Botanists speak a special language, one that is frequently unintelligible to outsiders like me. This has frustrated me at times, for instance when I’ve tried to use a botanical key or field manual to identify an unfamiliar plant. Now, though, I’ve got expert help.
A week ago I picked up a book published last year, A Botanist’s Vocabulary written by Susan K. Pell and, crucially, illustrated by the very talented Bobbi Angell. Angell is a botanical illustrator whose beautifully detailed and fastidiously accurate pen and ink drawings I first came across some 20 years ago at the New York Botanical Garden.
Her partnership with Pell is a fortunate one. Pell has a talent for translating botanical terms into simple, layman’s language. When combined with Angell’s elegantly clear drawings, it is easy to understand what a botanist means by such otherwise opaque words such as “circinate”.
I intend to keep this book on my desk. I won’t use it every day, or even every week. But when I am baffled by some plant description, it will be there to make clear what the author meant, and what that means to me and my garden. There are very few books that I believe are truly essential to good gardening. I suspect, though, that this may turn out to be one of the select few.