Seabrook On ... Books prove value of expert knowledge

Three new books out this year are more than deserving of recognition. The first to reach me was The Head Gardener's Survival Manual by Alan Sargent. Professional gardeners lead a rather isolated life and with progression meet an increasing amount of administrative responsibilty. The very words "risk assessment", for example, fill me with alarm and Alan covers this with clarity and many other topics of interest to full-time gardeners.

Next to arrive was Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy by Claude Hitching. If anyone has ever wanted to find out why Britain has an international reputation as the finest garden designers in the world, then this book does it in one.

Claude started to research his family tree in 1999 and found five of his ancestors worked for James Pulham & Son - one of our most important firms of landscape designers and constructors in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Evidence of their work can be found at Buckingham Palace, the RHS Rock Garden Wisley, Madresfield Court, Waddesdon Manor and Sandringham.

Where natural rocks were unavailable, they made their own with a proprietary brand of cement that became known as Pulhamite. I saw some of this in the 100-yard-long under-ground stream and grotto they built in a large Henley garden. Every student of landscape design should have access to this very well-researched and authoritative work.

RHS Encyclopaedia of Conifers by Aris Auders and Derek Spicer covers more than 8,000 recognised cultivars in two volumes. It took seven years to write and the 1,500 full-colour pages are a mine of information on this extensive group of plants. Every horticultural college, garden centre advisory desk and botanic garden should have a copy.

The internet may be the quick route for information, sometimes of questionable accuracy, but it doesn't hold a candle to the lifetime's experiences in these pages. Leaf through RHS Encyclopaedia of Conifers and you will never be able to discount the beauty and value of these remarkable plants.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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