Plant Talk | Science Talk

Book Review: Selecting ‘The Indestructibles’

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin. Timber Press

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin. Timber Press, 2015. 288 pages, 160 color photos. Softcover. $22.95. ISBN: 9781604695014

The staff of the Plant Information Office in the Mertz Library are always excited to see a new book from Tovah Martin. Martin has written over a dozen gardening books, drawing from her 25 years of gardening experience to craft classics as well as new favorites. The Library has eighteen books authored or coauthored by Martin, and this month we have added her newest work—The Indestructible Houseplant from Timber Press—to our collection. The Indestructible Houseplant was written for beginners, but experienced gardeners will also enjoy the beauty and advice contained in this well-crafted volume.

Martin starts The Indestructible Houseplant with an accessible yet lyrical introduction that welcomes the “window-sill gardener wannabes,” telling them that this book is for them. Martin promises to help readers overcome obstacles—cost, time, light/environment—and develop their own “lush and verdant” interior paradises. Martin writes about her home gardening environment and then moves into practical guidelines for understanding limitations of indoor space, including selecting and placing containers. Here, too, her prose is crisp, accessible, and practical; Martin even includes a section about her selection process for plants to profile, addressing the omission of some historic houseplant favorites, such as flowering maples, Abutilon cultivars.

The core of the book is, of course, the plant profiles, or what Martin dubs the “Gallery of Indestructibles.” In 200 pages, she profiles 200 houseplants organized alphabetically by common name. (A nicely-crafted index at the end of the book allows readers to search by scientific name.) This concise treatment includes a lovely color photo alongside text about the author’s experience with the featured plant, some cultural information (such as places readers may have encountered the featured plant), notable varieties, and ways in which the featured plant might be showcased or housed indoors. Each plant profile ends with a table containing information about the size, foliage, (sun) exposure, water requirements, optimum nighttime temperature (a nice touch not always seen in similar books), rate of growth, soil type, fertilizing, propagation, issues (such as pests and diseases), companions (plants that may be paired with the featured plant), and other attributes (additional miscellaneous notes from the author). Toxicity is sometimes mentioned, but there are disclaimers at the start and end of the book informing readers that this feature is not always addressed, and cautioning those with animals and children to do additional research into toxicity of profiled plants. The book ends with a section titled “The Details,” which includes additional practical details about selecting spaces for plants, potting and repotting, plant care, mixing and matching, and a houseplant calendar.

All said, The Indestructible Houseplant contains an enormous amount of information in a concise and very readable format. Martin has delivered an exceptionally useful book for novice home gardeners. Beyond this audience, however, The Indestructible Houseplant is appealing to experienced horticulturists who will enjoy Martin’s narrative about her experience as an indoor plant gardener, her plant descriptions, and the variety of plants profiled.

  1. Sue says:

    Excellent review!
    Thank you, Esther, as always.

  2. Esther says:

    Thanks, Sue!

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