Handbooks to Help Garden Novice, Expert

FOR gardeners, spring's early trumpeting is a reminder that it's time again to cultivate old and new friendships. This season's crop of garden reference books has much to offer returning floral friends as well as new recruits to the garden bed.

"What a leap of faith - to bury a funny brown stone and wait for it to spring forth with green leaves and a colorful, perfumed flower," writes Katherine Whiteside in Classic Bulbs: Hidden Treasures for the Modern Garden (Villard, 182 pp., $40). Such delightful text mixes well with the practical information on planting, collecting, and growing bulbs in this lovely volume. Admittedly a stretch to describe as a reference book, the portfolio-style spreads do allow readers to lose themselves in the fascinatin g details of individual species. "[T]he inscrutable flower bulb has been entertaining mankind for eons," Whiteside writes before launching into bulb history. The 26 "botanical biographies" are accompanied by Mick Hales's sensitive photographs.

Rob Proctor's books make good bedside companions. There's a wealth of dream material here. Country Flowers: Wild Classics for the Contemporary Garden (HarperCollins, 160 pp., $35), third in his series on antique flowers (earlier volumes focus on annuals and perennials), offers a fine palette for the dabbler. Also designed with a portfolio style, the book highlights 70 flowers - their history, whimsical lore, and use. Here is an invitation to learn the eccentricities of the hummingbird's trumpet, wood lil y, and everlasting pea. Striking photographs by Rob Gray and delicate watercolors by the author accent the pages.

Well-known gardening author Jacqueline Heriteau consulted with horticulturist Andre Viette and more than 70 other flower experts to produce The American Horticultural Society Flower Finder (Simon & Schuster, 300 pp., $40), a rich selection of herbaceous flowers with a sprinkling of herbs, vegetables, and foliage plants. The catalog format - more than 1,200 entries and 400 photographs - is intertwined with planning and growing advice. One intriguing chapter helps readers select for theme gardens: Victoria n, Japanese, woodland, cottage, herb, etc.

The New Gardener's Handbook and Dictionary (John Wiley & Sons, 480 pp., $28.50), by Jack Kramer, is an essential compendium for the novice. Kramer, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and gardening book author, offers 23 years of experience. This how-to book/dictionary (due out in April) is a who, what, where, when, and how of practical garden knowledge. More than 2,000 of the most widely used garden plants - including shrubs, vines, and house plants - are listed and described, and there are 300

photographs. For those who have become lax with their Latin, a useful side-by-side translation of plant names is included in the ample appendix.

The Random House Book of Perennials, Volume 1: Early Perennials; Volume 2: Late Perennials (Random House, 492 pp., $25 each, paper), by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, is a catalog of more than 5,000 common perennials organized by genus and species. A useful handbook for landscape architects, garden professionals, and botanists, its wide range of choices and somewhat limited practical information will also benefit backyard gardeners. The volumes contain more than 3,000 photographs - including airy, full-p age plates showing the wealth of species within a genus. The iris section is delightful.

PREVIOUSLY published in hard covers, The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford University Press, 635 pp., $25 paper), edited by Sir Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe, is called: "The first comprehensive reference book on the history and design of gardens all over the world." Organized alphabetically with useful cross-referencing between entries on related topics, this encyclopedic volume contains information on notable gardens, designers, and garden history. One couldn't ask for a more respected landscape histor ian and scholar than Sir Geoffrey.

Although published last spring, The Complete Guide to American Gardens, Volume One: The Northeast; Volume Two: The West Coast (Little, Brown, 352 pp., $15.95 each, paper), by William C. Mulligan, is worth noting. These travel guides offer information on more than 200 public gardens for those in search of inspiration. Revealing color photos, a bed-and-breakfast guide format, and state maps with locators make this glove-compartment-size set a convincing prod for exploration.

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