U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World. Book Review

Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World. Bob Gibbons. With a foreword by Richard Mabey.
Format: Hardcover.
192 pages.
Publish Date: 10/2011.
Subject: Nature.
ISBN: 9780691152295.
Published by Princeton University Press.

The main purpose of the book defined in the Introduction by the author, renowned naturalist, tour leader and photographer - to show some of the most 'beautiful and flowery places that are still left in the world'
The areas covered include sites in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I was excited to see, together with some exotic and unknown places, several areas which I have visited:  Washington state's Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park, Colorado's Crested Butte and Georgia's The Great Caucasus (not the U.S. state, but the independent country).
I like the fact that the author focused only on the wildflower sites characterized by 'spectacular beauty and diversity coupled with reasonable accessibility'. Tour operators and useful contacts are suggested at the end of the book.
Each chapter includes a map showing the site location, reasons to go there, best time to visit and protected status. Key flower species are described together with the general ecological profile of each site.  Birds and mammals which could be seen are also mentioned.
Also offered are the starting points and possible routes for exploring the sites.
Why I agreed to review this book. While I am not a wildflower expert and wildflowers do not constitute the biggest part of my garden, they have special meaning to me. I grew up in Eastern Russia, in the area that borders Northern China where some well known plantsmen travel to look for new plants. The area of my childhood has Amur maple, peonies, arctic kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), tiger lilies, lotus, trillium, wild orchids, etc. As children, we used to go to the forest which was home to lily of the valley, foxgloves, lady's slippers, corydalis and many other wildflowers that made their way from wilderness to gardens. There were hundreds of Siberian irises growing in a swampy area near my Grandma's house. I always have special feelings for these plants when I see them in nurseries and gardens. They connect me with my childhood and my mother who introduced them to me.
It is my desire to make my own garden more favorable for native flowers. I want to work with nature and not against it. Thus, I want plants that like my soil and climate and not those which struggle to survive here.
I feel as if I am making a circle and returning to what I started with - happy plants in their natural environment.

I could relate to this book as a traveller, a gardener and a photographer.
As a traveller, I appreciate that all the places included in the book are relatively easy to reach. The author gives tips regarding the best places, including viewing heights, from where to see the flower displays. This, together with the time when the blooming is at its peak, makes the book useful in planning a trip.
A valuable feature of the book is that the timing of the site photographs was perfect. I remember how disappointing it was for me to arrive in Death Valley, California and find only the very beginning of the wildflowers blooming season. Although seeing even a few flowers was a pleasure, I was almost getting lightheaded while imagining the whole desert in bloom. Thus, knowing the precise time of the spectacular wildflower displays is important,  and the book provides that feature for its readers.
As a photographer, I appreciate having 200 large size color photographs in the book. The wonderful high quality and well composed pictures provided not only pure enjoyment but also gave me a visual lesson of how to photograph the flowers in masses against the surrounding scenery. Combining in one photograph the beauty of a single flower and the powerful majesty of the background mountains, snowy peaks and vast valleys is a work of art.
The photographs by Bob Gibbons are very inspirational.
As a gardener, I appreciate the book reinforcing what I already knew but do not always follow. For example, the magical effect of mass plantings. Panoramic views of flowery hills and meadows got embedded in my mind under the sign: Tatyana, never buy just one plant!
Color combinations created by nature itself are another visual lesson I found beneficial. And, although a mixture of colors could create a wonderful mosaic, monochromatic flower scenes are also impressive! Seeing, for example, whole mountains covered by golden flowers in California leaves a powerful impression.
Watching breathtaking images makes me wonder again why wildflowers produce fantastic blooms in nature, but when brought to my own garden and surrounded by TLC often are just average performers. Should I pay more attention to their growing conditions in the wild and then just leave them alone to be on their own?

I know that I won't ever be able to visit all these 50 wonderful places with the gorgeous wildflowers at their blooming peak. For me personally, one of the best features of the book is a chance to see what I love without ever leaving home.  
I also find the book educational. The author helps the reader to understand why some places on the planet are so flowery and what are the main factors behind the most spectacular flower-rich places.
This type of a book is good for perusing during the colder time of the year while planning next season's garden or a trip, polishing photography skills or surviving the gray damp winter.
Of great interest to me was a Species List which includes common and botanical names of numerous wildflowers.
The Selected Bibliography prompted me to look for another book I may be interested in reading.

Was there anything I didn't like in the book? Not much.
Most of the photographs are accompanied by the names of some key plants shown in them. I would like to have additional thumbnails of individual flowers and their names to be included for easy identification. But, it was not the purpose of the book. It is not a pocket field guide. Rather, it is a source of inspiration and guidance for gardeners and travellers with images of flowers to admire and locations to explore.
A bigger font size would also be better for my eyes.
The cover price shown for the book is $27.95. A quick Internet search indicated that it can be bought for a price of $17 to $21. This price certainly makes the book more attractive.
I consider this book to be a good gift idea for the people on my list of gardeners, particularly those who are wildflower enthusiasts, travellers and nature lovers.
This and previous photographs by Bob Gibbons are from the book
P.S. Some other books by Bob Gibbons:
Garden Wildlife of Britain and Europe (Green guides) 
Insects of Britain and Europe
Philip's Guide to Wild Flowers of Britain and Nothern Europe
Seashore Life
The Fascinating World of Butterflies and Moths
The Grand Canyon And the American West: Trekking in the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon     National Parks 
Wild France
Tracker: Wild Flowers

 ***Copyright 2011 TatyanaS


  1. Sounds like a nice book! Thanks for sharing it. Have a great weekend! Carla

  2. Great book review, Tatyana! I agree with you that we as gardeners can learn so much by observing how mother nature does it. "Never buy just one plant" is also a maxim that that I follow!

  3. What a fascinating book! I will definitely do a search for one. Thanks, Tatyana! Jack

  4. Lovely post! Some of my strongest memories as a kid are of the wildflowers in my forested backyard.

    Sounds like a great book!

  5. Thank you Carla, Christina, Jack and Indie !
    Jack, there are three African sites: The Atlas Mountains, Morocco, The highlands of Ephiopia and The Drakensberg Mountains, S. Africa


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