Dwarf Campanulas, Graham Nicholls
Campanulas are among the backbone genera of alpine and rock garden plants, providing interest and colour from late spring through summer when most other alpines have finished flowering. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that the last comprehensive book on this genus was written by Clifford Crook more than 50 years ago, and while there have been books on campanulas and their allies since, none has approached that work in terms of the breadth and depth of its coverage, which was based on a thorough knowledge of the species known then, including practical knowledge of their needs in the garden based on first-hand experience. At last we have a book of comparable quality which brings things up to date, at least as far as the smaller members of the genus and its allies are concerned. Like Crook, Graham Nicholls knows most of the species intimately, having grown them both for their intrinsic interest to him as a gardener, which is apparent throughout the book, and in his role as a leading English nurseryman who stocks a wide range of the species as well as many hybrids, quite a few of which are of his own making. This extensive practical knowledge of the genus (Nicholls refers to himself as a “passionate grower” rather than an expert) extends to the many species introduced to cultivation since Crook’s time, mostly from central Eurasia, and some of which are difficult to separate botanically and of dubious authenticity.
The book sets the scene with a useful chapter describing the main campanula growing areas of the world, although it would have been better if each area had been treated in the same way as North America, focusing on the distributions of the species rather than the details of geography. Maps of each of the four regions are included but even in the case of N. America, which is home to only seven species, no indications are given on them of the limits to their distributions. This information would have been useful and interesting for all areas, even if in the case of the Caucasus and Turkey, which are centres of distribution of the genus, it could only have been done for the better known species.
The next chapter deals with growing campanulaceae, starting perhaps surprisingly with a detailed, authoritative account of propagation and ending with a rather meagre, though probably adequate section on cultivation, including a very short account of pests and diseases. It is rightly pointed out by the author, however, that more detailed cultivation requirements are covered in the individual species descriptions.
The core of the book is the A-Z of campanulas (146 pages) and associated genera (53 pages) and the coverage here is generally excellent with admirably brief but informative descriptions and cultivation advice, supported in many cases by stunning illustrations, most by the author but supplemented by others taken, mainly in the field, by leading plant explorers and botanists. Unfortunately the colour reproduction does not always do justice to the original photograph. In some cases (e.g C. ‘Elizabeth Oliver’, p.75; C. hypopolia, p. 98; C. thessala, p. 161) the old problem of accurate rendition of blue shades resurfaces; all these images, and quite a few others have much too much red in them. In other cases (not many) the image is too dark (C. piperi, p. 129; Phyteuma nigrum, p. 224).The main text is supplemented by a glossary and useful lists of campanulas (but not their allies) for different situations in the garden, as well as those particularly suited to pot cultivation in the alpine house. Other lists cover societies associated with the cultivation of alpine campanulas, mail-order nurseries, and seed lists. There is a wide-ranging and up-to-date bibliography. The book ends with an index of plant names, but regrettably page numbers of illustrations are not given (for some inexplicable reason the full page photographs are not numbered although the numbering of the adjacent text pages suggests that they should be). Also, there is no index of content other than plant names.
Having raised some aspects of this book that leave something to be desired I should finish by saying that all in all it is a most useful and attractive monograph which fills a major gap in the alpine gardening literature and will therefore be valued for years to come. Your reviewer will certainly keep his copy close at hand and is confident that it will become a ‘favourite’ on his alpine gardening bookshelf.