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A Good Read

.....what's worth a look?

Reviews in this issue cover "The Cradle of Incense" by George Althofer, "The Boab Tree" by Pat Lowe and "Not Just Down the Drain".
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Cradle of Incense
George Althofer

Published by the Society for Growing Australian Plants, 1978
Hard Cover, 192 pages, colour photos, line diagrams

Reviewed by Lorna George

Editor's Note: Although now out of print, "Cradle of Incense by the late George Althofer remains the definitive work on the Australian mint bushes....well worth looking for!

"The Cradle of Incense", subtitled "The Story of the Australian Prostanthera", by George W. Althofer was first published some 20 years. George Althofer was born in Wellington in central western NSW and lived in that area all his life, working his own orchard. He was not a trained botanist, but he loved and studied Australian flora all his life. He was one of the founding fathers, perhaps the Founding Father of Burrendong Arboretum.

The "Cradle of Incense" is the term George Althofer gave to the area of New South Wales enclosed within a circle of 150 km radius centred on Wellington. This circle encompasses the Warrumbungle National Park to the north, Tottenham-Tullamore to the west, Cowra, Lithgow to the south and south-east and Sandy Hollow to the east. He called this area the Cradle of Incense because of the richness of Australian flora occurring in it. George Althofer's chief interest was in the genus Prostanthera, and this book is the culmination of his life-time love for this genus. He says that, at the time of writing, within this circle there occurred more than half the species of Prostanthera found in NSW and almost a third of those known in the whole of mainland Australia and Tasmania.

In this book George Althofer takes us with him on his travels in search of Prostanthera species and he describes each plant in loving and poetic detail. He refers to them in evocative phrases......for example, "Prostanthera ovalifolia "the thousand flowered Mint Bush".... and graphically describes the natural surroundings in which they flourish.

George Althofer's "thousand flowered mint bush", Prostanthera ovalifolia is well known in cultivation.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (27k).

This book is a good introduction to the prostantheras. A large number of species are described in their natural habitat so the reader can appreciate the conditions and terrain in which the species grow. When you read, for example, that Prostanthera lasianthos is a lover of coolness and moisture and grows in deep cool gullies, there is no way you would plant that species in the hottest, driest spot in your garden, is there? This has more meaning than "plant in the shade", doesn't it? For me this is one of the strengths of the book....the plants are so firmly located in their natural surroundings.

The book has delightful coloured photos of each species described, as well as detailed line drawings. There is a helpful glossary of botanical terms and a Key to the recognised species of Prostanthera to aid identification. At the back of the book - Chapter 21 - there is an alphabetical list of all the species described in the book, each listing incorporating a short description of the plant, the geographical locations where it occurs and page references which make it very simple to turn to the text for more information on the plant. The book also contains a list of then-known garden cultivars, a chapter on the oil content of the leaves of mint bushes and possibilities for commercial exploitation and a short chapter on propagating and growing them.

This is a nicely presented book which contains a wealth of information. It is written, as the author says, with the eyes of a lover. The language is lyrical and colourful, rather than scientific and some readers may find it wordy and the writing somewhat flowery. However, it is a book to browse through, savour and enjoy. It is written by a man with an unerring eye for the beauty of the plants, who became a recognised expert in the genus and who had an ability to communicate his enthusiasm and pleasure to the reader. It is said the best teachers are not those who just impart the facts but those who arouse enthusiasm for their subject. If you will take the time to travel a while with George Althofer, I don't think you will ever pass by a Prostanthera again without pausing.

Reprinted from the October 1998 issue of the newsletter of the Central Coast group of Australian Plants Society (NSW).


The Boab Tree
Pat Lowe

Published by Lothian Books, 1998
Hardback, b&w illustrations, colour photographs, 96 pages; $AU34.95

Reviewed by Diana Snape

Those of us who have been lucky enough to travel to north-Western Australia, near Broome or Derby, will have seen the remarkable Boab tree and surely been impressed by its unique stature. Pat Lowe refers to its "gothic form", like "vegetable elephants". She quotes evidence for Boabs being some of the oldest living things on this continent today.

The distinctive "upside-down" shape of the Boab Tree Adensonia gregorii.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (31k). Photo courtesy Aussie Outback Tours

Ours is one of eight species - six in Madagascar and the other in sub Saharan Africa. She presents different hypotheses for its mysterious arrival in Australia.

The author, who lives in West Kimberley, says old Boab's are "less like a tree than a woody village" with hollows and cavities sheltering vertebrate life - birds, bats, goannas, frogs - plus invertebrates. For her the Boabs "became an obsession, almost a secret vice", as she recorded all her activities, observations and research in notebooks.

Boabs show a marked contrast between dry seasons, when their branches are bare (as most tourists see them), and wet seasons when they're covered with rich green foliage. The beautiful flowers open at night, possibly pollinated by hawk-moths. Pat Lowe describes the unusual fruit, wood and bark, and their many traditional uses for food, rope or string. Many individual trees have such character they are known almost as personalities, each with its own history.

If you are already as intrigued by these wonderful trees as I am, Pat's enthusiastic writing is a delight. If you haven't been to the far north-west and seen Boabs at home there, standing proud in their special environment, this book will give you an insight into their fascination.

Reprinted from the December 1998 issue of the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).


Not Just Down the Drain:
A guide to re-using and treating your household water.

Published by the Alternative Technology Association
$AU13.60 inc. postage within Australia from PO Box 2001 Lygon St North, Brunswick East, Victoria, 3057.

Reviewed by Jeff Howes

While this book is written for Victoria, the principles can be applied across Australia. It contains details on conserving water, environmental and health issues to do with used water, site assessment for re-using water, re-using water on the garden, re-using water to flush the toilet, septic tanks, constructed wetlands, aerobic treatment systems and composting toilets.

The water uses of the average house is: kitchen 8%, laundry 24%, bathroom 38% and the toilet 30%. To put that in a better perspective the 'average' Melbourne house produces 160,000 litres of used water in a year, so there is plenty of scope to re-use some of this water.

The two main re-use opportunities for used water are to use it in the garden, or to use it for toilet flushing. Toilet flushing with used water can be a permanent re-use opportunity, watering the garden with used water may be a seasonal opportunity. The major limitation to using it on the garden is the type of detergents, bleaches, disinfectants and soaps that you use, as use of the wrong ones will lead to a build up of sodium and potassium salts in the soil which can change the pH and also lead to a breakdown the soil structure especially in clay soils.

This is a very practical book containing all you need to know on this topic! All you need to add is your enthusiasm and dollars to make it happen and help save a valuable resource.

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Australian Plants online - September 1999
The Society for Growing Australian Plants