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Book Review - My World of Hepaticas by John Massey with Tomoo Mabuchi

Title: My World of Hepaticas

Author: John Massey

Language: English

Subject: Gardening, Genera Specific Book - Hepatica

Type: Hardback

RRP: UK £45.00 + P&P

Pages: 296 inc, contents and index. Full colour, glossy.

Publisher: Orphans Press

Publication Date: 2022

ISBN: 978-1-3999-2304-0

Genera specific books are very often the product of a life’s work, (obsession may be a better word than work), with a particular plant. You would have to have some nerve to consider writing one without this experience, so I am always very confident why buying one that it will be a definitive text and ooze with experience, knowledge and valuable observations. As expected, this book, written by a renowned nurseryman, as it is, does not, in any way disappoint!

Throughout it is crammed (though not in an overdone way) with superb images of plants, both on nurseries and in the wild. As well as Hepaticas, the landscape in which they are found is explored and the myriad people involved in finding, collecting, breeding, selling and trading them over the author’s career are documented and their image included. This is a diary of experiences and joyful work, as much as it is a roll call of honour for those involved and an encyclopaedia of species and varieties of the genus.

A rare balance between something pictorially beautiful enough to be a ‘coffee table book’ and descriptively heavy enough to be an educational tome. My kind of book indeed.

For those of you who may not have heard of the author, John Massey, he is the owner of the world-famous Ashwood Nurseries and a highly respected plantsman who holds the Victoria Medal of Honour as a mark of his superb work over the years. Ashwood nurseries are known for their work with a number of winter/spring flowering genera, not least of all Helleborus, with the much-loved Helleborus x hybridus (Ashwood garden Hybrids) series being a mainstay of the UK garden scene for years and still not bettered (in my opinion). John's passion for Hepatica is well known and is perfectly summed up by the great Roy Lancaster (one of my Horticultural Heroes), who writes on the back cover;

"If it were possible for Hepaticas to nominate someone to write an appreciation of them, they would, to a plant, choose John Massey..."

High praise indeed, but well-deserved and John has done the genus proud with his writing here.

To the book then; the author takes us through the world of Hepatica starting, as one probably should do, with a well described introduction to the Genus and John's experiences over the years, including a short list of names of luminaries who mentored and inspired John's journey through plants.

The second chapter looks to the history and classification of Hepatica including a look at regions where Hepatica exist in the wild. This is followed by no less than 6 full pages of comparative and utterly beautiful foliage images ( see below) to aid identification and showcase the diversity in the genus. I love comparative images, always have and probably always will. When I see one it reminds my of the fabulous Phillips and Rix series of plant books (right), as well as the Gardener's Guide book series (below) and of course, Roy Lancaster's pieces in RHS The Garden magazine over the years. Useful and visually a delight!

Chapter 3 takes us from the abstract into the specific and we are introduced to Hepatica species. Starting in Europe with Hepatica nobilis and then H. transilvannica (a plant that always reminds me of my first year plant identification lessons at Hadlow College). For each species, we are shown geographical range, climate and site preferences, images in situ and of localised plant partners witnessed during expeditions in Norway and Romania to name just two. We get to read wonderfully detailed plant descriptions and field notes of local conditions, before being introduced to subspecies, naturally occuring varieties and hybrid forms of each species. Detail is never spared and this is so detailed that it is as valuable as a botanical reference as it is the details of a personal journey building knowledge and understanding.