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Books, books and books; A guide to books on Identifying British Trees and British Wildflowers.

Stack of Books

I am a lover of the written word. Hardly surprising as someone who writes for a number of magazines and has a blog; you may very-well have already guessed that. Despite its obviousness, writing, specifically garden writing, has long interested me: providing an opportunity to understand the approach others take to the process of gardening, the value and appreciation of plants and theories behind garden design. I collect books and long have done, with several thousand on all things horticultural, garden and plant (as well as other subjects of interest) adorning shelves in my office and elsewhere throughout my home.

While I inevitably use the internet for a lot of research for work, I gravitate towards books as my preferred sources of information.

As such, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my favourite books with you as a guide to help anyone setting out in professional horticulture or garden design or the keen home gardener find to useful and interesting resources.

In most cases, good garden, plant and garden design books should be heavily adorned with images to explain ideas. Scenes of sumptuous planting and clever design being far better explored visually than (almost) any description could ever conjure in the mind's eye.

For simplicity I have broken into categories and provide only three of each type. In this second post of the series I will look at two subjects and offer my favourite three books on each. Narrowing down selection was in itself a challenge, but important to be clear and helpful. In this page, we will cover Identifying British Trees and then 3 books on Identifying British Wildflowers. For non-British readers or British readers in other countries in Northern Europe, most books cover the majority of plants you will find there too. These books are as useful to the Professional as they are to the Domestic gardener/landscape enthusiast and are an excellent way of building plant knowledge on Native and Naturalised Non-Native plants.

Essentially, this is the iPlantsman reading list!

Identifying British Trees

For clarity, I will cover books on trees in a separate post, these are guides to identifying Native and Naturalised, Non-Native Trees in the UK (and often Europe). By nature of the expansive list of trees growing in the cultivation friendly, temperate climate of the UK, these books cover a LOT of trees and you really need to find your prefered guide to fully understand they way they present information and how to navigate them. Ironically, many of the most useful books on the subject are the least detailed; pocket guides are great for people starting out. They will contain less info and generally fewer examples, but will cover all the common species and even some very commonly seen varieties. More conveniently, they fit in a pocket, so can be used on the move. Collins Pocket Guides are generally the most useful here, I feel.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of Britain and Europe: The Ultimate Reference Guide and Identifier to 550 of the Most Spectacular... by Tony Russell. Too big to carry around the countryside, but full of useful images and valuable descriptions. Not an identification guide, but a good book.

British Trees: A photographic guide to every common species (Collins Complete Guide) by Paul Sterry. A proper identification guide and very useful. Not a pocket guide, but one for reference at home using photos taken of the trees you are identifying.

Identification of Trees and Shrubs in Winter Using Buds and Twigs by Bernd Schulz. One for the very, very keen enthusiast or more likely a professional Horticulturist/Botanist. Entirely focused on bud and twig identification. This separates the 'interested' from the 'expert'. I love it and it is a definitive & hugely illustrated text. Again, not a field/pocket guide, this is a top-level reference book.

Honourable Mention

It is probably most useful (actually, 'it is definitely...') to have a pocket guide for Tree identification so that you can do it on the move. To that end, here is my prefered book on the subject.

Collins British Tree Guide by Owen Johnson and David More. A slimmed down version of the expansive Collins guide.

Wildflower Books

Over the years, I have bought and been gifted many a book on Wildflowers of the UK, some with the additions of Ireland, others with Northern Europe and in the main, they are all fairly similar in terms of content and comment. That is to say, they are all pretty good at what they do. Some offer better maps of distribution and others more or fewer plants are described. I think that I can pick up any of the books that I own on this subject now and find similar, useful information. The three given here are probably the best of those that I own, though the difference between them reasonably small and the suitability of others not mentioned here, no less diminished. You pays your money, you takes your choice as they say.

Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe by Bob Gibbons and Peter Brough. This book is particularly good as it is a Photographic guide organised by family and characteristic. It is good when you have an idea of what you are looking at, but more 70% than 100%. I have used it more than other Wildflower books that I own when identifying something tricky.

Wild Flowers: of Britain and Ireland by Roger Phillips. Any book written by Roger Phillips is worth buying. That's my position. I have most of the large format books he has produced and I'm always looking to add to them. This is another photographic guide and is more personal in description than regurgitated, as we find in lots of other books.

Collins Wild Flower Guide by David Streeter. Primarily illustrated rather than photographic, but a comprehensive text for sure. This is a valuable reference work that has been in print in various guises for decades now. Easy to use and a valuable addition to any bookshelf.

Also available as a Pocket Guide. A little less detailed, but infinitely more pocket-worthy and practical to use in 'the field', or if you are an amateur user, in 'a' field.

Honourable Mention

As with identifying Wild Flowers on the move, a pocket-sized guide make life a lot easier. To that end, here is my prefered book on the subject. I think this is the most useful pocket guide I own on the subject. Lots of pics and identification tools.

Wild Flowers by Neil Fletcher.

Definition for reference.

Native plants are plant species that have existed in the UK since before the end of the last Ice Age (roughly 10,000 years ago). Fagus sylvatica (Green Beech) is one of the last trees to have established in the UK before the land bridge with Europe disappeared, making it a British Native species.

Naturalised species are plants who have established themselves in the wild in the UK after the end of the last Ice Age. Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore) is an example of a commonly seen tree throughout the UK, but it was introduced (probably by the Romans, though other contenders exist for this honour) and now seeds freely within the countryside.

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1 Comment

I think the pocket guides are a good idea to identify trees and flowers while out walking. Especially so, when out with children and they ask you what it is. A good purchase I think. Thanks for sharing.

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