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Book Review

Native Grasses for Australian Gardens - Nola Parry and Jocelyn Jones

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

Book cover

Don't be misled by the title of this great little book. The authors have used a very liberal definition of "grasses".

"True" grasses belong to the family Poaceae but because they are interested in the form and function of plants as well, they have included a wide range of plants with strappy leaves. Thus you will find sedges, rushes, irises, kangaroo paws and flax plants as well as grasses and this all makes for a comprehensive introduction to using grasses and grass-like plants to great effect in an Australian garden.

The authors are well qualified to write this book. Nola Parry has been involved with Australian plants for most of her life and operates a native plant nursery on the central coast of New South Wales where she is involved in the propagation, wholesale and retail sales, floral design and promotion of Australian plants. Jocelyn Jones is a landscape architect by profession with a long-term interest in Australian plants and in promoting their unique features as garden plants. She also specialises in photography and most of the hundreds of excellent photographs in the book are hers. I really did appreciate the effort that has gone into illustrating this book as many of the plants featured, with their small flowers, are quite a challenge.

This is only a small book but is jam packed with information. I particularly liked the author's conciseness of text, and their use of pictures, both of individual plants and of garden scenes, to tell the story. There are three short introductory chapters, starting with what is a native grass, and then follows a well illustrated chapter on their characteristics (striking and elegant forms, interesting flowers and seeds and berries, their adaptability and drought tolerance and their decorative value in the garden). For those wanting to design a garden featuring grasses, the third chapter has many ideas, ranging from their use as border plants, to using them to make a dramatic statement, or as mass plantings, for wet and dry areas, in shade, or on sloping ground, as water features or even as pot plants. The text is minimal but the pictures tell the story.

The bulk of the book is taken up with concise descriptions and pictures of around 80 native grasses, followed by a most useful chapter "Selection Guides" which lists plants for special areas, e.g. borders, dry and wet areas, shade, for pots and containers, with frost tolerance, low maintenance, by flower colour and so forth.

The authors have adopted a unique approach to their coverage of the individual species. Botanical details are minimal; instead they concentrate on how the plant grows in the garden, give some suggestions for combination planting, provide notes on caring for it and give the flowering period. The combination plants are often not other grasses, e.g. for the "true" grass, "Poa labillardieri", they say 'To highlight the foliage colour, combine with other blue-grey plants such as "Westringia" or the vibrant blue flowers of "Lechenaultia biloba".' For those wanting to learn more about grasses and the plants listed in the book, they have provided an excellent and up to date Further Reading list. The book is also indexed and includes a list of plants protected by Plant Breeder's Rights together with their reference numbers, something I have not seen before.

I found this an excellent little book which serves as an informative introduction to a group of plants which are undergoing a resurgence in our gardens. Well done to both authors.

Native Grasses for Australian Gardens

Nola Parry and Jocelyn Jones
Reed New Holland, 2007.
RRP $25.95
Soft cover, 160 pages, colour illustrations

From 'Growing Australian', the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), March 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2008
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