braille version of the first edition and a computer disc version of the 1990 edition. As there have been many new plants introduced since then and vast changes to plant names, the publisher is to be congratulated on producing this timely new edition. The authors, Natalie Peate, Gwenda Macdonald and Alice Talbot, are all associated with the Maroondah group of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria) and have extensive nursery experience and a long-time interest in both the cultivation and propagation of Australian plants. They have been involved with "Grow what Where" since its inception and have skillfully overseen the vast amount of checking needed to ensure that the lists are accurate and plant names are up to date.

In 1978, it was stated in the introduction: "This book has been prepared as a guide in the selection of Australian Native Plants for particular situations and uses. It will be especially useful for areas which have been thought of as 'problem' areas". The aim is still the same - just now you have a much bigger choice! General categories of lists include plants to suit all the soil types, climatic conditions, flowering in the various seasons, flower colour and many more. The current lists are sometimes very extensive and only a selection is given in the book, eg. "White flowers - a selection of the best". However, full lists are included on the CD ROM and in the Plant List Reference which is an index of all plants with the number(s) of the lists in which they occur. As in the earlier editions, the compilations have been assessed over many years under practical gardening conditions in most areas of Australia. Approximate plant heights for average garden conditions are given with each plant name. The CD also gives more detailed sizes for small plants, and width ranges for all plants.

The main bonus with the book is the CD ROM which is tied to the information in this edition. It will only operate with later versions of software to run on IBM-compatible computers - Windows 95 and Apple Mac, for example, are not supported. Full installation instructions and system requirements are given in the foreword and on the disk but it loaded quickly for me without a hitch. Apart from its search capabilities, the CD has complete lists of species for all 100 lists in the book as well as 60 extra lists, including 14 "user-defined" categories which can be used, for example, by a landscape architect to compile lists for specific gardens or by users to create other special lists. Searching capabilities are very broad - you can find a plant by genus, species or cultivar name, by common name or plant family, or even in abbreviated form, eg. "ban" for banksia. More importantly, the search tool enables you to compile selections for specific situations, and to incorporate lists you wish to exclude. I ran a search for plants with green flowers which flowered in summer and had to grow in dry shade on heavy clay soils with a moderate lime content. I excluded suckering plants and climbers and was left with just two, "Correa glabra" and "Melaleuca diosmifolia", in my opinion excellent choices for the situation. The search was lightning fast, being completed in less than a second. It was lots of fun and saves time compared with searching six or eight lists manually from the book to get the same result.

The fact that there is still a place for a book that was first published nearly 30 years ago speaks volumes for its usefulness to generations of home gardeners, nurserymen, landscapers and environmental groups. The current edition is undoubtedly the best yet and the CD ROM is a real winner. It will continue to help gardeners of all persuasions to select the right Australian plant for every garden situation.

Highly recommended.

Grow What Where

Natalie Peate, Gwenda Macdonald & Alice Talbot, Bloomings Books, Richmond, Victoria, 2006.
RRP $49.95
400 pages, 44 colour photos, 100 lists of plants. Plus interactive CD-ROM

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Victorian Region of the Australian Plants Society, September 2006.

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Australian Plants online - 2006
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