New Trees: Recent Introductions to Cultivation by John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton
This is a hugely impressive volume of work, truly an outstanding resource and an immense contribution to horticulture.
In recent years there has been a boom in the number and variety of trees we grow due to increased activity in plant exploration, collecting and introduction and also due to climate change which allows us to grow material previously not considered hardy. The golden age of plant exploration was in the early decades of the 20th century and we still recall the work of the likes of Ernest Wilson, George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward. There was a lull in the mid-century because of the economic situation in the west and because China had closed its borders to outsiders. However, a new era of plant collecting has been with us in recent decades with expeditions organised by scientific institutions corporations, private individuals and gardens. Modern travel and transport has facilitated this activity; new plant introductions have been numerous and the reference literature needed to be brought up to date. To address this situation, the International Dendrology Society commissioned the project, “New Trees” to compliment “Bean”.
J. Bean (1863 – 1947) who had a career at Kew Gardens and ended up as curator there witnessed the vast introductions of the early 20th century and had the research resources of Kew as well as the plantings there when preparing his work, “Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles” The first edition was in 1914 and he published seven updated editions with the last in 1950. An 8th edition was published in 1970s with a supplement in 1988. There are other well regarded works of reference – Alfred Rehder, Michael Dirr, Gerd Krussmann and Hilliers, for example. Dirr and Bean have proved most popular over the years as both contain full botanical descriptions of the included plants along with information on their cultivation.
The International Dendrology Society wanted “New Trees” to be in the style of Bean – “accurate, substantial but descriptions with readable commentary on the horticultural values of the species covered and details of their introduction.” The result is a volume which compliments Dirr perfectly. It is comprehensive and authoritative yet comfortably readable and accessible. John Grimshaw was the leader of the project and responsible for the narrative text; Ross Bayton provided the botanical descriptions and Hazel Wilks, botanical artist, the line drawings. Between them they have created the most significant reference book for hardy trees and shrubs and the perfect companion to Bean.
I found in interesting to read that of the newer plant introductions 46.8% came from China and the Sino Himalaya with next greatest numbers from Australia, Mexico and Central America. It seems that China continues to be the main source of wonderful plants while climate change allows us to grow those from warmer climes. There are 800 introductions described in the book and each entry is written with the freshness and enthusiasm of one enjoying the plant for the first time. The excellent photographs add to the reader’s enjoyment and along with the author’s style give what is a very substantial and authoritative volume a lightness and appeal which will surely attract a wide readership.
This project was not without many challenges and the authors accept that it is a book which will never be complete – there are always new introductions, identification of recently introduced plants may have been in error, plant measurements and performances may differ and become outdated and climate change will bring more plants into the hardy range. These, in my mind, are inevitable but unnecessary concerns. It is to be expected that this work will need to be updated at some stage but, at this moment, it is the very best anybody would wish for and an invaluable resource for horticulturalists and gardeners.
New Trees was first published in 2009 and this 2018 reprint has no change to the text. The International Dendrology Society has published Bean (the updated four volumes from the 1970s), Desmond Clarke’s supplement from 1988 and New Trees online (treesandshrubsonline.org) and the intention is to “refresh” all existing entries as required to provide an online encyclopaedia of woody plants for the 21st century.
[New Trees: Recent Introductions to Cultivation, John Grimshaw and Ross Bayton with line drawings by Hazel Wilks, published by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in association with the International Dendrology Society, 2009, reprinted 2018, Hardback, 976 pages, £120, ISBN: 978 1 84246 173 0]