Note: This is a critical review, intended to provide an objective analysis of how well the book addresses standard issues that might be of interest to gardeners and landscapers. No book can possibly provide every desired feature or bit of in formation. Therefore, this review is not intended to be a judgment of the book as a whole, but rather to emphasize how well it serves the most likely intended audience. I try to make it clear where I am stating my own preferences, as opposed to making fac tual claims about the book independent of me. I welcome questions!

Encyclopedia Botanica: The Illustrated A-Z of over 10,000 Garden Plants and How to Cultivate Them

Chief Editors: R.J. Turner, Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Year: 1999
Publisher: Barnes and Noble

In Brief:

La Jolla Relevance: Superb. For our area, it beats Sunset Western Garden Book hands-down. Almost everything from all over the world will grow happily in La Jolla, if properly placed and cared for. The Encyclopedia not only catalogs and describes a vast number of them, but illustrates them attractively as well.
Price: $35 (hardcover)
Level: Beginner (for plant selection by picture and hardiness zone) to Intermediate to Advanced (for anything else)
Pages: 1,020 (glossary: 10pp, family relations table: 10pp, common names and synonyms: 25pp, scientific name index: 25pp.)
Illustrations: Photos only, average 2x3inches, several on each page.
Dimensions: 7 pounds; 12 inches x 9 inches x 1.5 inches
Paper: semi-glossy
Durability: Excellent
Aesthetic Appeal: Excellent
Value For Price: Excellent
Usability: easy to moderate to difficult, depending on goal.
Best Use: Plant Selection Guide, all skill levels.

Overall Impressions

This exhaustive listing of plants, emphasizing the North American garden but including plants from all over the world, is especially valuable for its huge collection of beautiful photographs. It is therefore an excellent plant-selection guide for beginner s and advanced gardeners alike. It also has limited use as a plant-identification guide for advanced gardners. The text is sparse, and cultivation information will be more useful to an experienced gardener who needs a quick primer on an unfamiliar plant. Because the book is organized by Latin genus but full of pictures, it will appeal to gardeners at a variety of skill levels, though it may frustrate beginners. Its esthetic appeal and size makes it a great coffee table book.


The photographs are absolutely outstanding. The sheer size of the collection is impressive, and the photographs are beautiful, if not-quite-consistent in their composition (for example, the entire plant is not always pictured; and sometimes topiary goes proxy for specimen.) There are 10,000 plants discussed, 6,500 photographs. There are no drawings.


The text is adequate, providing what really amounts to extended captions for the pictures. Beginners may find it too concise. Advanced gardners will be able to read between the lines, but may nevertheless find the text lacking answers to essential questio ns.


Organization is alphabetical by Latin genus, with species following. While this organization is acceptable, no entries for families are provided. Families are sometimes but not always, mentioned within the genus entries, making an integrative study of a particular species difficult.


The index is suboptimal. Because the text is arranged by genus, the index is essential to locating entries for plants that one knows only by its common name. But cross-referencing is poor. For example, in the common name index, 'jasmine' is only cross-referenced with the genus jasminum, whereas one might reasonably expect it to be cross-referenced with species from at least 10 widely available genuses.

Plant Dimension Information

Excellent source for expected plant size. Dimensions are provided for every species. Since the ability to project the plant's size is essential to appropriate placement and estimation of maintenance, this feature is particularly welcome.

Technical Information

Zone-hardiness, according to the maps supplied, is provided for every species by a concise numbering system. Other information on technical aspects of plant care is moderate to low. Little information, for example, is available on pH requirements. Relative ratings for sun and water requirements are not provided. Almost no information regarding pruning.

Fertilizer Information

Almost none. Acid fertilizer is mentioned for particularly picky plants.

Pest Information

Sparse. Occasionally, mention is made of a particularly problematic pest for a given species. No information is available regarding pests by region, or remedies for infestation.


The writing could be better; it tends to be on the unsophisticated side. A standard format is followed, however, making the location of information easy. In general, the limited space is used well to give densely-packed information.

Plant Identification

Very good to excellent, depending on the reader's level of expertise. A picture is worth a thousand words, and there are thousands of pictures. A verbal description of the plant is usually provided as well. Beginners won't have much luck, given the organization by genus and the enormous number of pictures to peruse, but advanced gardeners, especially in plant-friendly places like southern California, will get on quite well. I've used it extensively to learn the characteristics and names of plants before going into the field, so that I can recognize them when I spot them.

Plant Selection

Excellent for plant selection, due to fabulous photography and consistently-supplied zone-hardiness information.

Could this be your only landscaping book?

This is a difficult question to answer. I do a fair amount of leafing through gardening books, and this one is a great joy. I've learned a tremendous amount from it, but I still have to turn to other sources for detailed information. Occasionally I've had to resort to Audubon field guides for a more accurate sense of the shape of a given tree, since EB's pictures are not always of uncut specimens, and sometimes are of only leaves or flowers rather than the whole plant. And my copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book is always within reach to answer more involved questions about cultivation. Nevertheless, several months after purchasing the book, The Encyclopedia Botanica is still the reference work I look at most frequently--at least once a day--just for the pleasure of seeing and learning about an unfamiliar plant. For plant selection, it can easily stand alone--I haven't bothered to look in my other books for this purpose since I bought it. Advanced gardeners will always have several reference works any way; it could suffice as an intermediate gardener's single reference. For beginners, additional resources will definitely be in order.