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Ran Levy-Yamamori & Gerard Taaffe - Garden Plants of Japan

This book is newly published and will undoubtedly sell well. Nothing like it has existed. It's an in-depth look at the full palette of Japanese horticultural plant material. The introduction is a concise, yet complete overview of Japanese gardening — the mix of plants, culture, and climate.

The bulk of the book is a 368 page listing of the plants. It's arranged by category of plant, trees through mosses. Within each category the plants are alphabetical by their botanical name. Each entry has an incredible depth and variety of information — description, horticultural requirements, history and uses. Each entry ends with a list of related plants and cultivars, and this feature is incredibility valuable.

The photos are splendid color and plentiful (almost 800.) Most of the photos are for plant identification, but there are lots landscape pictures. They are fascinating and invite you to inspect the background details.

Detail and restraint are synonymous with Japanese garden aesthetic, and all of modern landscaping has been greatly influenced by it. Visual restraint has a calming effect in design. It culminates in the raked gravel Zen temple gardens, whose meaning is to be sought within the beholder's mind.

However, plants themselves are rightfully the main feature of most gardens. Most of these plants can grow in Hawaii (at various altitudes.) Podocarpus, for instance, is very common. I wasn't aware of its Japanese name, maki. It sounds quite local and I much prefer it to "podo" which sounds like some hobbit dog.

Other common plants with extensive listings are Aspidistra, mondo, Michelia, Magnolia, bamboo, honeysuckle, and of course, azaleas.

Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 800-327-5680, www.timberpress.com, 2004, 0-88192-650-7, 440 pages, color photographs, hardback, $59.95

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