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THE INSTANT GUIDE TO HEALTHY FOLIAGE HOUSEPLANTS by David Longman; THE INSTANT GUIDE TO HEALTHY FLOWERING HOUSEPLANTS by Tom Gough and David Longman; THE INSTANT GUIDE TO HEALTHY PALMS AND FERNS by Tom Gough (Times: $5.95 each volume).

October 13, 1985|BARBARA SALTZMAN

These three volumes are the first in a projected series of nine tabbed "The Complete Plant Doctor Series." Unlike myriad other books on the subject, the attitude here is almost negative, with a focus on "What goes wrong . . . and how to cure it." The approach is not altogether askew, as anyone enticed by an attractive specimen that winds up in the compost pile would attest. Each species detailed in these first three volumes gets a snappy two-page spread. One page offers a thumbnail sketch of the plant; information on requirements for light, temperature, water, humidity, feeding, soil, repotting and cleaning; a close-up color photo of a healthy leaf, and a special tip on raising that particular species. The facing page provides the series' key selling point: a sick plant with just about every ailment that poor thing is susceptible to pictured. Of course, you also get an explanation of how to diagnose and cure each ill. Trouble is, once you see all the things that can go wrong you may decide that the only kind of plant for you should contain more plastic than chloroplasts. Few other books on house plant care go to so many pains to illustrate "what goes wrong." For that reason alone, this is a worthwhile series. However, at this stage it seems quite incomplete. "Foliage" and "Flowering Houseplants" detail only 33 species each, "Palms and Ferns," 32. Some popular varieties are completely neglected. Only one philodendron is illustrated, and not a very common one at that; pothos isn't mentioned. Unless African violets are to be the subject of a full volume, their non-appearance in "Flowering Houseplants" is a major omission. Other house plant care guides cover more territory, especially Rob Herwig's "How to Grow Healthy House Plants," and Dr. D. G. Hessayon's "The House Plant Expert," which not only addresses special problems of individual plant groups but also pictures various types available within groups.

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